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.