I’ve heard it a multitude of times over the years from all sorts of different people. From Senior pastors to lay leaders to extended family. It typically goes something like “Must be nice to have a job where you play games with kids…” It used to bother me, to the point where I wanted to say something snarky about their vocation in return, then I went through this phase where I was the youth minister that was too good for games, it wasn’t spiritual I told myself (and others), then I realized how unbelievably boring and false that notion was.
Fun is absolutely spiritual. If done the right way fun can be used to break down perceptions, soften hearts and open the minds of students to what God is calling to. I don’t know that Jesus did Ice breaker games with the first disciples or chased them around with noodles, but the Gospels used the everyday circumstances, surroundings and language to make his point. He told some guys to throw nets on a different side of the boat, which in some ways could have seemed like a really bad group game to Simon and Andrew…maybe? “Hey, throw it this way..” He consistently engaged people perceived to be far from God in a way that disarmed them.
Games have long been a part of student ministry, hence the presumption that it’s all youth ministers do. However, because for most of us they have always been there, it can become something we see as time filler and just “what you do”. Dare we suggest that our games can have a purpose. I believe there is a way to make games with your group, large or small, an effective conditioner for spiritual conversation and growth. While I have several disaster game stories, here are some things I am learning about how to do games in your student ministry meetings.
- Be inclusive without forcing participation. People are different; some like to compete, be in the mix, celebrate victories, etc. Others like to blend in, deflect attention, while still enjoying the environment. Students are no different, Forcing a kid to be in large group game they don’t want to play may actually make connecting them with God and others more difficult. Because of this I have learned that if Im going to do a big group game (such as dodge ball) that there are alternatives that kids can engage in, such as a card game or an activity that’s designed for interaction at a lower level of intensity. Its often your “fringe” kids who are hesitant to engage in the big and loud. Giving them an option may actually communicate that your leadership has thought about them too.
- Use technology. This might be tricky with middle school students. But using some of your older students to help you set up scavenger hunt type games with phone cameras and apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, etc. You could even get brave and do spin off of Pokemon and have a “Church Staff Go” one night around your campus.
- UP front Games. To me this is the big win for any student ministry. You have a way of getting the kids who are into being on stage and competing without alienating those who just aren’t into it. They can spectate or be an active part of the audience as they feel comfortable. downloadyouthministry.com has a great variety of upfront games that are easy to use and fun for everyone. These are also easy to plug into ProPresenter/MediaShout or whatever media platform you use in your student ministry environments.
Finally, the most significant thing for any game is the one leading. Their attitude and preparation can make the difference. I have had the most success when I find one person or a small team whose sole job is to prepare and lead the game. Some are better at leading certain types of games than others, but preparation and thinking about it can allow your game time to help students let down their guard and receive what God desires for them.