As a kid who grew up going to youth group, I’m sure I went to 4 or 5 all-nighters by the time I was 17.  I remember sneaking around late at night and having one of my pastors chase me down the hallway.

Fast forward to when I was 22. By that time, I was a youth director at a church. And I started thinking and planning about what I would do for a fun event at the church. I couldn’t help but remember how 5 or 6 years before I was the kid who had gone to a number of lock-ins, so I thought, “that’s the answer, let’s do a lock-in”.

And so my quest began to plan my first all-nighter with a group of 15+ students and a few adults.

I look back to some of the mistakes I made in planning back then:

  • Too much food
  • Not enough planned events
  • I didn’t set boundaries in the building
  • I let some of the kids talk me into some things
  • I remember a driver telling me after we got back from an offsite destination that his car was over capacity by 2 kids
  • I built a bonfire in a steel drum under the awning of the church and allowed smoke to stain the roof

Yep…. There are some failures listed there

Perhaps enough to tell me not to do them?


But I did learn from my mistakes

Fast forward another 20 years. Its almost 2018.

And this January I get to host my second all-nighter since I’ve been serving at Triumph. Last year our all-nighter (called Insomnomania) was a ton of fun as we had over 100 students from our church and a few neighboring churches and this year we hope to bump that total up some more.

We will meet at the church and go over the schedule, take food orders and explain our rules. As soon as we can, we will get into a school bus and head off to the local mall to play a game of “Where’s Waldo” (I love playing Waldo. It’s a giant game of people hiding in various places at a mall with teams of students looking for them and getting points for each one that they find).

After we play Waldo, we’re going to our local Trampoline Park to jump around for 90 minutes. Following that, we will return to the church for 90 minutes with a concert by a local Christian rapper. From 1:30-3 we are going bowling and from 3-4:30 we are having junk food at our local Perkins. From 4:30-8 AM we will be back at the church for open play games, food and laser tag followed by cleaning up and resetting the church.

It sounds fun and it is, but it’s a lot of work and it’s super tiring.

Well, in my quest to write an article on “surviving an all-nighter” I wound up googling a few things to try to give my ideas on what to write about.

  • The first google search was “How to survive a lock-in” but all that google showed me was articles on “How to survive a long fall”
  • Then I googled “How to survive an all-nighter” but all google gave me was ideas and YouTube videos about how to party like a rock star

Well, my search took me maybe 2 minutes so I’m thinking that there must be something like what I wanted out there but if there isn’t, you know what that tells me?

It tells me that there is no such thing as surviving a lock-in!


So why do I do lock-ins?

Because we want to get the youth workers merit badge for surviving a lock-in?

Not at all.

As I process now why I do a lock-in I have a number of reasons:

Reasons like:

  • Students need to have some fun, safe experiences at church
  • We can interject the gospel in events like these
  • We have the opportunity to build relationships with students
  • Events like these give students a chance to get to know new students

So, what are some things that we can do to have successful all-nighters?

Here are some of my IDEAS to having a successful all-nighter and so you don’t kill yourself

  • Start as late as possible – Why host a crazy night that starts at 6 PM and ends at 8 AM when you can cut a few hours out by starting at 8 or 9PM?
  • Make a detailed plan and keep good records – The bigger the event the more details and records that need to be kept
  • Expect students to show up who didn’t sign up – At our last all-nighter I had 10 students show who we didn’t expect and 5 who paid but didn’t show up
  • Plan like you’ve never planned before – The more you plan and evaluate afterwards the better the current and future all-nighters will be
  • Go off campus – The more time I spend off campus the less things that can go wrong on campus, the less opportunity for boredom exists, and the more chances that I have to give students something unique and memorable
  • Get lots of chaperones – You can never have enough chaperones especially during an all-nighter. You’ll use them as drivers, as people monitoring the building, as cooks and as people who can get to know students
  • Partner with other churches – An all-nighter is one of those events that lots of churches do, so why not do it together and go crazy together?
  • Do it once a year – I honestly only do 1 per year because they take a lot of work and time but beyond that, by doing it once a year, you give students something to look forward to for the future
  • Get lots of sleep beforehand – Enough said
  • State rules/boundaries – You will have some sort of situation arise where someone does something or goes somewhere they weren’t supposed to go. Right? If that’s the case, doesn’t that heighten the reason to get students on the same page in advance?
  • If possible, staff the event in shifts so you can nap – I’m fortunate to have several staff that work with and for me. It gives me the ability to go take a nap in my office. If you’re able, set yourself up with someone who can give you a long nap during the night

As I thought about all of this I couldn’t help but think about words my youth ministry professors used to make fun of all-nighters. Check out Romans 13:12 which says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”