Making a Life Night Environment on a Budget

Making environments for retreats and life nights are some of my favorite parts of youth ministry. They really take a good life night to the next level and add some “wow!” factor when teens walk in the room.

In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend a lot of money to make a killer environment. However, times are changing and my Church is looking at greatly shrinking our budgets. How can youth ministry keep providing great environments for teens at a fraction of a cost? My solution is to build a few life night set-ups that I can reuse with elements I can swap in and out.

Here are my recommendations:

  1. A few king sized bed sheets: $20 a piece. From covering tables, hanging them as backdrops, hiding extension cords or pretending to be a ghost you can do a TON of stuff with a good bed sheet. I’m going to say you’ll need 6 sheets: 2 black, 2 white and 2 different colors (maybe like an orange and navy blue). And make sure you buy the sheets and NOT mattress covers (yes I did do that).
  2. Christmas LED Lights: $20 a 25’ strand. Now you can probably get Christmas lights for free from Core members. Personally, I recommend you fork over the $20 and get a few of the LED strands. These strands are brighter and last a lot longer. Hang them up around your room, drape them on the floor, decorate your snack table, whatever you can think of. They add a lot of character to the room, especially if you dim the lights. You can save even more money buying them in an after Christmas sale. I’m going to recommend you buy 2 strands, 1 multi colored and one white.
  3. Food and Drink: Free. What is a life night without food? Perhaps it’s just how I do youth ministry, but I tend to spend a lot of money on food for our life nights. We’ve recently switched to asking families to donate a bag of chips or a box of cookies. We are able to maintain roughly the same level of snacks we were offering before but at a fraction of the cost. You can also ask one-time favors of local restaurants. One time, Buffalo Wild Wings donated a whole bunch of wings to a life night we did and the teens went crazy.
  4. Life Teen Logo: Free. Remember those great DVD supports Life Teen sends you? When was the last time you actually watched one? If you’re like me, the DVDs mainly sit on your shelf collecting dust after the initial opening of “the box.” Life Teen has included a number of Life Teen logo videos on their DVD supports that will loop endlessly. Just set up your parish TV and DVD player and you’ve got an instant hit for your environment.
  5. Energetic Christian Music. Free. Don’t forget, Life Teen also sends you some of the greatest in Christian music. Throw the CD in your parish CD player and set it to shuffle and repeat. You can also use Pandora Internet radio for a similar effect with a little more variety.
  6. A Crucifix and Marian Image: Free. I found an old crucifix and image of Mary that no one was using in my parish. After asking, they’ve become the property of the youth group. Chances are, you can find something similar at your parish if you look around.
  7. A spotlight: $20. Perfect for ending prayer times. Shine it on your crucifix or Marian image. I personally like the yellow industrial kind you can buy from Lowes. Turn off all your lights and it sets the mood instantly. We’ll also throw in an extension cord for $10 bringing this total to $30.

So, my grand total is $190 and it’s a set up you can use for multiple life nights. What great tips do you have to add for how to make a fantastic environment for those on a budget?

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