I came into a youth ministry program that played a lot of youth group games. And I am probably one of those youth ministry types that…well…don’t tell anyone, but I’m not a huge fan of games. So I immediately thought, “This should be interesting…”
It’s not that I hate playing youth group games (in fact, here is a light of the Top 20 All-Time Best Youth Group Games), but trying to come up with good ones is something I’m just not that gifted in. And I probably tend to be more on the side of trying to fight against this idea that youth ministry = games. Many run their youth groups like they’re at Young Life: fun, craziness, games, loudness – and then a dash of Jesus at the end.
So, you’ll understand my surprise a few weeks ago when I found myself scheduling both a trip to Boomers (go-karts, laser-tag, mini-golf, arcade) and a combined middle school and high school Game Night – all to happen in the same week.
In my seminary classes in youth ministry, I had the privilege of studying under Kenda Creasy Dean. She was a blessing to me, both professionally as she trained me for youth ministry, and as she served as an adviser and friend to me throughout seminary. She was always asking, “Yes, but what’s the theological foundation behind that…?” That was her question. So you want to plan the 30 Hour Famine weekend retreat? Why? Where’s the theological foundation? So you want to have an all-nighter? Great. Why? What’s the theological foundation?
And I think that for me – it used to be hard to find the theological foundation for a game-centered youth ministry. Obviously, there is a focus on community, fellowship and fun. But if that’s all there was in a youth ministry – wouldn’t the church just become another version of the YMCA?
It’s only been recently that I’ve started to really think about what a theology of “play” looks like in a church. I think games and those types of activities do have a place in youth ministry (heck – in adult ministries as well – we don’t give ourselves enough time to play). Games and fun activities allow youth to:
- Relax & let down their guard
- Build community
- Work in teams toward a goal
- Experience joy (God wants us to live joyful lives too!)
Recently I’ve seen some youth really open up through the practice of “play” and games. I’ve seen some youth who are extremely quiet start to open up through a sweaty game of Capture the Flag. I’ve seen some friendships form through the silliness of Scatterball or Shufflebutt. And I’ve seen some youth really have a genuinely good time being silly with one another.
So, I think I’m moving past the stage of “games are the devil” in youth ministry. They’re still not my favorite – and I still struggly weekly to come up with new ideas. But I am seeing that they have a place in our youth ministry program – at least sometimes.
How do you incorporate youth group games into your youth ministry? What is your “theology of play?” And if you’re looking for some of the all-time best youth group games, check out this list of the Top 20 All-Time Best Youth Group Games.