I’ve never understood why youth workers hate overnighters, they are my absolute favorite thing! …Sparingly, admittedly. My first day at my current church, 5 years ago, was an overnighter. The relationships that I built that first day with students and leaders set me up for success. Now, each overnighter, I reflect on it as my “anniversary date,” and try to make each one better than the last.

Here are some of my “hacks” for making overnighters the best event of the year:

Pick the right date and time

Overnighters require a lot of resources and throw people off of their game for at least a few days. Many students may not fully recover for up to a week! For that reason, choose a time of the year where students may take a few days off school afterwards. For us, we like to choose the last day that students are in their fall classes, right before Christmas break. Students come to us ready to party! We recommend only making your Overnighter 12 hours long, so that way people have time to nap or prepare after work, and time to sleep the next day before any Saturday commitments.

Create Shifts for Volunteers

Many other churches that I know of struggle getting volunteers to give their time to an overnighter. Not mine! I place my overnighters in two shifts: from 7pm to 1am, and from 12:30am to 7:30 am. That gives me time to train my new set of volunteers. Of course, there are a few volunteers who might stay all night long. Don’t forget to allow them a space to sleep!

Create a Leader’s Lounge

Not only will leaders need a space to sleep, but they need some snacks that are just for them. We turn our youth ministry office into a Leader’s Lounge, complete with healthy snacks, protein bars, bottled water, pop, and energy drinks. Leaders know that if they need to take a nap, use their phone, or take a break from the chaos, they can use the lounge for that.

Create a Schedule

Middle schoolers need structure. We create a schedule and write it on the giant chalkboard wall outside of our worship space. We also make sure to go off-campus. This makes the schedule go quicker, plus provides a “fun” element that makes the event more appealing. Our schedule looks something like this:

  • 7:30pm Check-in
  • 8:30pm Large Group: Games, Worship, Teaching
  • 9:30pm Snacks
  • 10:30pm Load busses for SkyZone
  • 1:00am Return from SkyZone
  • 1:30am Late-night games (Sardines, dodgeball), sleeping room opens, movie marathon begins in the chapel area
  • 3:00am Late night games
  • 4:00am Bake cookies for those still awake
  • 7:00am Wake-Up, light breakfast of donuts, bagels, and juice; students help clean up space
  • 7:30am Students are picked up

Make a sleeping room

Especially if you have preteens in your ministry, create some kind of safe space for students to crash. We actually have our movie room as our “quiet room,” because we are short on space.

Create a theme

One of our favorite things is creating some kind of theme that gets students excited about coming. Usually we might do a Christmas theme, since ours is a few days before Christmas. This year I’m bringing back “Superheros vs. Villains,” where students dress up like Heroes and leaders like Villains. Once I came as McDonald’s.

Keep it affordable

Even though many of our students are affluent in my context, I want as many of them as possible to come; and I also want their friends to come. For this reason, I keep my budget tight. One of the things that I do is create a Signup Genius for snacks. This helps make sure that I have enough, that it’s things the students actually like, and the bonus is that I don’t have to shop for it.

Worship

Not only does worship add another component to your schedule to keep students occupied, but it also gives an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus’s love with people for the first time. Overnighters are the perfect place to show the heart of middle school ministry: providing safe places for students to grow in relationship with God and others.

-Heather Campbell

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we make our overnighter more fun — for both students and leaders?
  2. How can we bring more structure to our overnighter?
  3. How can we bring more meaning to our overnighter?