By Jeremy Steele, United Methodist Communications
With every changing season, the church has an opportunity to reach out to neighbors and introduce new people to the community of Christ. For teens, there may be no bigger seasonal transition than starting back to school. This is the perfect time for a fun outreach event. Students can get together and see how the church can be a place to connect with friends.5 over-the-top ideas for your church's back-to-school kickoff TWEET THIS
There are tons of fun mud activities that will tempt your church’s young-at-heart. Students and adults alike can have a ton of fun for the price of a load of dirt and some cheap goggles. For this event, you can either dig up the grass to make a big pit or consider calling your local dirt supplier. Let them know what you are doing to make sure they deliver “clean” dirt without dangerous debris in it. When the dirt arrives, have half of it dumped in one location and half in another. On the day of the event, wet the dirt pile liberally and tell students to wear old clothes.
When the students arrive, give ground rules about where they can and cannot go with the dirt. There should be a clearly marked “safe zone” for parents and those who are there more for the pictures than the mud. Pass out the goggles, jump in and get dirty.
With a little preplanning, you might get your fire department to help with the cleanup. They have to test hydrants routinely, and they may schedule one for after the mud play is over to help students clean up in an artificial rainstorm created by the fire fighters' test. Or maybe the new mud pit could be the start of your church’s community garden.
For most local teen bands, their main struggle (apart from learning to play their instruments) is finding a place to perform. In many cities, concert venues actually charge these bands to use their facilities. If you want to reach out to the local teen music community, this is for you.
Ask the students in your youth group who the popular local bands are. Then, contact and invite them to play at a local music festival for free. Since the bands want people to hear them, they will passionately promote your event!
However, there are two things to think through before pressing “start” on plans for a music festival. First, how will you handle the question of music content? It may be as simple as asking the bands to be respectful of the fact they are performing in a church or as complicated as a list of rules. Second, carefully select volunteers who are open to different music styles and the wide range of teens who will attend this event.
If music isn’t your thing, take advantage of the final moments of summer to have a massive water balloon day. Start with a water balloon creation race. Who wants to fill a gazillion water balloons? Start the event by asking the students to do just that. Borrow a bunch of waterholes and splitters so you have plenty of outlets and then give small groups of students water balloon kits that include nozzles. Award a prize for the group that fills the most balloons in 10 minutes. If you want to speed up the process, Bunch-O-Balloons can help you fill 100 balloons in just seconds! It's a beautiful thing.
Next, spend time working on your accuracy with water-balloon target practice. You can, of course, create simple bull’s-eyes to attach to the back wall of the church. Make it even more fun by putting a bull's-eye on each volunteer to wear or hold as moving targets.
If you have some wide-open space, break out the water balloon hole-in-one competition. For this, you’ll need a couple of hula hoops and water-balloon sling shots. After dividing into groups of four or five, give someone the hula hoop and the rest of the team water balloons and slingshots. The goal is for the hula hoopers and the sling shooters to work together to get the water balloons through the hoops and on to the other side of the field.
Water-balloon partner relays are always a ton of fun. Divide the students into a couple of teams and have them carry a water balloon to the far side of a field and back. The twist is that each balloon must be carried by two students — each with a single hand on the balloon at all times.
Let’s be honest, if it weren’t a crime, we’d all like to get creative with some paint on the side of a building. Don’t worry; we’re not advocating having teens tag your church. Rather, give them a way to channel that creativity without destroying church property.
If you have a nice big wall on your church, cover it with something paintable. A billboard printer in your town might donate a used billboard. Turn the printed side to face the building, and you have a huge, beautiful white canvas.
Next, invite students to bring whatever spare paint their families have at home. Order a bunch of foam brushes and let the youth have a blast. If you don’t have the wall or are afraid of what might happen if you affix your graffiti canvas to part of the church, do the same thing with the “canvas” laid on the ground in the parking lot.
Be sure to involve your community of artists so they can help you make the event extra-creative.
We usually only think of fireworks around Independence Day and New Year’s Day. Having an autumn fireworks display is fun and will be appreciated by your local fireworks retailer. They might even give you an off-season discount! The event is simple. Make sure you know when the sun is going down and schedule your fireworks extravaganza. Appoint safety-conscious parents to light the fireworks (splitting it into two locations helps speed up the display) and have a blast. Since you’re doing this in the off season, it wouldn’t hurt to give your local fire department a heads up. They may even want to watch the show!
Be sure to check state laws on displaying fireworks. You may need to obey certain regulations, get a permit or buy special public safety insurance for a one-off event.
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Whether you choose to get messy, shoot fireworks or all of the above, we hope this will help you reach out to the students in your area. As the day approaches, encourage your volunteers to introduce themselves to students. Take a moment to tell everyone how much Jesus and your church loves them, and invite them to return to become part of your fun-loving community of Christ followers.