You’ve ordered pizzas, booked the church gym, found volunteers crazy enough to stay up all night and planned a lock-in. Somewhere in the mix of sugar highs, junk food, over-the-top games and sleep-deprived delirium, these teenagers will be reached for Christ…or so you hope.
Though the lock-in a staple of youth ministries everywhere, recently some youth leaders have questioned their effectiveness, and even safety. Is putting a bunch of hormonal teenagers in a room and encouraging them to stay up all night REALLY the best thing for them and for the Gospel?
As the former director of an event called Reverb, which is basically the most fun and extreme lock-in you’ve ever experienced, I would argue that the lock-in is not dead. In fact, it’s one the most effective and strategic tools for evangelism that we’ve seen.
At Reverb, we partner with sports teams in cities across the United States to create absolutely unforgettable events for youth groups. Students begin the night at a sports game, and then have the opportunity to stay out all night at a variety of different venues offering games, food and a clear Gospel presentation. Sponsored by Word of Life, a nondenominational ministry, Reverb is also a way to take the work off youth leaders and allow them to focus on what matters most: the spiritual health of their students.
And guess what? It works. Each year, we see thousands of students pack these events, have the time of their lives and come to Christ. We see churches come together to reach youth for Christ, and watch ministries flourish and grow.
So before you close your doors, cancel your Domino’s order and hit the sack before midnight, here are four reasons why I believe lock-ins still work:
- They have mass appeal to students. At Word of Life, we’ve had many other programs come and go but this particular event – attending a sports game; staying up all night at gyms, bowling alleys, go-kart tracks and other incredible venues; eating pizza; giving away tons of prizes – continues to draw thousands of students each year.
- They create a safe space for students who might never set foot in a church. Students who have pre-conceived ideas about church and religion are significantly more likely to come to a neutral site like a hockey arena than they are to a church, even if they know “religion” is involved. So often, students aren’t opposed to Jesus or spirituality; they just don’t yet feel at home with the customs, practices, expectations and language of the church. Before we can expect them to come to us, we have to go to them.
- They create direct opportunities for students to hear the Gospel. Junk food and staying up all night is a ton of fun (at least for those of us under 30), but does that really result in life change? I would argue that the Kingdom growth you see depends entirely on the goal and format of your lock-in. At Reverb, we use the appeal of an all-night event to draw students, but that’s all it is: a draw. They give students a reason to show up and let their guard down, so that we can then step in and do what we’re called to do, which is share the Gospel.
- They last a lot longer than one night. While the lock in might last for 12 or 24 hours, the seeds planted and the conversations had often resonate for much longer. While there’s a clear Gospel presentation and invitation at our events, and while students do accept Christ in the moment, for many other students, the lock-in is the beginning of a journey of exploring the Gospel, having ongoing conversations and ultimately making a decision for Christ.
Sure, chugging Mountain Dew and staying up all night is not the healthiest thing for anyone, and yes, keeping hormonal teenagers up all night in close quarters requires dedicated supervision and strategic planning to make sure your lock in doesn’t take an unintended turn. But as followers of Christ and leaders, are we not called to make sacrifices, take risks and put in the hard work required to reach people for Christ?
Don’t let busyness, cost or fear prevent you from continuing to use this highly effective evangelism tool – one that can attract students in need of Christ, plant seeds for the Gospel and impact your students for all of eternity.
Jason Headlee is the Marketing Director for Word of Life Fellowship, a nondenominational Christian organization that creates faith-defining experiences that give students and families the chance to encounter God and grow in their spiritual walks. Previously, Jason served as the Events Director at Word of Life, where he organized events and programming for numerous evangelistic events across the country and saw thousands of youth and teens dedicate their lives to Christ. Jason resides in Chestertown, NY with his wife and two children.