SMS Spark Idea: “Dinner Scramble”

Every now and again I’d like to tweak the Student Ministry Stuff (SMS) series and give what I’ll call a “Spark Idea.”  I’ve seen other Youth Ministry bloggers and organizations label posts like these as “freebies.”  I guess each of my SMS posts (or anything on the blog for that matter) could be considered a freebie, but specifically these Spark Ideas may fit that category well.

Philosophical Background For This “Spark

I believe that student ministry is (and should be) three pronged (Student, Staff and Parent).  In fact, my first two SMS posts speak to this issue, here is the second of the two posts (which links directly to the first as well); however, most Youth Pastors I am in relationship with (especially those under 30) are strong in and prioritize just one or two of these prongs. After all, they think, they’ve been hired to work with the youth.  Therefore most prioritize his or her relationship with students.  Quickly realizing that they need help, they then recruit chaperones who may or may not become shepherds.  That’s usually how it goes.  Unfortunately, very few prioritize the relationship with parents (or the congregation at large).  I believe ALL THREE key relationships need to be a point of emphasis. The “Dinner Scramble” is an event which prioritizes all three and gives an essential change of pace for your normal weekly programming at the same time!  As a bonus, this event can be one of the best events for students to invite their unchurched friends!

The Dinner Scramble Explained

Venue: Homes of church members (quite possibly “parents” of youth group students)

Host/Facilitator: A Volunteer Youth Leader (“staff”)

Scheduling: Pick a regular “Youth Group Night” as your targeted night for your Dinner Scramble (approximately 6-8 weeks in advance).  Recruit the right “venue” homes.  You’ll need one house for every 5-6 students you believe will sign up for this event.  You’ll need at least one volunteer leader for each of the homes you recruit. They will serve as “host” to assist the family who are providing the venue/meal.  Ideally, your volunteer leaders will not provide the venue, as you are trying to broaden the exposure of your students ministry and improve your relationship with parents and/or congregants.  Work hard to get a separate host family (venue) and leader who can concentrate on the relational hosting.

Announcement: After you’ve lined up host homes and a leader (or two) for each house you can announce the “Dinner Scramble”  to your youth group.  I suggest you charge $5 per student so that you have seed money in which the host home (venue) can submit receipts for reimbursement (let them know they have an approximate $30 budget for the dinner, which is very doable, suggest: pasta, bread & salad).  Most venue hosts never did turn in receipts and the $5 charge ended up being a youth group fundraiser.  It was a nice fund to have though for the few folk who did take advantage of turning in receipts.

Invite: As students sign up (register) for the event they should turn in a card with name, phone, address, email (facebook), etc. The key to this event is that students will not know where they are going until they are invited by the assigned host (approximately 5-7 days prior).  I’ve had leaders get pretty creative in doing the invite as well.  Some simply call, some send snail-mail invites where others have literally TP’d bedrooms and posted signs in the student’s room.  Students really began to look forward to the event and became evangelistic in it as well.

Relational Evangelism: We encouraged the hosts and venue hosts to be ready for double the amount of actual invitees.  Our students were encouraged to bring a friend.  Because students did not know who else would be at the specific house they were assigned to, they were very open to bringing a friend so that they didn’t feel alone.  Amazing what a student will do to not feel alone, imagine, they’ll even invite a friend to an event!

Community: The host leader at the event would be in charge of the theme and entertainment outside of the meal.  Some choose Italian, others did a Mexican theme and built the entire night around the theme.  Besides great food the teens, leaders and venue family laughed and played together well.  Games like Mafia, Pictionary and Scategories became barrier breakers and students, parents and leaders enjoyed the (2 hour) evening together.  I can only imagine with Wii and more wide-spread internet options, how much fun groups could have now.

Mix It Up: I used the event to mix up our students a lot. Instead of placing best-friends together, I made sure we had a great mix of guys and gals who did not know each other well.  This really leveled the playing field, enticed better outreach (again, students want to know at least one person, so they invite friends to the event) and students ended up getting to know others in the youth group (and beyond) really well.  Again, the element of surprise (not placing people together or even revealing where you were going until a few days before) became a selling point.

After the first year and experiencing success it was NEVER hard to find new host families (venues) and/or leaders who wanted to participate.  It was a win on every level… Parent (or congregation), Leader and Students all felt blessed.  Outreach took place and the sense of community among peers grew!

Hope the idea sparks creativity for you and gives you a curve ball to throw at your group!



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