Game time during youth group…you either love it or you hate it. Gone are the days where churches could play dodgeball and Chubby Bunny, or duck-tape kids to a wall, and now we have to be intentional in what we do and why we do it.

Games are an integral, but not the most important, part of what we do. We have all seen or experienced games that run well, but for some of us…well, games are hard to run, plan, and get people involved with. So what do we do?

1. Make sure games/game time fit your focus of ministry.

I think so often we can let our time of fun and activity cut into our message or small group time. I have been guilty of this myself. You get super invested in a 9 Square game, and all of sudden you are 20 minutes past your message time, so you call everyone over, go through your message and now small groups have only 10 minutes. That isn’t going to work, it will lead to frustration with your leaders and lack of comprehension in your students’ spiritual formation.

Instead, shape your game time around the priorities of your ministry. If you value the message and small groups they should have the bulk of your time, and games now become something that you put into your extra time. Don’t let the fun dictate the heart. Let the heart dictate the fun.

2. Invest in reusable materials.

One of the best things we can have in our repertoires is something that our students love to use, but that is also reusable. For some ministries this may be a ping pong table, foosball, or carpetball. For others it may be a basketball hoop. Or for others it may be 9 Square (email them to ask for the church discount) or Gagaball. Depending on your ministry and its space, what you have may look different than others, but that is okay.

Our ministry space is shared with other groups, so we don’t get to keep items set up throughout the week. What we done is invest in items that are easily stored, and can be set up in a shorter amount of time. We have cornhole sets, 9 Square, ping pong, foosball, and various board games, puzzles, and arts and crafts items. All of these serve a function of building community and can be run quickly and with little set up, and provide countless weeks of fun programming.

3. Put your (or someone else’s) heart into it. 

Our students know if we love or hate something. For those of us who may not love running games, our students know that and their desire to be involved will reflect our heart. If we love it, our students will love it. The energy and passion you bring will help encourage students to participate. It doesn’t need to be obnoxious, pushy, or over the top, but authentic and passionate energy will help students want to be involved.

Sometimes though, games just aren’t your thing, and that is okay. Find someone who does have that passion, help to equip and empower them, and then unleash them and let them run with it. Now you are not only helping to empower and develop leaders, you are letting them use their gifts and have buy-in. And students will have someone running games who is all-in for them.

4. Become an emcee. 

Now I don’t mean become someone who hosts an award ceremony or game show, but be someone who can not only articulate rules but also engage with the crowd. Make sure to be clear and concise as you explain what is happening. But also remember that you know your people, so have fun with them.

Games are so much more than rules, they are an opportunity to invest in people’s lives. Use them that way. Be able to laugh about the rules and game play. When that one kid who always tries to bend the rules asks a question, have fun with them instead of shutting them down. Walk around and encourage students as they play. Jump in yourself. Enjoy the time and engage with your students as they engage with your game.

5. Utilize your space.

So often we look at our space in the way that it limits us. But what if we took a step back and said, “Here is our space, how can I best utilize it?” With this mentality we enter with a whole new frame of reference and understanding that the space we have is a resource, and it allows for us to get creative. Don’t see it as limiting, see it as an opportunity to be or do something different. Yes, this may mean longer set up or tear down times, but imagine if we let the space shape our approach instead of limit it.

One of my favorite things to do is utilize games that already exist but perhaps my students haven’t seen or played before. Here are three quick ways to get awesome games for your services:

  1. Ask your leaders, students, and other youth workers. You never know what you are going to get and chances are you will get games that are youth ministry gold!
  2. Use Download Youth Ministry. Their ready-to-go games are a must-have for any ministry. Shape it to fit your group, and run with it. Note: this is a pay to use product.
  3. Use The Source for Youth Ministry’s game page. This is something that has been a huge asset to me in student ministry. Hundreds of ready-to-go games, plus a game search option that is completely customizable. Check it out, you won’t regret it.

6. Don’t force the issue.

Some students hate games and physical activity. That is completely fine. Don’t force your students to play. Doing so may actually drive them away from your ministry. Instead, look to understand why they don’t want to participate, find out what interests them, and look to curate a game time (and overall program) that intentionally invests in the lives of every student who comes.

We know that all of our students won’t participate in a game. So instead we have a cafe area (or just a chill space) where they can talk, play board or card games, eat snacks, do homework, or just talk with one another. At first we may take it personally if we orchestrated an amazing game that they don’t want to play, but step back and watch the relational equity develop and students become more invested. Honestly, I have pulled the reigns on formalized games and instead allow for more organic development of activities during that time.

7. Have fun.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if we don’t enjoy what we are doing, our students will see that. Have fun with your games, yourself, and your crew. Laugh, play along, be willing to chuckle when your rules don’t work, and be willing to call audibles if needed. Your love and passion for whatever you do will be contagious, so bring it to your games no matter how big or small they are and see what God can do through those moments.

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