Why I don't hold lock-ins and you shouldn't either

If you look in Webster's dictionary, I'm pretty sure lock-in is defined as a youth worker's hell.

OK, maybe not... But let's be honest, they're certainly not our favorite events, or at least, they're not the easiest events.

Maybe they're also not even good events for us to hold.

Now, before we go any further, let's clarify something. Throughout this post, I'm talking about lock-ins: Overnight events held at a church for a youth group in which there's little to no structure and even less sleep. I'm not talking about retreats that are structured, filled with purposeful content, and mandate at least a little sleep.

For decades, lock-ins have been a staple of youth ministries throughout the country. My own junior high and high school youth group held them frequently and as a teenager, I loved them.

But then, during my rookie year in youth ministry, I held one that was a complete disaster. The kids outnumbered the adults 10 to 1 (I'll NEVER make that mistake again) and as a result, there were all kinds of shenanigans.

Left jaded, when charged with creating a youth ministry from scratch at my next church, I quickly decided not to do any lock-ins. Sure, we did three overnight events a year - a summer mission trip, fall retreat, and the 30 Hour Famine – but they all had structure, content, and sleep.

Having escaped lock-ins for five years, imagine my chagrin when I arrived at my current church and inherited a youth ministry calendar that included MONTHLY lock-ins.

Let me say that again.

MONTHLY lock-ins.


Despite this, having vowed to make changes slowly, I kept the first lock-in on the calendar.

It was a mistake.

During the lock-in, I saw what traditionally happens at a lock-in unfold:

Teens divided into their typical cliques, making it readily apparent who was in and who was out.

Read the rest of this article here.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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