Schools are starting back up. Fall sports have begun. Homework is already beginning to take up time during the evening. And for youth groups, there are plans for the fall, what programming will look like, and thoughts about how to start the year off well.
As we begin thinking about the fall, many of us will host some type of celebration or kickoff party to commence the beginning of our fall programming. And with thinking through a kickoff there is probably a deep desire to do something bigger and better than ever before because over the past year we have not been able to do what we considered to be “normal programming.” But in thinking critically through a kickoff for the fall, it is helpful not just to think bigger and better, but to think about what is going to be sustainable, missional, and helpful for directing our students toward deeper discipleship-oriented relationships with Jesus. Today, my hope is to provide you with a few helpful ideas for hosting a successful fall kickoff.
Create a welcoming environment.
This is huge when it comes to programming in general, but even more so at the kickoff to your fall semester. We want students to come to our programs and know they are welcomed and loved. So creating an environment that is shaped for them and where they know that they have a place will generate momentum and continuity. Here are a few ways to do this:
- Have volunteers, adults and students alike, who actually seek out and connect with students who attend.
- Have a welcome table where students sign in but not merely for attendance. Think about doing a raffle or giveaway to generate momentum.
- Connect students with peers from their schools and small groups. You’re now fostering an environment of community and relationships that will continue each week.
- Encourage your leaders to connect with their students and reestablish relationships. Nothing says “you matter and are loved” than someone remembering your name and asking, “how are you doing?”
Have activities and games.
You don’t need to go crazy and have inflatables or a “Fear Factor” style event when you kickoff the semester. These may be fun for a few but I want to encourage you to think about activities and games that will appeal to a broader group of students. A few ideas include: 9 Square, GaGaBall, Minute to Win It games, a small group scavenger hunt competition, yard games, and board games. Utilizing some of these ideas together will generate a ton of excitement but also flexibility for your students to enjoy an event that appeals to a broader group.
I firmly believe that food is a must at student events, even weekly gatherings. Food helps to build community, it generates conversation, and brings people together. For a kickoff event consider grilling out, having walking tacos, or even an ice cream social. These moments will create the type of environment that brings people together and helps generate the atmosphere you’re looking for.
Utilize parents and church leaders.
One of my favorite things to do at large student events is to bring parents and church leaders in. This does a multitude of things but a few key aspects include:
- Showing your students that they matter to the church. Having church leadership present displays a heart for students and shows them that they are the church.
- It communicates your heart for families. When you bring parents into student ministry it shows that your heart and vision are not only for students but for families and the church.
- It helps parents and church leaders to see what student ministry is all about. It’s an opportunity to show the necessity and vibrancy of student ministry to those who may not see it all the time.
- This will allow your volunteers to do what they need to: be with their students. You’re empowering your leaders to lead and at the same time allowing parents and church leadership to witness the discipleship process firsthand. This in and of itself is a huge win.
Connect small groups and leaders.
This is a pivotal time in your ministry as you prepare to kickoff the fall semester because it gives you an opportunity to connect your students with their leaders. This is a prime moment to help your leaders and students begin to reconnect or begin to build relationships that will continue throughout the year and potentially longer. It is an opportunity to begin building and strengthening the discipleship process by intentionally putting your students and leaders together and allowing them to grow as a group.
Cast the vision and heart of the ministry.
Take this time to appropriately talk about student ministries. This is a perfect opportunity for you to share your heart and the vision for the ministry. Doing this helps students, leaders, and parents hear your heart and passion, and also the purpose and direction of the ministry. You are helping to shape, create, and direct the ministry which is ideal for your people. Doing this will create a framework and consistent direction for you and your team.