“I’m definitely getting fired today.”
These are the words that came to mind when I saw the large, purple bruise on a middle school youth’s leg. We had an Edge Boys’ Night event at a local paintball arena and he lost a fight against a paintball that viciously attacked him without warning. Somehow, this young man didn’t get the “wear pants and long sleeves to protect yourself” memo! At the sight of his wound, I thought for sure that I had just made our parish vulnerable to a potential legal disaster. Luckily he wasn’t upset at his injury; he thought it looked cool. His mother gave him an “I told you so speech” and told him to tough it out, since he knew the dangers by filling out his injury waiver.
And what was the end result of the event? The Core Members bonded with the youth, they learned a few things about the sport, and we built trust and relationships. The Core Team was also able to take this shared experience into their small groups, where it translated into faith-building discussions. An event we wouldn’t typically do ended up having tremendous rewards.
We cannot underestimate the importance of social events for middle school youth. The goals of these events should be: 1) fun and exciting, 2) provide opportunities for building Christian community, and 3) allow everyone an opportunity to live out their faith in everyday surroundings. While these events may not seem like a life-changing experience of faith, it can give them opportunities to build Christian friendships and create a sense of belonging in the Church. Here are a few practical tips on planning successful social events for your middle school youth:
Offer social activities on a regular basis.
Creating a consistent rhythm of activities will give the youth something to look forward to. Having a monthly Edge Mass at the Saturday Vigil with a social activity afterwards works great, creating a fun and holy night for middle schoolers! You can also pair an event with a weeknight Mass to take advantage of weeknight pricing at offsite venues. Whatever the case, find a night and frequency of events that works best for your parish.
Choose activities they will participate in.
Some kids like to go to a rock-climbing gym, while others may be absolutely bored there. Get in tune with the activities popular with your kids. There are off-site activities available like “inflatable” gyms, skating rinks, laser tag arenas, bowling alleys and more! Get creative and offer onsite activities like a Board Game night, Messy Olympics or Movie Night. Utilize weather and have a snowball fight or fun in the sun water day (just make sure you have snowball rules or swimsuit guidelines!).
Have a balance of activities.
After going to a $15 per person laser tag, have a $2 pizza and movie night in your parish hall the next month. This eases the burden on parents’ wallets. Invite the whole family to some events, like a bowling night or pool party. A movie theater outing might attract a different crowd than a laser tag night; so be sure to offer different types of evens to include various types of kids. Always remember what role the social events hold in your overall vision. You don’t want kids going only to social events, so make sure they are mixed in with service projects, retreats, and other activities you may have. If you have a fall or spring retreat, cancel your monthly social event for that month to focus your attendance on the retreat.
Cover necessary legal grounds.
If a venue requires injury/liability waiver forms, make sure every participant has one! Be sure to know and follow all diocesan guidelines for events both at your parish and away from the parish. Copy off extra forms and have them at Edge Nights, in the office, and with you at the event. If you are renting out facilities, make sure you have all required forms such as a parish certificate of insurance. If drivers are required, be sure to follow diocesan guidelines and fill out all paperwork necessary. Never cut the corners on these requirements!
Get the best bang for your buck.
Most off-site facilities are willing to negotiate pricing if you are bringing a group of people. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounted pricing, or see what packages they might be willing to offer that aren’t in writing. For on-site activities, ask families to donate items such as food and entertainment in order to keep costs down.
Have a detailed plan.
Always have basic information available for parents. Make a flyer that has the start time, end time, what to bring list, cost, address, directions, emergency contact number, etc.
Collaborate with your high school group.
Plan a middle and high school event on back to back days, and use the same entertainment like inflatable rides, games, etc. Inflatable entertainment companies might offer a discounted price for a second day if they are able to leave their equipment overnight. Plan events that connect the eighth graders with Life Teen as the school year ends. A simple game night with high school teens present can give incoming freshman familiar faces in the fall.
Put your events in the bulletin and parish website! Create a Facebook event for it online (according to diocesan guidelines). Make small flyers to send home with the youth after Edge. Broadcast an advertisement on local radio or television. Create enthusiasm for it. If you’re excited, they will be excited too.