Articles | Programming
Mama Caro

Stephanie "Mama" Caro's humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. She is Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects and author of "Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches" and "99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker." Her next book, “Ten Solutions (to Ten Common Mistakes Small Churches Make)” comes out in 2015. Stephanie is a contributing author to several ministry resources in addition to her regular column “Smaller Church Youth Ministry” in Group Magazine. Stephanie and her husband, Steve, live in Houston, TX.

In my opinion, which I hope you’re asking for since you’re reading this post, lock-ins are a great tool in a small church’s youth ministry tool box. When the budget can’t afford a weekend retreat, this will do. I am still a fan.

Wearing my YM consultant hat for Youth Ministry Architects this weekend, a church asked me if I would put together a lock-in for them as part of their visioning workshop weekend.So I did…and I loved it!

I had a blast with 13 students at FUMC in Richlands, Va. Seriously! Here are 5 important pieces for planning a lock-in:

1) Theme: Giving the night a theme or personality allows room for doing cheesier things. Playing regular spoons is no big deal; playing with candy corn cards and using candy corn instead of spoons gives it an unexpected twist. Especially when people forget and eat the corn.

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2) One off-property active event: During the evening, we went to a corn maze. This component fills the waking hours, tires them out, starts the event w/ a cool/fun factor and requires little on your part except for making a reservation and arranging rides.

3) A movie: Have your students get into their pj’s, grab their pillows, and put the DVD on about 1:00 or 2:00 am. More than half will fall asleep.

4) Breakfast by parents: I ask parents to come in and have breakfast ready about 6:00 am. It’s my sneaky way of getting more parents involved and guarantees that at least those parents will be on time for the 7:00 am pick up.

5) Midnight worship around the altar: It’s just cool. Students get into the glow of God in the out-of-the-norm setting. I ask yet another parent to decorate the altar with the theme in mind. Ferments the message into their minds and hearts.


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  • One lock-in tip I have is to always invite another youth group or two. In doing this the youth ministers can each be responsible for programming/activities for a block of time instead if the entire night. It’s great to only be responsible for planning activities from 10:00-midnight, or 1:00-3:00 instead of the whole evening. This frees up each youth minister involved to be more relational during the time they are not responsible for organizing.

  • Kyle Corbin says:

    I love these ideas!

    One thing we have done in the past which works really well is to have a Bible-a-thon. Throughout the night each student takes a turn of 15minutes reading scripture. The cool thing is that their friends will often join with them, and will end up listening to the word of God without even thinking about it (great if you have non believing students involved) Their Christian friends get involved by supporting them (prep these students ahead of time if you can) and they hear the word of God!

  • Jordan Jee says:

    I am SOOO stoked that I read this article! I am having an “Up All Night” event next weekend, and it’s my first lock-in that I’ve ever planned. These tips have helped confirm some of my ideas and added to the arsenal to create one rad night! Thanks for the post!

  • Shaun says:

    Thanks for the responses and information. I am rallying for support by church leaders to volunteer for a youth lock in. Anyone have info and what grades should one include for a lock in and the number of adults that would be needed from 6:00PM-9:00AM?


    • Mama Caro Stephanie Caro says:

      Ratio should be 1 adult to 5 students and the lock-in time frame should be 7pm-7am. Grades? Minimum is MS; depends on what the theme is and what you want to accomplish.

  • Kristy says:

    I’ve been working with elementary students who do not have a connection to a church, but come here for after school care and summer camp. The lock-ins have been a great thing to connect with them during an event! We do boys and girls lock-ins separately right now. During our last one a few weeks ago, we had 22 elementary-aged boys. It was great! “Gladiator fights” with pool noodles was most likely the highlight. I’m planning the girls lock-in right now. Last time we did a spa night for the elementary girls, and they LOVED it! Our programming goes until about midnight. That’s when we pop in a movie. And the kids get up around 6:30 for breakfast. Parents pick them up at 8 am. Lock-ins are great!

  • Sharon Quackenbush says:

    You are amazing as always! Thank you for these tips! I especially like the Candy Corn as I am researching the final touches for a Fall LockIn!

  • Bill says:

    Sleeping at a lock-in?!? Sacrilege!

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