Archive for March, 2014

Gamers In Ministry

Posted: March 20, 2014 in Uncategorized


Your youth play video games. My youth play video games. Heck, I even play video games. All of this is okay so far. But sometimes we try to bridge our interests, their interests and the ministry in a way that isn’t completely appropriate. Here is an example is the classic Goofus and Gallant(BOOM! Highlights reference), side by side comparison.

You have a thriving population of gamers in your ministry, so at an upcoming overnight, you set up a projector, surround sound and giant screen and have an all-out Mario Kart marathon battle royale. Okay. Actually, even more than okay…I will give you a cool!

You have a thriving population of gamers in your ministry, so at an upcoming overnight, you set up a projector, surround sound and giant screen and have an all-out Call of Duty marathon battle royale. Not Okay.

I get your youth play Call of Duty or Halo or Grand Theft Auto on their own time. I get that you play Call of Duty or Halo or Grand Theft Auto on your own time. I get that occasionally, the youth probably even talk to you about COD, Halo or GTA, maybe even at youth events. This doesn’t mean that our ministries should have events in which we play games involving killing people, killing aliens, stealing cars, drug use, or profanity. I understand they see it/hear it/say it/do it at home anyway. But at our ministries, we should be projecting the best possible choices. Don’t dump video games all together – games like mario kart, most Wii games, and almost anything with the Xbox Kinnect are awesome for overnights or meetings. They are inclusive, active and fun without being gory, inappropriate or involve killing someone.

This idea may seem unpopular to you. Maybe having a COD marathon would make you super cool to your youth. It may even bring people to your ministry. But at what cost? We are called to be in this world but not of this world, and in this instance, that means no head shots, no kill counts, and no compromising the gospel for the wrong type of games at our ministry meetings. Want to play these games at home? That’s your call and your leisure. Just don’t let them creep into ministry time. And I know there are some murky, middle-ground games. I play some Star Wars games that are pretty tame, but still involve a level of violence and killing. I understand that someone must protect the rebellion against the evil empire, I just make sure that I do so on my own time. Just use this great and otherwise impractical reference: How Would Jesus Game? If the big guy would play it, feel free to play it at youth group functions. If not, don’t.


Don’t Hate the Player…

Posted: March 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


When I started serving my present church, I was confronted with a question that has become a large part of youth ministry. The question is: How large of a part of our ministry should games play(no pun intended)? First, some back story.

Several years ago, two adults shared the part-time position of youth minister. They recognized the need for someone to serve in that capacity, and they both had a passion for youth, so even though neither of them felt they had a lot of religious knowledge to share, they took over the youth group. And, due to their lack of knowledge, or lack of confidence in their knowledge, they decided to forego lessons and simply play games for the entire time.

Fast forward to 8 months before I interviewed. The church decided that the youth program was a top priority and that if they wanted to develop the program that they wanted, they would hire a full time youth minister. While they were looking at resumes and doing the search committee thing, they had an interim come in. The interim decided to drop the games entirely to pursue more lofty endeavors. They then went to a no-game, super intense lesson format.

Having both extremes present before my arrival, the question I stated at the beginning thrust upon me, and I think that we struggle with it. All games and no content can inflate numbers but deflate deeper faith development. No games can develop disciples within the youth that end up still coming after their favorite games have been axed. It’s a tough call. My thoughts are this:

Games are good, mostly. I have games that help develop leadership traits in youth. I have games that help bring youth out of their shells and prepare them to discuss deeper, faith-based issues. I have games that foster team-work and trust between the youth. Also, I have games that are just stupid amounts of fun. Like ridiculous fun. All of those things are important and can help in the development of your group.

Games are useful, sometimes. Games can do what other things can’t. They can loosen people up, they can inspire action and movement, encourage fair play and sportsmanship, they can make people laugh together. At the same time, the wrong games can create unhealthy competition, situations that embarrass youth, situations that encourage making fun or hurting others’ feelings or otherwise work against the development of your group and ministry. Make sure your game is fun, friendly, inviting and useful, even if the use is to have good, clean fun.

Games are a draw, plain and simple. One Sunday, I set up a video camera and as my Jr. High youth arrived to fellowship, I asked them the simple question: What is your favorite part of youth group? Overwhelmingly, the answer was a specific game. Games can be why youth are coming, which is okay. At 12, I’ll take what I can get. Those same youth that said that games was their favorite part also were able to answer questions on the previous 3 lessons that Sunday because they were there. I can’t teach them if they don’t show up, and games are a fun, safe and useful way of getting butts on the couch cushions.

Ice-breakers, team builders, trust games, fast games, slow games, silly games…I use them all in each level of my ministries because they work. I always follow up with a lesson and there is always a balance, which is crucial. Remember that you teach lessons both upfront talking as well as playing games, so play fair, be encouraging and show them it’s okay to be silly.


Looking for a fun relay game? All you need is a couple dollars’ worth of pennies and some buckets. It takes minimal set up and is a great team-building, trust building activity.

You can do this as a set of pairs, or large groups. One member of the team has to transport a dollar’s worth of pennies to the bank, or bucket in our case. How they do so is stacking the pennies on their foreheads. How many they want to take at a time is up to them, but if any pennies fall, they have to go back to the start. With the pennies stacked on their faces, they need their team to direct them verbally to the bucket and tell them when to dump it. Because of the way their heads’ have to be to maintain penny stacks, you don’t need blindfolds and it is nearly impossible for someone to cheat. For fun, I like to take a picture of a piggy bank on each bucket.

This is a great game for pictures or video, too. Inevitably, someone will try to do this with the entire stack of pennies, which will cause them to walk slowly, strangely, and make a truly awesome face. This game takes very little prep, and you can do multiple rounds, so if you are doing this as a partner activity, both partners can go.

Speed Interviews

Posted: March 18, 2014 in Uncategorized
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One of my favorite retreat ice breakers is called Speed Interviews. They cram a whole lotta meeting in a short amount of time, needs little or no prep, and can be a ton of fun.

Partner your group off with people they don’t know, if there is an odd number, you participate. The pairs then get 60 seconds (each) to interview each other, gathering as much info as possible. Then, one by one, they stand up and present what they learned to the wider group. The member or pair that is able to share the most facts learned in the interview wins!

This is great for getting people out of their comfort zones immediately, since time is part of the challenge. It also can form quick friends for the retreat, if you are working primarily with teens that don’t know each other very well. The only thing you need is a time piece and a prize, and as a youth director, you should always have a prize and a few easy games at the ready. Enjoy!

Line ‘Em Up

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized
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I like to break up pairs when I do most of my games, ice breakers or activities. It helps to keep cliques from forming, develops new interactions and sometimes, it’s just good to shake things up.

In order to pair them up deliberately, it’s easier to have them in a random order. To do this, I have them line up by an obscure characteristic, like number of cousins on mother’s side or length of thumbs. I do this for two reasons: First, it gets the kids talking to one another and is something they have to think about, as opposed to birth day or height. Second, it gives me time to identify the pairs in the line and devise a good way of dividing the group, whether I count them off by 1, 2, 3’s, or the first 4 is a group, then the next 4, or even just counting off randomly, like 1,3,2,1,4,3,3,2…you get the picture.

In my youth ministry, when I say line up by (insert goofy order characteristic here), there is no question as to why, they just dive into figuring it out. About every 4th time, I check to see if they actually figured it out or stood by their friends, but more times than not, they figure it out. It’s a fun trick-of-my-trade that I’m recommending for you, so line ’em up.

Up & Down

Posted: March 15, 2014 in Uncategorized
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What this game lacks in a good name, it makes up for in a 10 on the delightfulness meter. It’s a fun ice breaker and gets people out of their heads. You will need an odd number of people, so if there are an even number, you play too.

Have your group circle up and look at one another. When you say “down”, everyone looks at their feet. Then count out loud to 3 and say “up”, at which time, everyone immediately looks up at someone in the circle. If that person is looking back at them, they both have to scream, then they’re out. Continue until you have one person left, the winner, and the only person who didn’t have to scream during the game. It’s an easy game with no prep or supplies needed.

For an added goofiness to bump this game up to a solid 10 on the delightfulness meter is after your youth screams, have them pantomime an exaggerated, drawn out movie-style death.

Amazon Smile Program

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized
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I buy a ridiculous amount of stuff on Amazon.  A. LOT.  Sometimes it’s for the church, sometimes it’s for personal, sometimes it’s because I have a problem with impulse buying and my Amazon account is set up with one-click purchasing.  Recently, I found out that if you buy the purchases through, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to the eligible charitable organization of your choice.  This is amazing.

There are a rare, few opportunities to give to a good cause without actually giving from an already tight budget, but this is definitely one of them.  Give it a try! Let me know how it goes! 

Giant Dodgeball

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Dodgeball is fun, but sometimes my teens throw too hard or too aggressively. I think it’s the Wheaties. Dodgeball is no fun if someone gets hurt, so if we want to play, we need some adjustments.

One of the adjustments we use often is we play with yoga exercise balls. It adds a whole new dimension to the game and slows the pace of the game so that everyone can feel comfortable playing! The balls are hard to throw too hard, and difficult to catch, so game play goes on and on. I suggest that you play in a large area, for added safety and excitement. This game is best played in a gym setting, though you can play outside, too.

For another dodgeball variation, check our TP Dodgeball post.

Water Balloons 2.0

Posted: March 13, 2014 in Uncategorized
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As promised in my Pirate Toss entry, here’s my post on non-water filled water balloons!

I host a huge annual event on our Kick-Off weekend called Mess Fest, an event that is outrageous, messy (obviously), and a great draw for new youth and friends.  One of the things I use for several games at Mess Fest, as well as some other activities like Pirate Toss, are water balloons filled with mud, paint, soup…etc.  There are several devices I’ve used in my years of doing this, some working better than others, but the first process I ever used was the cheapest and worked well, so I’m going to share it all with you guys! 

First, empty a 2 liter soda bottle.  (Tough, right?) then, whatever you want to put into the balloons, you fill the bottle with at least half way.  Some recipe secrets – for paint, I use finger paint watered down a little bit, so it explodes and splatters better.  For mud, I use store-bought top soil, and if you want really good, dark, thick model that will coat, add some flour.  You can mix the ingredients before you put them in the bottle, but I mix in the bottle for ease.  Feel free to admire my construction paper and painter’s tape homemade (I know, hard to believe) funnel.  Also, you may note that these are not my hands, but the hands of my lovely and multi-talented assistant and sister, Kyle.


Next, put a water balloon on the rim of the bottle.  Be careful both putting the balloon on and taking it off, the edge is a bit sharper than a faucet, and this is a water balloon you don’t want to accidentally discharge early.  I recommend filling these outdoors if possible because even the steadiest of hands and the most experienced filler will lose a few.


The next step is to, while pressing on the lip of the balloon to keep it attached to the bottle, flip the bottle upside down so the liquid is in the top of the bottle and the balloon is toward the ground.  Gently squeeze the bottle near the bottom (which is pointed upward right now) to create a pressure that forces the mud, paint, soup, pudding, etc. into the balloon.  When the balloon is inflated to it’s desired amount, pinch the balloon where it meets the bottle lip, stop squeezing, flip the bottle right side up, and carefully remove the balloon from the bottle lip (while still pinching).  Tie off balloon, and use wisely!  


A few other thoughts – when you make mud, avoid twigs or pebbles, these can cause the balloon to pop itself, which is a mess without any of the fun.  Be aware of the effect whatever you put in the balloon will have on eyes – things like pickle relish will burn the eyes and might be something to avoid.  On that same vein of thought, be aware that things like pudding, chocolate syrup, apple sauce, baked beans, etc. will attract bees to your game.  And lastly, these balloons take a degree of delicacy and some time to fill, a simple water balloon fight might be too fleeting of an event to use these balloons.  Find something that takes more time, and this will be a monumental success in your ministry!

Shoe Roulette

Posted: March 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


A quick, no-prep icebreaker I like to use is having everyone in the group remove their shoes and toss them into a large pile. Then, everyone grabs 2 non-matching, non-their-own shoes, one left and one right. Then, they have to put the shoes “on”, and I know not everyone wears the same size, so do your best. Most of the time, shoes are hanging off those giant-footed teen boys you have. After the shoes are “on”, have the youth pair up the shoes by forming a circle. Now we have a bunch of youth in each other’s shoes standing in a random circle. I usually will partner people off by where they are standing, giving me groups that normally wouldn’t have formed.
I have also used the premise of everyone’s shoes being in the center in a pile as an illustration-based ice breaker in which teens go to the center, pick up a pair of shoes and discuss what they can discern about the shoes’ owner based on what they see, then have to guess who owns the shoes. The owner then can discuss if the information discerned from their shoe is accurate. Right or wrong, the real owner is next, and you go through everyone’s shoes. This is a good ice breaker and opens to a good discussion illustration about stereotypes.