Why Games Bomb in Youth Ministry
Have you ever been in the room or even on stage when a game just fell flat? None of us walk into the room, hoping our games bomb, but the reality is we've all been there before. Games can hold tremendous power in your services, gatherings, and events. The right game led by the right person can energize your room like nothing else…IF everything goes well. This big "if" leads to the unfortunate truth that sometimes our games just bomb.
I believe there are four common reasons our games have come up short in the past, and I also believe there are four simple solutions to ensure it never happens again. Let’s jump right in.
It’s Too Complicated
This is the most common reason our games bomb, and I believe it comes from the best of desires. We want our games to be engaging and not too simple. I've fallen into the trap before thinking, "If it's too simple, they will get bored, so why not add this?" This thought process is exactly that…a trap.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your games. First, keep your instructions to sixty seconds or less. Students don't want to spend five minutes learning the game and then twenty seconds playing it. If you can keep your instructions short and sweet, any game is made better when you have more time to play it.
Second, remember that we don’t want to diffuse a bomb. We are simply trying to play a game. If you can keep the layers of the game light and maintain a clear view of the win condition, then you are already moving towards a successful game. Your game isn’t meant to induce stress or heavy thinking before you dive into your sermon. You want your students to lighten up and relax from the stress they brought with them into the room!
Finally, start with your end goal and work from there. If you can create a simple win condition or final result, then you should be able to build a beautiful game from there. Stephen Covey said it about leaders, and it’s true in your games as well. Begin with the end in mind.
You likely could guess the solution to ensure this problem never happens to you again. I’ve used the word multiple times…simple. Solution: Simple Goals Make Excellent Games.
This is the second trap, and it’s one that comes off the heels of success. We played a certain game last week, and our students loved it. Not only did they love it, but they ASKED to play it again. We decide to go with the easy route this week, and we play the game again. We have tasted the sweet joy of this trap, and the convenience is enticing. Here’s the truth: your game can be great once, solid twice, but no game is good enough to be played all semester.
You may be thinking, but my students ASKED to play the game. I hear you, and I’ve heard the same cry from my students in the past. Our job isn’t to give them everything they want though, and our games are no different. If you use a game time after time, then it will eventually become second nature or old to your students.
Take Head, Shoulders, Knees, Cup, for instance. There are few games which land as easily or powerfully with students. The adrenaline, the joy, and the simplicity all make this game a must-have for your game arsenal. If you've played this a lot, though, I want you to think closely about all of your students' reactions after the first time and the fourth time. The students playing the game likely still enjoy it, but you aren't trying to energize four students. How does your crowd feel? Remember, we are trying to energize the room.
Taking a few weeks or even months off of a game can enhance the interaction and energy a game brings when you put it on stage. This brings me to our Solution: Grow Your Game Pool. There are a few ways of doing this; the first is a quick google search. You can find stage games, icebreaker games, or even large group games. Another option is to find a games subscription. Here at YM360, we offer GamesForYouthMinistry.com. This is a subscription service that gives you access to a complete library of games that grows each month. Having five good games is always better than one great game when it comes to keeping your games from bombing.
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The first time I ever led games in front of a crowd away from my home church, I asked if the sound team needed to do a walkthrough. I was a junior in high school, and they told me they had it handled. I accepted their confidence, and when I walked on stage to run the game, it fell completely flat due to tech issues. Now here's the reality: this was my fault, not the tech team.
When we walk on stage without having practiced our games to see how they work, we are leaving many things up to chance. This chance will sometimes lead to great success, but most of the time it results in a failed experience.
Practicing games is one of the most fun ways to build a fun work environment, and it leads to greater success on the stage. We practice our games for our summer camp, Generate by YM360, around the office all the time. Many factors have to go right for a game to succeed, and when you test it, the bad factors become obvious quickly. Perhaps you thought your game of catching a ball in the cup would be easy, or you maybe thought the ball would bounce well off of the stage. These little things turn into a game that paces terribly, or sometimes the game doesn't even work!
Make Adjustments!! If you are playing your game and realizing it goes long, then do something to make it easier. Do your materials leave you with a lackluster result? Switch things up. Your diligence in testing your game on the front end leads to more success when it counts with your students.
Another suggestion is to invite your students in for a game day. Based on the last tip, you are looking to grow your game pool. Get the supplies together for all the new games you want to try and invite some students to come to the church after school. Spend time playing the games, gathering input, and making adjustments before you take the game to live! This creates buy-in from them, and it also makes your games work better on the stage!
Our Solution: Practice, Practice, Practice.
Leader Wasn’t Ready
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, “Yea, we’ll just wing it tonight for the game.” I was talking with a coworker in the office who also emcee’s events for students, and we both break into a nervous sweat when we hear those words. We get nervous because we’ve fallen prey to this trap countless times. When you have natural charisma on stage, the temptation is not to prepare for your games because they seem to matter so little.
Your game can often set the tone for the rest of your service, whether good or bad. For new students in the room, your game might be the first impression they get of you. We will prepare for our sermons, but why do we not prepare for our games? I believe it’s because we can feel there is little return on the time investment. When you prepare for your game though, you gain access to countless advantages in setting up the rest of your service.
When you prepare for your game, you gain the opportunity to lead your screens rather than waiting on them to que you for each part of the experience. Preparing for your game also allows you to focus on building energy in the room rather than nervously waiting for what comes next on the screen. Small amounts of preparation allow you to crush your execution on stage.
This preparation can come in a variety of forms. This can look like you practicing your game, as I mentioned above. Prep can also mean creating a cheat sheet or answer card which you take on stage with you. I once led a game of name that tune, and I took the answers on stage in the form of a notecard. Knowing what song came next, I had a little dance move prepared for while the song was playing! These little changes take your game from the bomb potential to next level energy.
Solution: Know Your Game Like You Know Your Cellphone. What do I mean by this? If you want to open your calculator or Instagram app, you know exactly where to go. If I were to hand you my phone, it might take a little bit to get there. If you are familiar with your games like you are your phone, then bombed games will become a thing of the ancient past for you.
Games can add immense energy to your next service, gathering, or event. I hope these tips will create a new wave of focus and energy for your games experience! Here at YM360, we believe that what you do matters, and your games are part of that. If there is anything we can ever do to help, we would be honored to partner with you. Thank you for reading!
Robbie and Finn explain these points in more detail in the video below!
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