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To Game or Not To Game

To game or not to game

Games!

The location wasn’t anything special—a multi-purpose room of a small little church. But about 70 students, gangbangers and high school dropouts from the community were gathered, laughing, playing games and having fun.

Games? Really?!

30 minutes later the leader told a story and began a discussion about real life issues. This week the topic was death. A student laid down in the front of the room as if in an open casket at a funeral, and friends of the teenager began coming up and giving eulogies.

The leader wrapped up by sharing the Gospel. A handful of kids checked a box on a card saying, “I’d like to talk about this more.” Three one-on-one meetings happened that week between a caring adult and students. One of the students gave his life to Christ.

It all started with a stupid game.

No Games!

On the other side of the country a group of about 130 students met in what used to be office space in a small strip mall. A makeshift stage was constructed on one side of the room. A sound system and huge speakers were probably the only equipment of value in the building.

Every Thursday night teenagers would gather together here. A little music, a video, then a student would come up and share their story—or testimony as some like to call it. Then the leader would open the word and share for about 25 minutes.

Week after week teenagers gave their lives to Christ, grew in their faith, fellowshipped with other believers and worshipped their creator.

When I talked with the leader of the group, the subject of games somehow surfaced.

“We don’t play games here!” The leader snapped. “High school kids don’t want to play games,” he continued. “They want something relevant to their lives.”

No games.

Who’s Right?

Both ministries saw kids come to Christ regularly. Both ministries helped kids grow and get plugged into the church. One used games. One didn’t.

Who’s right?

Let me ask it another way. Is either of them wrong?

I find it funny how often I’ll meet someone who is adamant that games do or do not work. It doesn’t matter which side they take, I just find shortsightedness humorous.

In all honesty, those who usually contest that games do not work are people who define games different than others, or simply don’t know how to lead games. When they think of games they might think of dodgeball or relays where kids spin around a bat and try to run back to their team. Sometimes these same people wouldn’t object to what I call “up front” games, where a few teenagers compete doing something silly while the audience watches. But sometimes “no games” people just don’t want any games. Let’s face it, for these “no games” people, games have a stigma. Perhaps they’ve never considered there are ways to and not to lead games (this hilarious video shows you how not to).

Games aren’t necessary by any means, but is it bad that one ministry is able to open doors with these kinds of fun activities?

On the other hand, it’s not bad if a group doesn’t need games. If teenagers are gathering, worshiping and listening to the truth of God’s Word without any games, that’s great.

Notice the common denominator: kids were being reached. That’s the key, isn’t it? In other words, if your mission is to make a lasting impact in the lives of young people, and you simply play games, are you accomplishing your goal? (I rant about this phenomena a little bit in this article/excerpt of my book, Ministry By Teenagers.)

Games or no games, we need to be making a lasting impact in the lives of young people.

My boss Jim used to always say something that has stuck with me over the years: “Diverse kids are reached by diverse methodology.”

Thank God for people with different gifts.

So keep on gaming, or not. Just make sure that your methodology is a means to reach students with the truth.

What About You?

  • Do you have success with games?
  • Why do you think games work with some of your kids and not with others?

Something You Can Use:
This week, you can win a DVD or one of Jonathan’s books by jumping on his GAMES & ICEBREAKERS page and posting a comment. Check it out.


Posted on June 22, 2011

  • http://natejones.me Nate Jones

    For some events we use games and for some events we don't.

    I think that games are much like any other programming element: They're usefulness depends, in large part, on the message that you are trying to communicate and the atmosphere that would be most conducive for students to receive that message.

  • http://blog.thesource4ym.com/ Jonathan McKee

    Good thoughts Heather. It's funny how young people don't always know what they want. They'll sometimes tell us what they want and don't want… but their actions will eventually tell otherwise. I think it's good to test the waters at times without asking. If it works and opens doors… then take note of it.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    Kinda like you suggested, Jonathan, I found that kids are way more into games if the leaders are, especially me (and I like games, so that's not too hard for me to muster up).

  • Jared

    In my experience, games depend solely on your specific group. My Campus Life group absolutely loves games, and we have a culture where everyone enjoys to play no matter what the game is. (I think a large part of this is dependent on who it leading the games – I have a super-high-energy guy lead who all the students love!). Across town though, another Campus Life group sometimes doesn't even play games because their group isn't into them as much. In our group, games provide a comfortable, fun environment to foster relationships…

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