Helping Students Encounter Easter

Easter is one of the most important holidays to Christianity, and yet so often it can become about superfluous things, like bunnies and eggs and new pastel clothing, even for those of us in the church. It can be easy for our students to connect more with baskets full of treats and honey-baked hams than the reality of what Easter represents.

If you’re looking for ways to help your students connect with the reality of Easter, we have come up with some simple, yet meaningful ways to build an Easter encounter. The most important thing is to make sure the experience is genuine and relatable for your group, so you may want to tweak some of these suggestions. Don’t be afraid to push your students to think deeper about what Jesus did for them, and what that means for the rest of their lives.

We have broken our encounter into five parts, each highlighting a different aspect of the Easter story and featuring a different activity. Depending on the space you have to work with, you can use a different room for each aspect, or denote a shift from one part to another with a change in lighting, colors, imagery, music, or seating. Again, it’s important to think through what will work for your specific group in the space that you have.

1. The Upper Room + Communion.

We begin by focusing on the Upper Room. You can expand this time with a meal, or keep it shorter with just communion. If you have time and want to try something different, consider hosting a small-scale Seder dinner and connecting the symbolism to what Jesus ultimately does for us. Use the meal or communion to help connect to the Last Supper and what Jesus does with his disciples.

The Upper Room is also a space to prepare for what is to come. Encourage the students to quiet down and reflect on what Jesus is about to do for them. Walk through the purpose of communion and how it connects with what is about to happen at the crucifixion.

2. The Crucifixion + Prayer.

While contemplating the cross, encourage the students to contemplate their connection to it. Consider having a time of silent reflection with soft music playing to help set the tone. This is the perfect time to encourage personal reflection and confession as the students think through their own need for the Savior. Incorporate a time of prayer where students are encourage to directly interact with Jesus based on their personal reflections and what he has done for them. The goal is to help students connect their need for a Savior with what Christ Jesus did for them on the cross.

3. The Tomb + Journaling.

The tomb can symbolize a period of waiting, waiting for both unexpected and expected things. We know now what happened after the three days Jesus spent in the tomb, but at the time, there was much uncertainty surrounding what was going to happen. So it is with our futures–we don’t know what God is going to do, especially as middle and high school students. What will God call us to, how will he use our lives?

Encourage students to think through the things they are waiting for and to spend some time journaling about their hopes, fears, expectations, and uncertainties. Challenge them to think about what God may have for them, and what he may be calling them to, in the years to come. Then encourage them to think through how they can serve and follow him now, as they may feel like they are spending their time waiting for whatever comes next. The goal is to help students look holistically at their life and think through ways God is moving, even if they don’t see it, expect it, or feel it.

4. The Resurrection + Celebration.

The resurrection is the culmination of everything we’ve done up to this point–it is the evidence of Jesus’ power and the fulfillment of his promise. It is joyful and jubilant. This is a perfect moment to celebrate what Jesus has done and worship him. This can be done through a time of celebratory music and singing, sharing corporately, and creating art. Encourage students to respond from their hearts and do what feels worshipful for them, but have available activities they can choose from to help give guidance and direction.

You may also want to incorporate an element of “feasting” with cake or sweet treats. You can tie this into experiencing Jesus by connecting his goodness and sweetness with the sense of taste. This can stand in contrast to some of the previous stations that included an element of deprivation, like silence. In the celebration of the resurrection, we encounter joy and excitement throughout our entire being, so the more senses you can incorporate, the more holistic it will feel.

5. The Great Commission + Commitment.

Finish your Easter encounter with the Great Commission. This can have a twofold purpose: an invitation for the students who don’t know Jesus, and a missional calling for those who do. Invite students to make a decision as you conclude and go out from the experience. Will they choose to give their life to Jesus for the first time? Or is there someone in their life with whom they can share his truth? Is God calling them to serve within the church, their school, or community? Is he asking something specific of them?

Challenge students to commit to an action step before they leave and write it down on a card they take with them. Encourage them to take it a step further by sharing their action step with their leader, parents, and anyone else who is a source of accountability in their life. This can help to highlight the truth that while we each have an individual calling and relationship with Christ, we are also part of a community and we need each other. The question becomes, how can we represent and live out the truth of Easter in each and every day for the rest of our lives? Help your students begin to answer this question.

8 Tips for Generating Early Sign-Ups

Have you ever tried to get students to sign up for a trip? Have you ever received that last minute phone call, text, email, or DM asking for a student to be allowed to go? Have you been in that situation where its the week of the trip and only one student has signed up for a trip and you may have to cancel?

I get it. We have all been there. Getting students to sign up early, let alone on time, is extremely difficult. For many years I just assumed this was the norm in student ministry, but it doesn’t have to be. There is a way to make it work. I want to share some tips on how to achieve earlier sign-ups and increase them overall.

I should note that you won’t see changes overnight. In fact it may take a couple of semesters, trips, or years for changes to be seen. But don’t get discouraged. Stick to your values, keep the rules you set, and see what happens. Actual change will take time and if you begin to implement these tips it may just help move that change forward in the right direction.

1. Cast vision early.

This is something I learned early on in my tenure in student ministry. It is important to share the what, the how, and the why. If you are asking for students and families to have buy-in to what you are doing, talk about it as early as possible. Communicate why you are going on this trip. What will be the result? What will happen in students’ lives? How will this trip be paid for? Why should a student go? Why is this important in their spiritual journey? Answering these questions early on will allow for families to better plan and prepare for what you are doing, and it will generate buy-in.

2. Be excited about the trip.

Have you ever started at a new church where you had to take students on a trip to a place you had never been? I have, and I will be honest: it was hard generating excitement about going somewhere I had never been. So instead of talking about just the logistics, I shared about what I was looking forward to. I shared pictures and videos of where we were going. I tried to make travelling overnight sound like an amazing adventure (and it was an adventure). My point is this: if you aren’t excited, or you talk about the trip begrudgingly or with no emotion, why would you expect students to go? Get excited and let your excitement bleed into your students as you prepare to go.

3. Know what you are talking about.

This is a big thing to remember. Make sure the information you are sharing is accurate and clear. I will admit that sometimes I have shared inaccurate information and it has kept students and families from signing up. I have been actively looking to better communicate and share what I know to be correct information. In fact, if I don’t know the answer I let them know I will find out and share it with them as soon as I do. This actually helps me be more intentional with communicating with the host site or camp. I ask better questions and get their vision for our trip and that allows me to share more accurate information with my people.

4. Communicate with parents.

Have you ever felt like parents don’t know what is happening? Or have you ever received the email that claims they knew nothing about your upcoming trip or retreat? The reality is that there will always be communication that is missed, but what we should be looking to do is over-communicate.

Think about it: parents have hundreds of emails coming to them all the time. They are seeing all the stuff you are on social media and probably even more. They are trying to balance school activities, sports, social lives and so much more. Be willing to give grace when appropriate but also seek to communicate ahead of time through multiple outlets, and continue to send out communications. Consider hosting a plenary parents only meeting to share about what is coming up. No, you won’t get every parent on your first go-around, but the number will steadily increase as they see your passion and desire to share. The more parents know, the more your students will know, and the more sign-ups you will get because you are all on the same page.

5. Have an early bird sign-up.

Want to guarantee more sign-ups? Work within your budget to have an early bird deadline. Most camps and retreat centers already have that, which is why we preregister so we can save money. But what if you offered the early bird price that you paid for a certain period, and then the price went up to the actual cost (the cost it would be if you hadn’t preregistered)? Now you are generating a desire for students and parents alike to save money. This almost guarantees sign-ups because no one wants to pay extra if they don’t have to. And you are not simply upping the price for the sake of doing so, but from an ethical and moral standard you are keeping it in line.

We do this for all of our big trips. We figure out the lowest possible cost and offer that as the early bird. Then we adjust the rate going forward in accordance with the up-charge in the conference fee. We offer four different payment times: early bird, regular, late, and last minute. At most we have three to five late sign-ups and maybe one last minute because of the price differential. Not only does this generate sign-ups, it also alleviates a lot of stress. Planning appropriate deadlines affords you the ability to collect registrations in a timely manner.

6. Offer a payment plan.

Let’s be real: for some families, paying for longer trips is taxing financially. We get that. If you are asking a family to drop a thousand dollars right away for a trip, you won’t get many sign-ups. If you present a payment plan instead, and give them a means to an end, you will allow families to participate with less financial burden up front. If you have different sign up times you will need to have a plan for each one, but again, it allows families to see how much they owe and when, which can ease the burden.

7. Don’t allow late sign-ups.

This is a big thing for me. I used to always allow people to sign up late. I would hear their reasons why they hadn’t, I would see the change this trip could bring about in a student’s life, and I understood being busy. But what I didn’t see was that I was cultivating a culture where rules, guidelines, and timing didn’t matter. It added stress and tension to planning a trip and going on it. That student didn’t have buy-in like everyone else. Recently we made the decision to not allow late sign-ups unless extenuating circumstances applied. This is a tough stance to hold and there were parents who pushed back. But we shared our reasoning and heart behind it, and when communicated effectively beforehand, parents will see that the were ample opportunities to sign up earlier.

8. Host a scholarship program. 

Regardless of whether there are payment plans or not, you will always have families who cannot afford to pay for trips. Please consider offering scholarships for those families. It may not be a full ride, but even a little may allow for a student to go who originally couldn’t. This may mean getting creative and reworking your budget to put money aside for scholarships, or hosting a sponsorship event at your church, or even seeing if the church would consider taking a special offering. Any time you can help a student go to a camp, trip, or retreat could be life changing with eternal results. So think about how you can help get students to camp who need the financial help.

Tips for Hosting Special Events

I don’t know about you but during this time of year, Christmas parties seem to be happening in abundance. In fact, we just had our student Christmas party last week and it was a ton of fun! We had a cookie and hot chocolate bar, Christmas games, caroling, prizes and giveaways, teaching, and small groups.

It was an incredibly busy and packed night, but one that was intentionally designed and formatted to fit with our vision and goals. Whenever we plan a night for our youth group we always make sure to shape the night not only around the theme but around our vision and priorities. This allows the special night to be more than just a gimmick, but an intentional evening designed to bring people in and to help them grow.

Today, I would love to share with you a few special nights that we have done and that are easy to prepare for. But before I do that, let me give you a few tips to help your night succeed even before you start.

Keep your vision and mission.

Often on themed or special nights we let certain aspects of our normal program fall by the wayside. I know that I have often cut or trimmed our small group time to allow for the fun aspects to take priority. But in looking at our vision, small groups are a huge component of what we do. Therefore we have shifted our timing for themed nights to still allow for small group time.

Cast the vision for the event.

Make sure your leaders and your students know what you are doing, the purpose for what you are doing, and what you expect. When everyone is on the same page and you have your leaders championing the event along with you, you are setting up the event for success.

Bring in additional volunteers.

One of the things I love to do for events is bring in extra help so my small group leaders can stay with their small group throughout the evening. Often that means reaching out to parents, friends, and other church-goers to help run the event which means extra leg work, but huge rewards because discipleship continues to happen.

Feature a student speaker.

I would highly suggest allowing one of your student leaders to share during your event. Not only does this elevate and empower your students, but it shows that you trust them to lead. This also gives your students more of a reason to invite their friends and allows for the Gospel to be shared in a real and vibrant manner.

Don’t forget the prizes.

A quick word on prizes: use them but don’t think they have to be extravagant or need to break the bank. Prizes generate buy-in and competition but aren’t the focus of the event. We love to give out a pizza or ice cream party as prize, or a 12-pack of soda. At other points we have done giant gummy bears or gift cards. The truth is that the size or value of the prize doesn’t matter. A prize could be a champion belt, a gift card, or a bag of candy. Be creative and have fun with what you give away.

Special Event Ideas:


Photo Scavenger Hunt

This type of event is quick to put together and run, but the tough part is when it comes to verifying the images taken. One easy way to avoid having to follow a hashtag or check multiple social media accounts is to have an adult leader in each group who takes the photos and marks which ones have been completed. That way honesty is kept and teams are held accountable by someone other than you as the primary leader.

I recommend looking on Google or Pinterest for ideas. You will get a variety of poses or challenges by doing this, but I would also suggest thinking about having teams pose with various items, rooms, or people at your church. Think about posing in a nursery, taking a picture at the church coffee bar, having a team “play” worship, or take a photo in the senior pastor’s office. Adding in personal elements specific to your ministry will make this event even more special.

Scavenger Hunt

Most of us have done a scavenger hunt before but if you try to make it specific to your location it will make it a lot of fun. You can have items like find a shepherd’s staff, collect two bulletins from two different Sundays, find a picture of a missionary, or whatever else you can think of. You can also add in a lot of generic options like find a two foot tall stick, collect five ants that are alive, or find and carry two cinder-blocks.

One added suggestion would be to create a score sheet that has different point values for the items that are based upon difficulty. Teams then can add up their scores at the end and you will have a winner.

Tailgate Party

This is an event that allows you to utilize materials you already have or that are easily accessible but in a new and creative way. Take your volleyball, 9 Square, corn hole, kickball bases, footballs, and basketballs outdoors, bring a sound system outside, set up the grill, and have a blast. Simply by utilizing the outdoors, music, materials you have, and food, you have created an event that is fun and inviting. Allow your students to create their own adventure under the banner of your schedule and get ready to have a blast.

Open Gym

Allowing for an open gym night can be an easy win for your program. Consider implementing these type of nights into your regular programming. These type of nights allow for students to be creative, for leaders to participate, and for there to be tons of activity happening in multiple places. You can have basketball and ultimate Frisbee happening at the same time. Students could play dodge-ball and Spikeball in the same room. Simply put all the sports equipment in the gym and allow students to have fun and be creative under the guidance of your adult volunteers.

Minute to Win It

This is a fun and easy one to run. A quick YouTube or Google search for “Minute to Win It games” turns up hundreds of results, and most of them require only a few materials. My suggestion would be to utilize a Minute to Win It graphic, a countdown time, and have multiple games going at the same time. This allows different groups to be engaged throughout the program. We also put some small pieces of candy at each table for the teams to take a piece when they complete the challenge as another fun twist to the evening.