One of my biggest headaches in youth ministry, was the sign up system for events. It is an exercise in futility. Names on sheets of paper feels archaic. At this point in history, it feels like you’re asking students to churn butter. How do you fix that?
Let’s face it, It doesn’t matter how many names you have on a sheet of paper or how many people DM’d you they said they were going; a quarter to half of those students will not show up. When Facebook’s Create Event feature was released many moons ago, I thought it was a God-send, it then became great to inform parents but not so much to sign up students. Things are always changing and if you want to communicate that an event is coming or important or fun and you want kids to “sign up” for it, you must change too.
First, lets consider why kids don’t sign up
They’re worried it will be lame.
These are all valid reasons in the eyes of a teenager and you’re role as the event creator is to put those fears or concerns at ease. Shaming or making kids feel guilty are not good tactics a youth worker should use to get kids sign up for an event. You have two choices, put out a sign up sheet and hope for the best or get kids signed up by thinking of the students deepest concerns and working hard to overcome them.
As my friend Ryan Latham says, in the book we wrote together, “Kids don’t sign up, they get signed up.” I believe getting kids signed up is the only way to make sure your most significant events, like camp, mission trips, outreaches, are going to be successful.
How does one get a kid signed up? There are several strategies you can use, but first, let’s look at this chart.
What will determine the success of your event?
Choose something that is measurable. Fun is not a measurement unless you are going to do a private poll or ask each person if they had fun and expect them to be 100 truthful.
Number of students attending?
Number of new students attending?
Quality of connections made between students?
Fire, ready, aim is a terrible way to start planning an event. When you decide what you’re shooting for, then you can move forward with planning.
Quality of the Event
It starts with the event itself. There are several questions you have to answer before you put the event out to your students.
Why are you having this event? What is it’s purpose?
Will it be fun, challenging, unique?
How will this event benefit the youth ministry?
Is there a cost? Does the cost reflect your economic make up of your youth ministry?
Will you have to fundraise for kids to go?
Does the event have/need a name?
Is this a one off event or are you trying to build a tradition?
Quality of the event also depends on the marketing of the event, the design of the event and the buzz you build about the event.
I hated this question when I was a youth pastor. My response was always, “It doesn’t matter who’s going, it’ll be fun.” Except “fun”, in the eyes of the student, WAS based on who was going. I missed that in translation.
The rule used to be, “Sign up the most popular kids and the rest will follow.” I don’t entirely believe this is true, anymore. There is still something to it but I think you could expand the list to “the most fun” students. Who brings the fun wherever they go? This should also be applied when asking leaders to participate. Some kids will come just because some of your leaders are going. No one wants to come to an event where there only grumpy adults telling them what they cannot do.
One way to build excitement is to build scarcity. If I only have so many seats on the van, I can only take so many people. Fill key seats with leaders and then share how many are left for students. I used to use a graphic of a bus for ski trips, etc and when I would fill the seats, I would put a name or a face in that seat so that week after week kids knew who was going and how many seats were left.
If an event sign up is not going well, it’s ok to cancel the event. Go back to the drawing board, ask more questions, get more buy in. It’s better to cancel the event than waste time and money over it.
If the event bar is low enough, like taking kids bowling or to the movies and 4 kids show up, go. Some of the best events I’ve had were with small groups of students and I am still friends with those students today. Numbers aren’t the only factor in a successful event, but you have to go back to what you’re trying to accomplish with the event and decide what your measure of success will be.
Do yourself a favor, save yourself some stress and don’t put out a piece of paper and a pen and say, “Here it is, sign up”. Before you invite kids to the event, decide what success is, why are you doing this, work on the quality of the event and work at getting students signed up.
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