Lock-Ins: Good, Bad, or just Ugly?

December 22nd, 2016

Lock-ins are your most effective event of the year or the most draining. It all comes down to how you set it up and execute.

If you throw a lock in on the calendar and hope for the best, chances are it will be a wasted weekend. They take a lot of planning just to pull off and many never see any kind of return on investment of time, energy or money invested into them.

I have read countless articles and discussions in Facebook groups about how we need to get rid of the lock-in once and for all. Many feel that opting out is not good enough. They want all youth pastors to agree to stop having them.

It’s kind of funny but lock-ins are a very polarizing topic. I once read a guy say that you should not do lock-ins even if you enjoy them and can get some ministry benefit from them, because it sets up the lock-in culture at your church, and the next youth pastor will get stuck doing them.

I will just lay my cards on the table here and now. I love lock-ins. And not only because I grew up a Youth Pastor’s kid and they were the highlight of the year.

Lock-Ins: A Lead Magnet

If done right, a lock-in can be a powerful way to grow your youth ministry. Imagine in one event, having past students show up who have not attended in months, and regulars showing up with their friends who have never been before.

When planning an event like this, it helps to think in business terms. The online marketing world has figured out the best way to take a prospective buyer, also know as a lead, into a customer. One of the most common ways they convert people to buyers is with a free offer, or more commonly known as a lead magnet.

The idea is you attract people with your preferred source of traffic, usually ads, then you offer them something for free. In exchange, you get their basic information like name and email address.

Once this occurs they have a lead. We essentially want to recreate this process with our youth events.

Do Outreach Events Work?

A very popular point against using lock-ins, or any large outreach event for that matter is the idea “You have to win them the way you keep them.” In other words, events outreach (lock-ins included) don’t work because if you use games, music, free food, etc. to draw a crowd, you won’t be able to keep them in a “regular” weekday youth service.

I submit two reasons this logic is faulty.

When I first met my wife I “won” her (sorry bad phrasing, but it helps with the point) by spending short bursts of time together, usually in public settings where we got to know each other better. Also known as dating.

We have now been married for almost 12 years, and while dating and putting time into our relationship is most definitely important, we spend our time together much differently. I have “kept” her all these years in a much different manner than I originally “won” her. I had too. The nature of our relationship changed, dictating the way we spent our time had to change.

The idea of keeping them the way you won them only makes sense in a world where your chief end in ministry is just getting and keeping butts in seats.

Our goal with new students shouldn’t be to just keep them around. We want to win them for Jesus, then disciple them so they go on and win others and disciple them.

Relationships change. It’s their nature. If they don’t they stagnate and die.

Healthy Expectations about Outreach Events

So it’s perfectly expectable that we meet students under the pretense of fun and free food because we are not actually trying to get them to our youth services with these outreach events.

Okay, that last statement was probably confusing. let me explain.

The reason we do not see better numbers in our outreach attempts is that we are trying to skip from first introductions to the marriage proposal by way of having a friend pass messages back and forth for you and the person you like. It’s too much of a leap for most students to go from showing up for free pizza and something to do on a Friday night, to attending a regular church service.

Back to the marketing example, this would be like putting an ad on a billboard and expect customers to pour into a business and start throwing money at the cashier. Marketers spend a lot of time creating relationships with prospective customers before ever pitching them a single thing.

So back to youth ministry. When we set up outreach events and hope new students will make the leap to full-time member we set ourselves up for disappointment.

So what should we do?

Great question, but first I owe you one more example of relationships being sustained differently than they were started.

Okay, so there was this guy named Jesus. He attracted many people with free food and healings. Yet when someone became his disciple a very different life was their reality. Jesus didn’t keep his disciples by making them happy with spiritual treats. Instead, he moved from the initial attraction of what he was doing to cultivating a relationship.

With that in mind, we need to use outreach events to get an introduction to new students. That’s it. From there we (You the youth pastor or leaders if you’re attracting huge crowds) build that relationship. Imagine how many more students you would have showing up after an event if you make a great connection with them, and follow up with them over a few weeks.

Add to that they connect with a few students and you have a much higher chance of getting that student to come to a mid-week service even though it’s not the same as the event they first came to.

Relationships are powerful. Use them to increase the successfulness of your events.

jared HeadshotJARED ELROD is a Youth Pastor, Online Marketer, and part time YouTube video maker. He has been involved in youth ministry full time since 2009, and spends most of his free time studying  the latest trends in both youth ministry and Online marketing so he can try out what works best (and what completely flops) then writes about it at YOUTH FACTOR.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.