The Purpose of Games in Your Ministry
How can singing llamas fit in with worship and a sermon? You’d be surprised. Games, if done right, have a fantastic purpose in youth ministry. I’ve been creating youth ministry games for a decade, and I’ve seen a common trend. I’ve met tons of youth workers who fall into one of three camps when it comes to games in their ministry:
- No games.
“Games are a waste of time! These kids play games every day! They’re here for Jesus. Give me a stool and a Bible. That’s youth ministry.”
Why that mindset isn’t ideal
You’re not meeting students where they are. Yes, they play games every day. If you want them to connect and integrate into the ministry, games are a perfect way of speaking their language.
- Tons of games.
“Games are awesome! The majority of our Wednesday nights are fun and games with Jesus slotted in for 10 minutes in the end. The kids love our ministry!”
Why that mindset isn’t ideal
If your kids love your ministry because of all of the fun games, then you’re no different than the Price is Right. Too much emphasis on games completely dilutes the reason your ministry exists in the first place, Jesus!
- Mediocre games.
“Games are okay. We just do them because it’s part of the program. Nothing special.”
Why that mindset isn’t ideal
You're missing a tremendous opportunity! We’ll discuss this in more detail below, but games are a massive open door for outsiders. If you’re not putting effort into this part of your group, you’re potentially closing that door.
The one thing that all three of these groups have in common is they don’t view games as a stepping stone to Jesus. A few years ago, I had just started working as the Creative Arts Director for a youth ministry in Homewood, AL. The Worship Director took me out to coffee and lovingly told me, “I know you’re the game guy, but it’s critical that we don’t lose focus on the worship. The kids need that more than they need games”. I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “I agree”.
We all have the same end goal: That a student would know, trust, and love Jesus. We create an atmosphere with our youth ministries that guide our students to that goal. The message/sermon educates and inspires. The worship prepares their hearts for that message. The games and fun disarm students and lightens the mood to prepare them for the worship. Games are one of the first links in that chain.
Imagine a student walks into your ministry and is feeling overwhelmed from their week. They had/have significant tests, they’re swamped with homework, their girlfriend is mad at them because they wanted to stay home and play Halo instead of spending time together (I know that situation well), etc.
Teenagers have a tough time focusing on anyone but themselves. So, when your Worship Leader gets up and says, “Okay everyone! Let’s sing and focus on God!”, that student is probably going to be zoning out.
Now imagine that same kid enters your youth room and you play a fun game upfront. The group is having fun and laughing together. His problems still exist, but for about 5 to 8 minutes, you’re speaking his language and pulling focus away from the stresses of life. There is power in a community of believers laughing together. When the Worship Leader gets up and begins playing, “Oceans,” our students can focus on God.
Back to my conversation at Starbucks with our Worship Director. I assured him that just as the worship prepared the students’ heart for the message, the games prepare their hearts for the worship. They’re a transition from the craziness of students’ lives into communal worship.
The Open Door:
Many of us live in a bubble and don’t realize that unchurched students view the church as boring lectures about being a good person. As a high schooler who didn’t go to church, that was wildly uninteresting to me. Fortunately, that stigma doesn’t hold water when you experience a solid youth ministry. Unfortunately, that stigma is a major reason a lot of students don’t come to church with their friends. It’s boring… but it’s not… but they don’t know that… so it’s boring.
I will never claim that one of my games has ever caused a student to fall to their knees and profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (though that would be awesome). I do know many students who came back the next week because it was an enjoyable atmosphere and the games played a significant role in that. It was the worship, message, small groups, camps, missions, service projects, mentorships, and adult volunteers who guided them to Jesus over the following months.
We all like to say, “Bring a friend!” But why? Have we ever thought about that in a practical sense? “Awesome Worship” and “Powerful Message” aren’t big selling points to a student who doesn’t know anything about God or church.
I love something called an Arduino. It’s a little hobbyist circuit board that lets you create little electronic projects. Sounds boring? Imagine I said, “Hey! You should get an Arduino because the new ATmega32U4 chip allows for direct USB integration!”
Are you sold?
What if I said, “You should get an Arduino because you can easily make fun things like a piano using bananas!” That sounds a little more intriguing. Now imagine your students being able to say, “You should come with me to my youth group tonight because we do a lot of fun things. Last week we played a game with singing llamas, and the loser had to drink hotdog water (the leftover water in a bag of hotdogs)”. If I heard something like that in high school, you better believe I’d check it out.
When you integrate solid, fun games into your ministry, you’re creating an attractive open door for outsiders. Once they play a game, they’re disarmed. They’re now thinking, “Okay, this place
isn’t so bad.” They’ll be much more receptive to the Gospel. Allow the rest of your ministry to walk them along that path to Jesus.
What I want you to get from this article is that games are essential in ministry. They serve a purpose. If your ministry becomes a circus of games, you’re missing their goal. If you’re putting little effort into games, you’re missing their purpose. If you’re not playing games at all, you’re missing their mission. Let games be exactly what they are: An opportunity to lighten the mood, disarm students, get them laughing together, and preparing them for worship.
The games at gamesforyouthministry.com are designed to be easy to play, consistently high quality, and support this idea that games have a purpose. In our ministry, we usually play a quick game upfront like the Prize Wheel or Linked Out for about 2 minutes. Then we dedicate about 8-10 minutes on a really solid game like Text Me or the Lie Detector later in the night. We view games as a significant stepping stone to the end goal, Jesus.