Annual Lock-In/Lock-Out Do’s and Don’ts



A long time ago in a far distant galaxy I actually believed Lock-Ins were a great idea.  But after establishing the annual Christmas break Lock-In, each year seemed to be more of a burden and less of a God-inspired idea.  As a matter of fact I came to believe that Lock-Ins were really Devil’s Play.  Then I heard about doing Lock-Outs.  Surely they would be more God-Like!  No more explanations to the trustees about why 3 doors and two windows were broken or why the alter cross was missing.  We could just break stuff other places.  Oops.  Also, my good friend that had to keep the lock-ins going after I moved on to another Church reminds me often: “This is your fault.”  And he is not laughing when he says that.

So let me spend a bit of time explaining how you can better start a tradition that may long outlast your tenure at the church.


Basic Idea: start just after dinner, do fun stuff all night, throw in a midnight worship service and spend the rest of the night in prayer without ceasing that nobody gets hurt, does anything illegal, or breaks anything (especially in the sanctuary).

Better Idea: Have a well planned out schedule of multiple activities that the Youth help to plan, lead, and have buy-in for.  You can have fun wacky games but don’t make those the point.  Have some care time and prayer time.  DO have the worship service.  Set a tone that the point of the Lock-In is to have “serious fun” and to purposely grow community as a Youth Group.  Therefore make sure nothing happens (or is planned) that leaves anyone out or that isolates an individual youth.  Make sure that there is a “quiet room” for those who really need sleep after 2:00 am.  Make sure you have plenty of adults to be in all areas at all times the whole night.  Make breakfast together.  Send each Youth home with something interesting to share with their family (rather than something absurd that happened).  Don’t have “unstructured time” at all.  Do have ways that Youth can “opt out” of an activity or two without going off by themselves or in couples.


Basic Idea: leave the church and go from one place to another all night having fun activities such as bowling, putt-putt, go carts, movie, breakfast; all at about 2 hour increments.

Better Idea: Bring more adults than you think you need.  If possible have a charter bus with a professional driver take you everywhere instead of volunteers driving church vans or personal vehicles.  Eliminate the “sleepy factor” safety issues.  Start with a healthy meal with lots of protein and not just carbs.  Don’t let youth load up on energy drinks, candy, and junk food.  Do check out each location ahead of time, later at night and see what the atmosphere is.  Some putt putt places that seem fine in daylight offer too many issues after dark.  In the movie theatre, station an adult at the door of the theatre or in the lobby just to monitor the inevitable trips to the restroom.

The Real Story

So here is the deal: the problem with Lock-Ins was usually……ME.  I had not planned well enough.  I tried to wing-it on too many things.  I did not empower the Youth or make sure we had Youth Leadership buy-in to what was planned.  And most importantly I didn’t recruit enough adults to help. So here are a few more tips:

  • Plan several months in advance, not the week before.
  • Be clear with the Youth and Parents that if there are not enough volunteers, there will be no Lock-In.  A fabulous ratio is 1 adult to every 7 Youth if you stay in, 1 adult to every 5 Youth if you go out.
  • Assign a specific adult to the 5-7 specific Youth in the ratio.  Their job is to look after the safety and health of each of their group for the whole night.
  • Have a few extra adults more than need for assigned groups.  Adults can get tired, sick, and sleepy also.  So you need some replacement players ready to go.  Make sure the adult volunteers stay healthy as well.
  • Have a well-planned route and contact information & address of each place you will be for the parents in case they need to come get their Youth.
  • Follow the Rules of John Wesley in all things: 1) do no harm, 2) do good, 3) stay in love with God.  If anything threatens breaking any of those rules DO NOT DO IT!
  • Care for yourself the week in advance of the Lock-In.  Eat well.  Get extra rest.  Spend more time with you family.
  • Care for yourself during and after the Lock-In.  Drink lots of water.  Eat nutritious meals.  Rest and relax the next couple of days afterward.

How have you gone from not so good Lock-Ins to better Lock-Ins or Lock-Outs?  Would you share your best practices here in the comments section so that everybody can gain from your wisdom and experience?  Thanks!


Peace and Grace,


Charles W. Harrison




  1. This was so helpful thanks for the insight bro 🙂

  2. I think that’s a little uptight. We only have about 15 kids in our high school youth and they’re all very responsible. We have rules in which different places they can and cannot throughout the night, we have the kids make the budget for food and games and we let them take the reigns, it’s gone really well and I think that since we’re such a tight knit group it’s easier. Maybe it’s harder because you have a large church, but have faith that the kids are at church for a reason and that they’ll be responsible and safe. I don’t want this to come off harsh but we’ve never had anything broken, or stolen. Maybe enforce more rules about it, hang up signs, and make sure that the kids are having a good time.

  3. Having just barely survived a lock in with almost 80 youths (6th-12th grade) and only 6 adults…I don’t find any of this uptight at all. I just wish we would have followed some of this guidance before hand. Maybe then I wouldn’t have wanted to run and hide at 4 am.

    • Why would you even think that 80 children with 6 adults was a good idea?!? If your church doesn’t have set guidelines for adult to youth ratios, then research your school district website and follow those. They generally follow the state guidelines.

      • 80 youth to 6 adults was not the plan at all. It was an open invite to all the middle school and high school students in our area and we had no idea the response would be 80 kids. As I am “just” a volunteer it is not my place to draft a policy as far as student to adult ratios, but trust me I have voiced my concerns after our experience.

      • KMK,

        Leaders are coming on here to find info on a lock in and do not need to be brought down. Things don’t always go as planned so encourage instead of bringing down!

  4. We hold 3 lock-ins each year. Each has a purpose and a unique focus.
    I don’t do “up all night” lock-ins anymore. It’s not a good idea for my group. Kids and families are too busy these days to lose a night of sleep. So at 2am, I put a movie on. They all know from the beginning that after the movie we are sleeping. It works well, I don’t dread lock-ins and it makes parents happy!

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