Allowing students to brainstorm a youth ministry event sounds like a great idea, right?
Empowering students to lead events that they own guarantees they will invite their friends, right?
So, student-led events should be a success, right?
With student-led events, there has to be a lot of supervision through the entire event planning process. If the youth pastor doesn’t supervise, oversee, and come alongside the student-led event, it can turn ugly—really fast. So let me tell you about a story where I let students completely lead an event and how it got crazy real fast.
Battle of the Bands Turned UFC
During my first student ministry gig in early 2004, I didn’t know the dos and don’ts of youth ministry programming. If I had a crazy event idea, we tried it—especially if the event allowed the students to organize and lead it. In my context, many of my students were amazing musicians and had a deep appreciation for metal music, and they had a lot of unchurched friends who really enjoyed metal music too. Many of my youth group students wanted to do a battle of the bands in our church sanctuary so they could invite their metal friends to church. After much persuasion on their part, I finally agreed.I gave the mandate that this battle of the bands event needed to support a ministry. My students loved Invisible Children, so we all agreed all the proceeds would go there. I empowered the students to plan, coordinate, and run the event. They totally took ownership and killed it.The event was well attended by a lot of unchurched and rowdy teens.
There definitely was an excitement in the sanctuary air. We had more than 150 kids attend and 4 bands perform. After the second band, I got on stage and explained the cause of the event and what we do as a youth ministry and talked about Jesus.Then I invited the third band to hit the stage. This band encouraged everyone to start an aggressive mosh pit. The mosh pit (predictably) got out of control, and fights broke out. Suddenly, some of the youth ministry kids were getting punched by some of the newcomers.
I immediately jumped in the middle of the pit and broke up the multiple fights. In fact, the students still wanted to keep fighting that one of them punched me in the face.I had to immediately stop the event. The cops showed up, and I had to give them a report. This well-intentioned evangelism event went bad due to my lack of youth ministry leadership and experience. The cops showed up because the third band broke the city noise ordinance law, and teens were fighting. Thankfully the church didn’t get fined, and the church parents whose kids got punched didn’t get too upset with me.
But we also raised more than $700 for Invisible Children, and the students who put the event together were stoked. They felt like they had done the impossible because they were able to get their friends in the doors of a church for the first time.
This was a bad event because students got hurt, I didn’t have enough adult volunteer support, and I gave the students way too much control without any supervision. I let rowdy bands play without screening them or investigating who they were as musicians. I trusted my students way too much. I wanted the students to like me, so I gained their acceptance by doing an event they wanted to do. I didn’t think about safety or other potential problems. I was an immature-inexperienced youth pastor enabling students to do an unsafe event without any guidance or direction. This is a big-big No in youth ministry programming. It is okay to do cool fun just make sure that safety and supervision are your number one priorities.
Empower students to lead events that they and their friends are excited about, but don’t give them all the control. Supervise the event, and don’t improvise. Get a great team of adults to surround the student leadership team so the adults can help drive the event from start to finish.
Questions for youth pastors who like students taking charge:
What student led events have you done that got a little out of hand? You can click here to read about how other youth pastors did youth ministry events that gone bad.
What would be your recommendations for a youth pastor who likes to do crazy and wild events that may be a bit dangerous?
Do you think students have a great perspective on what events to do?
What events do you do when the students you minister to are misfits and dislike your typical church events?