The Source for Youth Ministry
Jonathan's Resource Ezine

Weekly Resources, Ideas and Articles from The Source for Youth Ministry
Tuesday, May 4, 2004

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Featured Article: Programming "Hang Out" Time

by Jonathan McKee
May 4, 2004

I like to survey students whenever possible, and one of the purposely-vague questions I always like to ask is, "What is your favorite thing to do for fun?"

Can you guess the number one answer I hear? You might think it's something like, "play sports" or "listen to music." Yes, those are up there on the list, but not #1.

The #1 answer I hear sounds something like this: "Kickin it with my friends" or "Just hangin out" or "Chillaxin wit' my homies."

Just a few weeks ago the leaders at one of our training events were complaining about how all the kids were talking through their worship time in their own program the week before. One leader said, "These kids don't see each other all week, and the first thing they want to do is just sit around and talk. It's hard to program that!"

Is it?

You see- we have a catch 22. Students want to just hang out?it's the #1 thing they want to do. Yet, if we don't provide anything to do, they'll say "we're bored." (especially jr. highers!) Not to mention, if we're going to reach kids for Christ and make disciples of Him, we probably need some content.

On the other hand, if we program the whole evening, they often talk through the entire thing or bail completely, going somewhere else where they can just hang out.

So what's the answer?

Sometimes youth leaders over-program, and sometimes they under-program. Where's the balance?

I've been to groups where there is no "hang out" time. Students come right in, take a seat and worship or game time begins immediately. The temptation for students is to ignore the program and just talk with their friends that they haven't seen all week. This is very common. One of the most common questions I receive on my ASK JONATHAN page is, "My kids keep talking during youth group. What do I do?" (For one of my answers to that question, CLICK HERE) We need to plan "hang out" time.

I've also been to groups that have nothing planned but "free time." No content, no discussions, nothing relevant to meet the needs of students desperately trying to find answers.

As much as kids like to just "hang out," I like to provide something. I like to try to find a balance. And if I err on one side, I linger on the side of "hang out" time. After all, this is an opportunity for my volunteer youth leaders to build relationships with kids. We have the opportunity to "hang out" with them and get to know them better.

We can make "hang out" time with students a tool for relationship building. Not only during our programmed "hang out time," but throughout the week as well. Students like talking on the phone, hanging with their friends at the mall, or just "kicking it" at Starbucks. This is an open door for "one-on-one" time with students. As youth workers, we can invite them to Taco Bell for some greasy food, McDonalds for a milkshake, or Starbucks for a Vente Latte (two words that kids didn't even know a decade ago).

One-one-one time with students is always one of my high priorities in youth ministry. Many kids in today's generation are growing up with very little, if any, one-on-one attention from positive adult mentors. You may find that students that are normally shy or reserved in a crowd will really open up one-on-one. (I talk more about making one-on-one a priority in my article about the power of one-on-one time CLICK HERE)

So how do we find this balance of "hang out" time in our programs and events?

In our weekly programs, provide a "hang out" time at the beginning. A fun atmosphere with munchies, music, maybe even a coffee bar (pretty popular these days). But then dive into your content in a real, relevant and relational way. Something that still gives them a chance to interact with each other. Small groups are a good way to still cover content, but in a relational way.

In our trips and events, provide "options" for activities, plenty of "hang out time," and clear boundaries so you don't lose kids between the cracks. I talked a little about this in the context of a weekend retreat in my article about PLANNING WEEKEND RETREATS (CLICK HERE)

I find it great news that the #1 thing students like to do is be relational. Youth ministry is relational, and our God is relational. God wants a relationship with our students, and our students are looking for a relationship. Not bad, huh? We have the awesome privilege to introduce students to what they are looking for.


Or take a look at what others are saying about his book,

Jonathan McKee is president of The Source for Youth Ministry and author of the new book "Do They Run When They See You Coming? Reaching Out to Unchurched Teenagers." (CLICK HERE FOR THE BOOK) Jonathan speaks and trains across the country and provides free online resources, training, & ideas for youth workers at

Something You Can Use: End of Year All Nighter Ideas

Looking for an end of the year event? Here's a couple ideas:

Unfortunately, the thing that most kids like to do after prom is drink, get high, or jump in bed with someone. What if you offered something else?

How about an after prom party?

Darlene, a youth worker in Arkansas, wrote me a little while ago with an after-prom idea that she's doing for her students. She doesn't want to do the typical "game night." I don't blame her. Most kids wouldn't want to give up prom festivities to play chubby bunnies, baby food relays and pin the tail on the donkey. So she wanted to come up with something a little more creative, with a lot of "hangin' out" time.

Darlene has a facility with a lot of options. She created an atmosphere with fun things to do, or fun places to just "kick it." She set up an old time photo shoot with costumes. She planned a movie area and an area set up with video games.

In addition, she went to the community to get donations for door prizes. It's amazing how many stores and small businesses will donate to a good cause. Usually you'll get great results if you draft a letter explaining your event (providing an alternative to getting drunk on prom night) and put it on the letterhead of your church or organization (with your official non profit 501 (c)(3) number if you're in the US). These gifts can be used as "door prizes" and given away throughout the night, saving the best for last.

I've always found a lot of success with rotating locations and activities throughout the evening. Logistically this requires transportation (don't let students drive in the middle of the night), but it cures boredom that sets in with some kids after a couple of hours.

Try this- an event called KICKIN' IT.

It's an all night party with plenty of activities and plenty of time to hang out, or just "kick it."

You could almost market it as just that.

Calvary Youth's All Night Party
Plenty of Stuff to do ... and Plenty of Time to Just Kick It!

Then plan activities for all night, starting at your normal meeting place. Then go to different fun places where kids can participate, or simply "hang out."

Possible locations/activities:
  • Movie- at someone's house where their basement or large room is set up like a movie theater
  • Swim (at a person's house- a neighborhood pool, even a local hotel if you can pre-arrange)
  • Bowling
  • Lazer tag
  • Roller-skating
  • Costume parties (theme driven)
  • Door prizes
  • Prizes for who brings the most friends
  • GOOD food (nachos, pizza, M&M's, Pepsi, etc.)

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