It’s September, so of course most of us have already planned out a good chunk of the year, and what we’re doing for our various fall kickoff events. But I’d like to throw on the table an idea-buffet that could kick your kickoff season into the tailgater strata of community-building. These ideas are designed to enhance, not replace, the plans you’ve already made.
1.. Tailgate in the church parking lot.
Hey, we already know it works for the stadium crowd. In every church there’s a fraternity of fire-making gentlemen who are like coiled springs when it comes to barbeque. Their favorite cologne is smoke. So launch into your pitch by saying, “I know how much you love to grill, so I was wondering if you’d be interested…” If you get that far into your invitation without a “Yes!” I’ll be surprised. Arrange with them to grill hotdogs, bratwursts, burgers, and wings before church on a Sunday morning. Promote it as a Tailgate Party to the teenagers in your church, and their friends. Play loud music. Make a run to your local party supply store with a couple of student leaders and grab all the tailgating promo stuff you can find, then start inviting your kickoff crowd.
2. Use the power of SWAG.
Watch how the radio stations do it—at every sponsored event they pass out bags of free trinkets and treasures. That’s exactly the reason God created the Internet—where you can find a gazillion low-cost or even free things to give away to your teenagers. Check out this article, 5 Places to Get Free Stuff Online (http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/03/05/5-places-to-get-great-free-stuff-online.html) or simply Google “free or low-cost stuff.” Once you have your stockpile of booty, give stuff away! No conditions. No trading for email addresses. Just give away your treasures. Promote your prize-fest well in the weeks leading up to your kickoff—make sure kids know that this meeting is the only time they can experience your SWAG giveaway.
3. Plan a youth group birthday party.
Your fall kickoff is a great time to celebrate your ministry’s birthday. Ask the best bakers in your church if they’d make birthday cakes for a special youth group party. Send out party invitations, and ask kids to each bring the coolest toy for the youth room they can find for less than 10 bucks (for example, a Nerf gun can be had for $8.99). Make sure they know the toys and games are for the youth room. Hang streamers. Get balloons. Play party games. Does anybody really know when your group started? Probably not. Now you have an excuse to re-stock your youth room with cool stuff every year.
4. Get out of the church.
Go to a movie, or sing Christmas carols at the senior pastor’s house (yeah, it’s September—so what?), or plan your kickoff at a nearby lake or park. Planning an unforgettable youth group meeting is a lot like starting a business—the key is location, location, location. The biggest reason your teenagers struggle to invite their friends may be the very idea of a “church” event. There’s a huge difference between a church event and a church event that’s not in the church.
5. Organize a Breakfast Club breakfast club.
Send kids invitations to Saturday morning detention at your church. Make the invitations look like actual detention slips. Serve donuts and juice, or go big and ask church members to serve by making pancakes or waffles and sausage or bacon. Print the shooting script from the movie The Breakfast Club (dailyscript.com/scripts/breakfast_club.html), select a few scenes and ask kids to act them out during the meal. Then, afterward, show the classic film (be aware that there are objectionable scenes in the film).
6. Go green.
Jump on the green bandwagon and plan a “Recycled Party”—the twist is that you use nothing—NOTHING—that’s brand new. Kids must wear clothes purchased from a local thrift store and bring decorations left over from previous parties. Serve leftovers. Play only games you’ve played before. Lead a short, ancient “devotion” from a giant in the faith such as C.H. Spurgeon (spurgeon.org/daily.htm). Make a punch out of all the leftover drinks people have left in your church kitchen—have fun with it.
7. Focus on great beginnings.
This one’s best for smaller groups. Invite kids to bring their favorite DVD (that’s appropriate for youth-group viewing). When they arrive tell them you’ll watch the first 10 minutes of every movie. At 09:59:59 hit the eject button and slide the next one in. (If DVD’s aren’t an option for your group, ask kids ahead of time to text or email you their favorite movie, then line up short YouTube scenes from the appropriate films and play them one after the other.) After the mash-up fun, plan a short kickoff devotion that centers around the themes in the first two chapters of Acts—the “great beginnings” of the church.
8. Crack-of-dawn kickoff vigil.
This is a great idea for smaller groups. Tell parents ahead of time so they know this is coming. Gather your adult leaders for a pre-dawn invasion—show up at your kids’ homes an hour before sunrise. Give them 30 seconds to find their shoes and grab a jacket. Meet at a park or a tall building. Watch the sunrise, read the creation story in Genesis, then go out for donuts.
9. Challenge your seniors to set the bar.
The Fall is usually the time when we welcome new people to the group. First impressions are important. So go back through your ministry photos and find pictures of your seniors when they were just entering your ministry. Send them each a picture with a “Remember When?” note. Compliment their growth in Christ. Tell them, specifically, how you’ve seen them mature. Then ask them to remember their crucial responsibility as role models for your new members. Ask them to lead by example.
10. Go missional!
Ask for donations from your congregation to fund a special start-of-school-year outreach project. Then get kids in trios and drive half of them to a local Wal-Mart and the other half to a local Target. Give each group $20 to spend on school supplies. Donate your haul to a low-income school or homeless shelter. Challenge kids to compete in categories like “Most Creative Use of a Dollar” or “Who Bought the Most for $20.” Tell the store managers what you’re doing—maybe they’ll offer you an extra discount.