Yaconelli’s Exciting Concepts to Energize Youth Night

My youth nights were hit and miss.

There were problems with discipline and some nights dragged on, even for me. Then I came across Mike Yaconelli’s killer concepts for better youth nights and young life club meetings. What a difference! I’m convinced that any student ministry can benefit by including any of these. I really like concept #4!


Yaconelli says that where you meet is as important as what you do. He suggests that you use the room to keep the senses involved. You can rearrange the chair to change the focus. Use the seating to create interest.

If you are stuck with a gym use the space to your advantage. Focus toward a stage or a corner of the room. Don’t have big empty space behind you. The acoustics are really bad to get them up so close that you can touch them!

Here’s Yaconelli’s rule: meet in a room just slightly larger than your group! If you have 5 kids meet in the church kitchen. If a sixth kid joins rejoice that you are moving to the nursery!!

Above all meeting rooms must be functional. I like to have the door at the back of the room for teens who arrive late. It’s good that it is not the heritage room with precious china lining the walls!


I really get excited about this concept. Create a sense of mystery around your event . Be a little unpredictable. In business they talk a lot about value added features. You can hype up your meetings a bit but leave some great details out. Don’t be like the trailer that already shows you all the best parts of the movie and never leaves your anything you haven’t seen. Make it even better than they imagined.

My kids were stunned on the hide and seek night to find lasers, strobe lights, smoke machines and black lights. One group got whole sets of laser tag equipment . The students were blown away.

One group did a SCI FI night transported kids to the playing area in the church elevator. They had an elaborate game to survive an alien attack. They had no idea what was going to happen next.

Is there any mystique to any of your youth nights?


I brought my students to an all night skiing event. Before we went up to the mountain 700 youth met in a church. Over top of the announcements a thousand paper plates were launched from the balcony. Each plate had a letter on it and the students had to spell words to get prizes. It was organized chaos. Every student was on edge wondering what was going to happen next. They were still on the edge of their seats when a world class 6 minute presentation of the gospel was presented. Easily 100 students went forward to begin following Jesus that night!


I love this concept because its more about what the students come up with than what the leaders devises. Give teens the opportunity to express themselves in spontaneity.

If there has been a sense of mystique and students have been surprised they are primed to respond in creative ways! I love their creativity when I throw out a challenge to come up with a 30 second commercial about Christ to air during the superbowl. I have been astounded by student skits, student debates, student posters in reaction to a challenge.

One amazing spontaneous moment began with me reading a children’s story call “Because a Little Ant Went Ker Choo. As I sat on the edge  of the stage and began to read students began slipping out of their chairs and sitting on the floor. Spontaneously 70 students were at my feet straining to see the pictures in the picture book.

Maybe I am reading this wrong, but when the spontaneous happens, that I never planned for, I feel that God is at work in the hearts of teens.


People think that students don’t want to learn. I disagree. I think that they are not properly motivated.

One summer I ran a class called “Not Ready for Sunday School” for students who hate church. Each week we shared scary end times movies with the students who didn’t want to go the other classes on social justice issues or discipleship. I was impressed that half the student told me “I think I am ready for Sunday School” after just 3 movies. It was a problem of motivation.

The exciting thing about this concept is the key that unlocks a student’s motivation. The America government commissioned a 2 million dollar study to determine what makes students want to learn… Here is what they learned. Drum roll please…. “Students are Motivated to Learn when they Learn.”

What!! Exactly: the experience of mastering one simple concept motivates student to learn the next one. It motivates them more than paying them to learn a concept or punishing them if they do not learn the concept.

Think about how you can use this at church. Simple phrases that students can memorize at young life club or Youth for Christ Club will help them want to learn a new one next week. Little poems, tag lines, slogans, and memorable phrases will stick with teens and they will feel that they are growing.


Yaconelli’s five fantastic concepts helped turn my meetings around. Discipline problems dropped, attendance increased, participation grew, and students were eager to learn new ideas. Try them out and let me know how it goes.

Share this:

Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com