Getting Students to Show Up for Your Event

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By Kevin Kent

We all believe in the camps and events that we are doing, and know there is no better environment for building community and bringing energy into our ministry year. With any luck, and a bit of strategic thinking and purposeful programming afterwards, we can ride the wave of momentum for some time. But only if people show up.

I can’t tell you how many times I have envisioned and developed the most exciting and potentially world-changing event (at least that’s how I felt) just to be left in a panic about why no one was registering. I didn’t know if everyone was just waiting until the last minute to register or waiting until I decided to call everyone on my roster and remind them it’s time to sign up. Many times I would spend several hours on the phone convincing every last person that they needed to register before I lost my shirt for not hitting minimums.

Not that the phone calls were a bad thing, in fact there was a ton of great ministry within those desperate hours of calls before our most important event. But I was always left frustrated, wondering why people weren’t signing up. After all, the same event last year was a huge success! Don’t they remember that? That’s when I decided to change my thinking, instead of hoping that everyone would show up to a camp that would be the springboard of momentum for months to come. I needed to build the momentum before the event even started.

I began to realize that students don’t get excited about the doing the same thing. They won’t pull from the memory of last year’s experience because students live in the moment. They don’t always ask their friends if they are going before they sign up, and what if they do and their friend can’t go? Or what if a well-intending parent decides that everyone in their student’s circle needs to know that their kid isn’t going, so they don’t waste their one cabin request on a no-show (this has happened to me more than I’d like to admit). And lastly, students are skeptical (at least the ones at my church). Even if every event they have come to so far was off-the-chart fun, they always leave room for the thought that this one might be different.

A few years back we decided to something that changed everything for us. We take time out of our normal weekly program to focus on building momentum for our camps and events. A few times a year we have these nights that we call (insert your event or camp name here) Rally. We show highlights from the last year, play games that connect to the event, pick songs that relate to the theme, give a message or interview people, do creative spins on announcements about what’s upcoming. It’s like one big commercial. Sometimes we invite the guest speaker or band for camp to play a preview (one year our high school group had the guest speaker talk to parents and families at our main church service). We also launch our registration with the lowest price available for only 48 hours (we usually have 50-60% of our registrations come in at that Rally price). The entire night is designed around communicating the most important things to build momentum for our students. We know we have to be completely clear on these three things:

1) It’s going to be a ton of fun!

We know that students don’t care nearly as much as we do that their lives will be changed or that they will feel a deeper sense of belonging after camp. They show up for fun. They only tell their friends about it if it will be fun. And they only have a good time if it’s fun.

2) Everyone will be there!

We know we can’t deliver completely on this promise (it’s mostly out of our hands) but we can be sure that we create the illusion that “everyone” will be there. So we speak in generalities, and talk about the total number of students we are expecting. And we never ask for students to raise their hand or cheer if they plan to go, which just gives the students in the room incomplete data to form a conclusion about who will be there.

3) There are a lot of new things this year!

This is huge! The most important thing for momentum is new vision. Every year we try to bring in big change. We ask how we can get better, and what we are not doing yet? If we run out of ideas, we get really creative on this and try to find new twists on things that we’ve always done so that it feels new. Students like to know what to expect but they want it to be new, fresh, and exciting. We tell them everything; we don’t wait for a big reveal or keep some things secret. We want to build anticipation.

Although the Rally is primarily for the students, it works to get leaders on board as well. But we think that there’s something more important to communicate to leaders. We usually do this over an email just before or after the rally, and then in a meeting or personal conversations later we revisit these points. The leaders need to know that God’s going to do something big and they can’t miss it. Every leader wants to know that their investment matters and, most of all, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. As best we can, we communicate the anticipation that God is going to show up in a big way. I think God likes to deliver on this hope, and it keeps us on our toes and helps us give Him credit. And, every leader needs to know that this is the best investment of their time with students. We tell them stats, remember past wins, dream of potential moments, and give them vision of the near future when the event is over.

Over these past few years-since we have been doing the Rallies-I have never needed to pick up the phone and beg people to show up. In fact our numbers continue to grow and our spots fill up sooner every year. And finally, the Rally helps us to have a developed plan well in advance rather than waiting until the last minute for everything. And it holds us accountable to follow through on everything we promised- that our next camp or event will be the best thing we have done yet.

 

Kevin is the Middle School Pastor at Lakeside Church in Folsom, CA. He has two beautiful and spirited daughters and the most amazing wife, who has served alongside him in ministry for 13 years. Kevin has a passion for doing big, innovative, and creative things in ministry. He loves to invest in his team and partner with other pastors to see lives changed with the love of Christ. Kevin is a foodie and slightly obsessed with tea. He also loves to cook, date his wife, make his daughters feel like princesses, and take his motorcycle to the racetrack. Find out more about Kevin’s ministry by visiting MSMLakeside.com.