Bridge Events that Work: Coffeehouses and Talent Shows

If you look at the title and say to yourself, what is a “Bridge event”, let me clarify before I get into how a Coffeehouse or Talent Show is a great bridge event. A Bridge event is designed to give every student an opportunity to come and experience some of what we do as a youth program in hopes that if they do not go to Church or have a Church home, they would make Cedar Run that place.  We are bridging them from not involved into being involved in our program.

Coffeehouses and talent shows are nothing new.  They have been around for as long as I can remember and can still be an effective ways in drawing new students to your Church or ministry. When you do a coffeehouse or a talent show, the norm is to invite students to share their talents.  Whether it is a music or another talent, the point it to provide them a platform for them to perform in front of their piers.

Below is a list of 3 different formats you can take to these talent shows, but regardless of what variation you take these are all great bridge events for a few reasons:

  1. You are giving students and opportunity to display their talents in a friendly, low pressure environment.  Who doesn’t want to have a place where they can display their abilities?
  2. Depending on the size of your group, you may only have a few people who want to step up to perform.  By opening it up to everyone, whether they go to your Church or not, you are increasing the amount of acts you have to perform and promoting to the “outside world” that your church or ministry is a place that they can display their talents.
  3. The three variations of this event are non-threatening and non-christian students can feel that this is a safe event for them to attend and participate in.

Different Versions:

There are a few different formats you can take – a coffeehouse, talent show or a variety show.

A Coffeehouse usually consists of some musical guests in a close knit environment.  You want to dim the lights a bit, bring in some couches and create a relaxed setting where students can chill and listen to some music.  I think this kind of format was really popular in the 90s and early part of the 2000s when Starbucks had tremendous growth and was becoming the “it” coffee to drink.  At places like Starbucks, you also had an environment that promoted people sitting around together, chatting about life and listening to casual, almost blues type of music.  Therefore, when youth programs began to do Coffeehouses, you wanted to create this kind of environment because Starbucks was not just the “it” coffee to drink but the “it” place to be.

Ultimately, with this format, you will normally attract people who want to sing, read some poetry or even tell jokes.  It’s a more mellow atmosphere which attracts a more mellow type of act or talent.  Again, I believe this format was more popular a few years ago, but it can still be effective.

A Talent Show is really a free for all.  It does not matter what kind of mood you have set up, although a carnival/festive atmosphere might be a good theme to run with if you desire one.  Basically, a talent show is a simple display of talent from the youth (although it would be great to have leaders participate and show off a talent or two themselves).  Unlike the Coffeehouse setting, because of the more festive atmosphere, the wide variety of acts you can get increases here.  You are definitely likely to get some obscure talents to be displayed, more comedians and less musicians (although you will have a few).

Overall, a talent show is something that everyone can enjoy.  Your students will have a great time while appreciating the opportunity to be stretched and share their talents to others.

A Variety Show is a combination of both – sort of like SNL.  This is where you have a guest host who will be the MC for the night.  He or she could either be a leader or student, but if you have a student do this, make sure it is someone who is strong and confident in front of people, someone who can definitely ad-lib where needed. This format will be similar to the talent show where you advertise mainly for talents and skit performers, not musical guests.  Like SNL, the only musical guest you want to have is someone or a group perform a few songs in the middle and at the end of the show.  If you have a Youth Band, this would be a perfect venue for them to sing some worship songs during the event.

What makes this variety show format different is that you are getting a majority of skits than anything else.  Young Life does this great at their summer camp. It’s called “Entertainment Night” with the idea of entertaining students and making them laugh.  This is what happens at the variety show format.  You want to mainly entertain students rather than share students.  This opens the door up to a lot of students who may not feel they have a “talent” to share.

At Cedar Run we have done all three of the versions but probably lean more towards the Variety show format now because it works for our students. Depending on what type of students come to your program, you probably want to gear it around them and their interests.  After all, they are the ones who have to come out and support it.


  • Start brainstorming for what format would work well with your group.  If you have already done one of these formats, choose one that you have never done before.  We have found that April/May timeframe works best for us.
  • Then, start planning one out.  No matter what variation you choose to do, start to encourage students to participate and plan the event with you.  The more input you get from them, the better the support and turnout will be.

Tom Pounder

A father of 4, Tom is the Online Campus Pastor as well as Social Media Director at New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, VA. He blogs, vlogs, periscopes and podcasts regularly about student and online ministry stuff. Check out his work at and on iTunes (search YMSidekick).

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