“I can’t believe that just happened!” “I can’t believe you all just did that!” Have you ever heard students say that at one of your youth events? I hope you have. When your students express this, they have just experienced the “wow factor”. The Wow Factor is anything (an event, skit or happening) that leaves your students saying, “WOW!” and completely amazed at what they just experienced.
Fun, social events have been apart of youth ministry ever since I can remember. The reasons why Youth Pastors do these events are for a variety of reasons. It could be to build community within the youth group or to reach out to new students or something entirely different. Whatever the case may be, these events normally draw a lot of students because they are fun and usually non-threatening.
In today’s culture, there is not much that our youth have not seen or experienced. Whether it is something they saw on YouTube or MTV, they are exposed to so much. But, as much as they have been exposed to, very rarely will they expect to be wowed, inspired or thrilled like that at a church. After all, what happens on those videos or shows should never happen at Church, right? Yes, but not entirely. This is where a great and awesome opportunity lies for youth ministry.
When I started out in youth ministry, I felt that I had to have as many fun, social events as possible. Whether it was going bowling, playing laser tag, water parks or fun day trips into Washington DC, I felt that the more activities we did the better it was for our program. If we could do more “fun” events, more people would come and want to come to our church on Sundays. Boy, was I wrong! No matter how many times we went bowling or played paintball, there just seemed to be something missing. No matter what we did or how often we did these fun events, we weren’t drawing as many students as I thought we should.
That is when I realized I had the wrong approach to events. Instead of doing more events, I had to do less. Instead of doing the standard events, I had to become more creative. I began to completely change my philosophy of event planning.
The Question We Ask
In evaluating why we, at Cedar Run, do events and how we do them, a friend asked me this question, “What makes this event Cedar Run?” For example, bowling. Anyone can go bowling. But, what makes this bowling outing a Cedar Run event? How are we going to separate ourselves from what everyone else is doing? As I mentioned earlier, there is not much that our students have not experienced. Our youth can go bowling anytime. What are we going to do and offer that makes Cedar Run’s bowling outing different and more appealing to them?
Asking this question made me reflect on Christ and his ministry. No matter where he was or what he was doing, people were always drawn to him. He had that “it” quality about him. Other people were teaching about God as well, but whenever Christ came around, people knew that something great was going to be spoken or that something awesome was going to happen. In the same way, there has to be that “it” quality about our events. There has to be a separation between our events and the events of others.
One example at Cedar Run is our Super Bowl Bash. Most youth programs have a Super Bowl Party. But, ours is a bit different. Our Super Bowl Bash has grown in popularity each year because it is not just another Super Bowl Party. Anyone can watch the Super Bowl with friends. But, what we offer is something for everyone, even those who aren’t football fans. Some of the things we offer are:
- A free event
- Tons of food – home made by parents
- A variety of games such as board games for quiet and reserved students and video games for energetic middle school boys – remember, something for everyone.
- A root beer keg
Now, these may not seem like “WOW” type features to this event. But, what makes this event distinctly Cedar Run and a “WOW” event is our Half-Time show. Now, in all honesty, we stumbled upon the Half-Time show because of Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. Before them, we used to watch the nationally televised musicians perform during this time. But that wardrobe mal-function inspired us to look differently at this time. That is when we came up with our very own Half-Time Show.
Our Half-Time Show consists of two components: fun and serious. For the fun, we go all out and have mixers, games and raffles. This time is all led by our Program Team (volunteer leaders and students) that works hard at creating a “WOW” effect. They want to create an experience that the students have never experienced before. They are very creative and have a lot of fun with it. Each year, the fun component gets better and better as the students have a great time. To see a clip of a video they did for our half-time show, look at this video.
But, the fun component is secondary to our serious time. During this time, we take a few minutes and share about our Church and what we are about. Then, we have a few students share about how Christ has made an impact in their life. Our Super Bowl Bash is an outreach event, so we want to leave students not only feeling that this was a great event because of the fun they had, but also that this wowed them because they saw how Christ could change their life. For some of these students, this may be the only opportunity they have to hear about Christ. It is our hope that after they leave the church on Super Bowl Sunday they will be encouraged to come to Church so they can hear more about Christ and his potential impact on their lives.
Quality, Not Quantity
As I began to ask the question as what makes each event a Cedar Run event, I made another discovery. We have started to do less fun events. This wasn’t because I was getting lazy and didn’t want to do them anymore. Rather, I found out that by increasing the QUALITY of the events, the QUANTITY went down. Our leaders would take that extra step to make the event that we were doing special. Whether it was a video, surprise raffle of an iPod or an impromptu dance party, it became clear that we wanted to do better events. Therefore, we put more time and energy in doing a few excellent events rather than trying to come up with monthly events that are just ordinary events.
The students have really responded to this. We also discovered that even though the number of events we did decreased, the number of students who started coming started to increase dramatically. Again, anyone can go bowling or watch the Super Bowl, but when we started taking that extra step, Cedar Run events became more than just other events. It is known now that when Cedar Run does an event, something special (or crazy) is going to happen. They have become “Can’t Miss” events.
We do other events throughout the year and as long as we are taking that extra step and glorifying God with our creativeness, God has truly blessed us and provided us a clear avenue to reach teens for Christ. He can do the same for you as well.
TAKE A MINUTE and…
- Make a list of all the events you are doing. Write down the purpose of each event and estimate the number of students who come out to those events.
- Based on your list, are there events that need to be eliminated because they lack a clear purpose or strong attendance? What events can be modified to make this event distinctive to your church or ministry?
- Incorporate your leaders and some key students and begin to plan out some WOW events.