I've written in the past that I'm not a big fan of big back-to-school bashes. They are sort of the bait-and-switch of the youth ministry world: we bring them in with noise, activity and entertainment, then when they come back the next week we roll out the Bible study. Even so, it's hard to resist the temptation to open the youth year with a bang. So, maybe you've already had your big kick-off event or at least its in the works for an upcoming weekend. Lots of activity, entertainment, food, music, games. Once that is out of our systems, how about trying one of these smaller, quieter ideas for setting a faithful tone for the start of your school year together.
Plan/do a Mission project - put the focus on serving others with a group project in your neighborhood or town.
Cook a Meal - Join together for a pizza-making night or some other meal that will give your group a chance to develop community, talk, laugh, cooperate, and break bread together. Turn the meal into a sacred love feast celebration of communion.
Create Group Art - Creative art projects, if done as a group, can be fun for artists and non-artists alike since the focus is more on the collaborative process and the final product is the work of everyone mixed together. Paint a mural together, build a sculpture, craft prayer flags, make masks or a group portrait.
Make Tye Dye T-shirts - Here's a fun, messy project that anyone can do and you end up with cool, hand-designed shirts. Check here for an extension of this idea that translates this project into an opportunity for worship.
Build Community - Lead some non-competitive team-building activities (like a Zen Scavenger Hunt) to illustrate the working together of the Body of Christ. These sorts of games take the focus off "winning and losing" and on the oneness of the group. Poke around here for some good ideas, check out the list of links on our free resources page, or see some of the creative group simulation activities at the Insight blog.
Plan a Worship - Divide into teams and plan a collaborative worship, ending the evening by bringing together all the gifts of the group.
Walk a Labyrinth - Take a road trip to a local labyrinth or create your own and introduce this ancient spiritual practice both as a metaphor for the journey of faith and as a way to get teens talking about the journey you will take together this school year. See here or here for complete instructions on creating your own.
See other back-to-school ideas here.