The year is ending and the calls for something “fun for kids to do on New Year’s Eve,” may have already started. And most calls like this usually mean one thing: you, the youth minister, are the one to make that fun. No one wants to be the reason why children don’t have fun, so you feel like you should say yes… but you definitely don’t want do to that.
In my ministry experience, we’ve always passed on New Year’s Eve, and I want to tell you why:
1. Ministry Value
I take a minority view in youth ministry: I do not believe lock-ins are the worst thing ever. They are definitely way at the bottom of the list but there is at least one thing that is worse than a lock-in.
To me, the very worst thing that can happen in youth ministry is a program with no point. This can be a lock-in, for sure, but it can also be a dodgeball tournament, a mission trip or even a bible study. Whenever we program for programming’s sake, we end up missing our mission as youth ministers—connecting students to the Gospel. Every single bit of programming we do must have a clear mission and purpose or we are nothing more than a babysitting service.
So this means more work for you. Why is it that your ministry does that really successful fun event in March that you love doing? Is it because you love seeing 50 kids play gaga ball together? Or is it because 5 of those kids get to develop leadership skills?
“Kids need to have fun,” is not a reason, I believe, to create programming. Fun things may lead to fellowship or discipleship but fun for fun’s sake is the realm of the YMCA, not the church. So your first reason for not having a lock-in on New Year’s Eve should be that there is no ministry value to the event.
And so the quick response to the “value” line of questioning is a request that you inject ministry value into the event. You obviously can do this, but I think when we stretch to jam value into events just for the sake of creating the event, we are more than likely going against the culture we have been called to serve.
My church is in a community that is driven by hospitality. My people love having guests to their houses and are overjoyed when major events happen, because that means they get to bring dinner to folks. Because of this, our major events that center around calendar events (Halloween party, Advent events, etc.) are usually “competing,” with other events that families are putting on.
When we try so hard to make New Year’s Lock-Ins happen, we are more than likely working against the community that we have been called to serve. If mom and dad want to have a bunch of families over to watch the ball drop, why are we putting the narrative out there that they should be at church instead? What the church needs to do is partner with culture in this instance. Tell your kids, “we aren’t having an event tonight because we think most families are trying to make memories together on this holiday, and we think that’s pretty cool.”
If you’ve told your families that the Lock-In isn’t happening because there is no ministry value and that you don’t want to fight culture on this issue and you’re still getting requests, then it might be time to pull out the big guns: youth ministry is not babysitting.
Sometimes parents need a break from their kids and New Year’s Eve might be a great time for that, but youth ministry cannot fill that role. Communicate to parents that whenever youth ministry begins to feel like a place for them to “kill time,” it loses it’s value as a place for intense spiritual formation. If your parents are looking for babysitting when they come to you, you must have a deeper conversation that focuses on understanding their perspective, but also focuses on casting a clear vision of who you are trying to be for their family.
4. And You
Don’t discount this last point either—you deserve to celebrate New Year’s Eve like a grown up. I’m not saying you should tell your parents that you don’t want to do the lock-in because you’d rather have champagne and not play slaughter ball into the wee hours of the morning. What I am saying is that a conversation about your needs as a person is a valuable and vital conversation for you to have.
Don’t tell your parents that you want to celebrate New Year’s with your significant other—this ultimately puts “blame,” as it were, on your S.O.. Instead, say that you would like to continue to create life outside of ministry, and that this would be a great night to do so.
Will some parents think that this is selfish? Maybe. But what is even more selfish is for you to decide as a minister that you would rather crumple under undue pressure so that you can avoid these more difficult conversations. I have been there: there are times I would much rather do a lock-in than advocate for my own needs or the needs of the ministry with a parent. But if you really feel called to advocate for your students and their ministry, you have to say hard things from time to time.
You can do this—and happy New Year!