Should You Play Games in Youth Ministry
Take a moment and picture you were presented with these two options. The first is to sit and listen to an hour-long monotone documentary describing how pyramid schemes work. The second option is to have a game night and laugh with your closest friends and family. This doesn't seem like a fair choice because one of the options outweighs the other.
I want to take a moment to talk about games and youth ministry. Believe it or not, your students feel they are being presented with these two options every time they walk into the youth group. You may tell yourself, but I'm a dynamic preacher!! My sermons are not boring documentaries; they are powerful messages! I'm not trying to tell you this isn't true, but there is a disconnect happening here when we believe students want to hear an hour-long sermon each week. If you are looking for an essential part of your weekly programming, which might be missing, I'm here to tell you it's games. If you are currently doing games in your ministry and need a well-rounded defense on why to keep doing them, I've got you covered.
Before we dive into four reasons why you should do games in youth ministry, let me start with this disclaimer: Games will never fill the space needed by discipleship. Why say something like this? You could have the best games in youth ministry, but your ministry will flounder if you aren't providing discipleship. Games do a lot for us, and your games can have a powerful impact. There will always be a need for discipleship and scripture to be in your services. We must not let games become the primary focus, but we'll talk more about that later. Why do games in youth ministry? Let's jump in.
Reason 1: Break the Ice
The doors open to your youth room, students flood in and get to their seats. It's a bit awkward trying to bridge the gap between hang out time and your service, right? How do I welcome people into the room? What if Suzie is still in the bathroom, and now she has to try and find her friends in the middle of a dark room because the lights are low for worship?
Having a game on the front end of your service helps create space for people to fully make their way into the room, while also lowering people's guards as the worship experience begins. If you've ever walked into a big meeting, you know the first few moments can always be tense. How comforting is it when you find some common ground to talk about? Games create that common ground that allows your students to fully prepare for the service.
Games can also be used as an easy opportunity to connect students with other students. You can do ice breakers, or get to know you games to allow people to meet others within the room. Challenge some students to be your go-getters (do this before your game), and when you tell everyone in the room to grab a partner, the go-getters have a chance to shine. They wait till everyone has a partner, looking for the one or two students who don't know many people. Your student leaders then initiate a conversation to help bring them in!
Reason 2: Brings Fun
We’re working with students. We want this to be fun!! If your students are having fun, then they will show up. How many times have you heard the following statements about your events? "I don't want to go because NO ONE is going." "I heard it wasn't that fun last year." These statements crush our spirits and our attendance. If you bring the fun for your games, students will become more engaged and excited to attend.
When I started a middle school-specific service at my last church, we opened a simple game every week. A few weeks in, I had students approaching me asking if they could be in the game next week. Did I tell them, yes? Absolutely! By having a simple game to create some fun and laughter in the room, there was now a student looking forward to coming back next week. All it took from me was five minutes of prep to get a game ready!
Games create an easy win for your services by letting the students win, having trouble with inspiration for your games? Thankfully there are tons of people out there who know games are essential in youth ministry. One quick Google search will grant you a wealth of game ideas for your next service!
Reason 3: Creates Unity
This is one of the best parts about games I have students who played a game on stage with me years ago, and we still talk about that moment today. Even here, within the YM360 office, we reference games that have been played due to memories formed during the event. We all love having a shared experience with others, and games provide that within your context.
"Hey John, do you remember that one time we crushed Sarah and Jessica in name that tune at youth group?" "Yeah dude, that was epic!" Real conversations being had about real experiences that set the table for your sermons later.
One of the best things you can do is reference your game during your sermon. We've all felt the pain of trying to recall an answer when the pressure is on. Your student struggled that night to answer a question during the game, not a problem! You aren't trying to embarrass them, but it leads to a powerful illustration. "I know Tony struggled to answer that question tonight, and man have I found myself struggling to remember things at times. That's why I try to make such an intentional effort to memorize scripture to keep it right at the forefront of my mind." Tony is re-engaged because you said his name, and everyone else is paying attention because they were there when Tony played the game. Games create a guaranteed shared experience which you can use to bring the group together for years to come!
Reason 4: Creates Acceptance
The last thing I believe games should be played in student ministry is because they create acceptance. I led a team game on stage one time, and I asked one of the team members if he felt like he could answer the next question on his own. Not this student wasn't your popular kid, and he needed that win. I knew this question was in his wheelhouse, and that he was about to blow some minds. Sure enough, he got the question right. He looked like a hero in the youth group all weekend as people celebrated him winning the game for his recreation team!
When we enter the game sphere, we arrive at the same level. Our accolades, worries, baggage, and status are taken away. It's just us and the game. This creates a beautiful world where anyone can win, and all are welcome. Isn't that what the church is all about? Due to what Christ did on the cross, we all have a spot at the table. Victory has already been granted through His sacrifice. When we crush games in our youth ministry, we can represent the Church as it should be.
I want to close this out with this analogy. Games will always serve as a seasoning to your ministry. Imagine I had two steaks, which were exactly the same. One of these steaks is well seasoned and prepared by a master chef, while the other is placed on the same grill without the seasoning. It doesn't matter who grills this steak; we will always choose the seasoned steak over the unseasoned one. If you are faithful in your message and preparation, your students will receive the message God has for them through you.
Is it not our calling also to make the message easier to digest? When we bring games to our youth group, we aren't putting tofu in front of them and calling it steak. Our games serve as a seasoning and addition to the powerful truth which comes in your sermon.
We here know that you, as a youth worker, wear many hats, and game master extraordinaire is one of them. Here at YM360, we offer high-quality resources and life-changing events to allow your students to create a meaningful relationship with Christ. If there is anything we can do to help you on that journey, we would be happy to partner with you! Thank you for reading, and crush your next game opportunity!