Many youth groups have a simple formula for their ministry meetings: game + lesson, with the occasional pizza order or lock-in. It’s a centuries old formula dating back to youth ministries out of Mesopotamia in the time before Christ (not even a little bit true). Really, it’s just a formula we use because it’s easy, or it’s what others do, or it’s what we grew up doing. Sometimes, the occasional rogue leader decides to buck the system and drop recreation from the schedule for loftier pursuits – don’t think I am condescending, I had a period that I tried this very thing – but I am here to explain why from an educational standpoint why skipping games at youth group can work against your teaching.
First, the human brain, especially during the developmental years, functions differently when the body has been active. Sitting for longer than 20 minutes causes the brain to change it’s physiology; the glucose and oxygen levels drop, both of which fuel the brain’s ability to function. It’s like the brain begins to fall asleep. This will dramatically effect youth’s language development, problem solving, bridging complex concepts and has been linked to decline in independent learning skills and behavioral issues. So all work and no play actually do make Jack a dull boy.
Second, studies show that upwards of 5% of all learners fall into the kinesthetic learning style as their primary type of learning. A larger percent of youth identify as a kinesthetic secondary learning style learner, which means odds are that 1) math is hard and 2) you probably have at least one student who needs movement to learn properly. These students learn best by moving around and through activity. Simply telling them something or writing it on the white board isn’t enough for them, movement is crucial. These are the students you would identify as fidgety or likely your youth with minor behavioral problems. Playing games before or during a lesson helps them to focus and learn.
Third, breaking up your routine from one long activity to, at the very least, two activities like games and a lesson helps developing brains learn to transition and focus. This has less to do with the spiritual development of your youth and more to do with the physical development of your youth’s brains. By causing the brain to have to shift gears from games with a set of rules and parameters, or perhaps a leadership or team-building exercise that forces creative problem solving, to engaging in a lesson and discussion on a topic, verse or video actually teaches the brain to be quicker in transition. I know that your job description probably doesn’t mention helping your youth build super-brains, but think of it as a perk.
Fourth, especially for your younger teens, it will burn off access energy that would otherwise inhibit their ability to engage fully in a lesson or discussion. I’ve found that with my Jr. High ministries, I HAVE to start with a game if I want focus during my lesson time. Otherwise I find students distracted, fidgeting, talking and throwing/tapping/sliding/kicking things in some sort of instinctual need to be playing a game. So, I begin all of those meetings with a game or activity that can be highly active for the ones who crave the activity, but also less active for those who are less inclined.
Activity has become a staple in youth ministry, and know we know how it important it is – so even when you feel like you should cut it for music time, longer discussions or nap time (all positive things, too, by the way), consider all the benefits of activity to the health of your teens’ brains, the success of your teachings and the overall energy of your youth ministry!
Check back (next post time) for my post about some new and unique ways of incorporating activity into your groups without sacrificing lesson time.