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.