Nothing quite invigorates a youth group, or a programme, like a great social event. When they work well, socials are great for building relationships, breaking down cliques, and increasing a sense of belonging in any group. The trouble is, it can sometimes be hard to think of good ideas for what to actually do - especially if your group has fallen into a habit, or have a tradition, of always running social nights in the same way.
Of course you can just put on some music and break out plenty of free food, but we want to lift your sights just a little higher than that. Here are ten tried-and-tested ideas for social events that you could fire up your youth programme. Obviously we need to be aware of COVID-19 implications and other potential risks (always do a risk assessment!) but in principle, we think every entry on this list could be a winner for you this term.
1. Silent Disco
This one involves a fair amount of expense, but it's probably the event that has proved most popular with young people in my experience. You hire a number of headsets and transmitters from a dedicated company (e.g. www.thesilentdiscocompany.co.uk) and then run a party – in complete silence. It's pretty eerie when you walk into the room without a headset on to find a bunch of kids throwing shapes as if they've all gone mad. Best of all you can run several different radio channels at the same time – meaning you can cater for diverse musical tastes.
2. Junk crazy golf
This is an event in two parts, and requires a bit of prep (namely raiding a few recycling bins beforehand). The first part is classic junk-modelling. Your group splits into teams, and each team creates a crazy golf 'hole' using the junk and their imaginations. This works best if they have a decent amount of time to craft their creations – even adding paint and other decoration if they feel artistically inclined. Then in part two, they grab some putters (or unihoc sticks, or whatever you have lying around), and play their way around the new junk golf course you've all just created.
3. Scavenger Hunt
A bit of a youth work staple: you create a list of items – ranging from everyday to obscure – and then send the young people off in teams to find them against the clock. You could run this in your venue if you have a wider building such as a church to explore, but it probably works best on a larger canvas – like your local area. This can be really fun – if you have enough drivers and volunteer leaders to stay safe – in cars, but you can easily do this on foot too.
4. Pizza chef night
As Mark Twain once wrote, show me a young person who doesn't love pizza... and I'll be very surprised. Pizza making is always a fun (and satisfying) activity - and there are various possible ways to do it. The simplest is to buy bases from a supermarket and then add toppings, while you can also make your own dough by following a recipe such as this one (just make sure you prep it in advance). But the advent of portable outdoor pizza ovens means you can potentially go a step further and let young people cook the pizzas too – you'll obviously need to hire or borrow the oven(s), and make sure you properly risk-assess and safely staff the process.
5. All-night hike
Most suited to the summer months, this is the entry on this list which requires the most preparation, but also carries potentially the largest reward. You need to find a route that will keep you away from major roads and any risk that you'll create too much noise, and you'll have to ensure you can find enough leaders foolish kind enough to want to join you on an all-nighter. But there's no denying the power and potential that a night hike has for growing group cohesion, creating great memories and offering plenty of opportunities for deep, real and meaningful conversations.
6. Cake decorating challenge
If your young people aren't ready for a full-scale bake-off, perhaps they'll take a nod from another popular TV food show – Netflix's Nailed It – and take part in a battle of icing? Get or bake some simple sponge cakes – you can either go for single large cakes, or a series of small plain cupcakes. Then either let them completely follow their imaginations, or instead attempt to recreate a specific object or even face in icing form. Here's what happened when my youth group attempted to make a cake portrait of yours truly:
7. Human 'among us' night
For copyright reasons, you might want to get a thesaurus to work on the title, but essentially you can have a lot of culturally-relevant fun (especially for younger teens) by bringing the mobile sensation to life. Players are allowed to roam around your building, having chosen labels from a hat that assigned them as either "crewmate" or "imposter". If they're the latter, they're trying to tag (and therefore 'kill') crewmates without being detected. The survivors then need to try to deduce who the murderer might be.
You can have a lot of fun trying to re-create all sorts of computer games in real life, like they did with Angry Birds here. Although maybe you should steer away from Grand Theft Auto…
8. Retro gaming arcade
While we're thinking about video games, I'm a hopeless nostalgic for the rather primitive machines and games of my youth. I've discovered however that this old tech fills the new generation with delight and wonder, mainly at the thought that we spent that long patiently waiting for them to load. Old game systems are available quite cheaply online - although members of your church or community might still have them gathering dust in a loft somewhere. You can create an impressive arcade of games consoles and computers, old and new, and invite your young people to spend a merry evening trying their hands at Sonic the Hedgehog, the original Mario Bros. and more.
9. Movie-making night and competition
Got a few in your group who fancy themselves as modern-day auteurs? Unleash their inner Kubricks by creating a one-night short film challenge. Groups of young people have two hours to script, film, edit and present a short film on a subject of your choosing, before taking part in an impromptu gala screening at the end of the night, with Oscar-style prizes for best acting, writing, directing and more. You obviously need to adhere so your church or group's safeguarding guidelines, but as long as everyone is safe and willing to participate, this can be a hilarious activity.
10. Big kid's little kids birthday party
Children grow up so fast these days... so give them a day off by holding the kind of birthday party they used to love when they were five. Party games like pass the parcel and musical statues; cheese and pineapple sticks followed by jelly and ice-cream; and if budget will stretch, you could even hire a robust bouncy castle. Good luck finding a clown who's prepared to run a magic show for a group of unimpressed 15-year-olds – but otherwise, the idea really works!
Let us know your best youth group social ideas – or even the ones which didn't work so well!