Ministry Ideas During Lockdown: Subscription Boxes

At one point or another we have all heard about a subscription box. Whether it was on social media and we saw an add for a coffee subscription or for a candy from around the world box, we all know the general idea. Typically you sign up at a reduced fee and choose how often you would like to receive a box full of goodies from a specific company.

Today I want to talk about how we can incorporate this idea into our student ministry program. With many ministries once again being relegated to an online format, this can serve as a new and exciting way to engage your students outside of the “normal” Zoom meetings. I want to share with you some ideas and considerations as we think through how to implement the idea of a subscription box into our ministries.

Purpose

As you get ready to send these out, consider what your purpose is for these boxes. Is it simply a way to encourage your students and have fun? Or is this a way to encourage your students and challenge them to grow in their faith? I would highly recommend that these boxes don’t just contain fun elements but that there is a way to encourage and challenge students to grow in their faith. An easy way to do this is to send along a Bible study that everyone who receives the box is expected to do. Last week we shared some ideas and resources for easy and ready-to-use studies. You can also let them know that you will have a group time for follow up and discussion on the Bible study.

Frequency

Should you send a box weekly or monthly? This will largely be based upon budget and this will then shape what you include in your boxes. Monthly seems to make more sense due to cost, but weekly gives you more connectivity with your students. This is something you should think through before sending your first box, and I would encourage you regardless of your decision to stick with it. Don’t jump from monthly to weekly or vice versa because it will cause disruption for your students and families. Pick one option and stay with it.

Paid vs. Free

Typically subscription boxes are not free, but as we think about our students this may be an important option. Your budget and intended recipients will dictate how you offer the subscription. I would highly encourage you to consider offering these for free. I know that budgets are being restricted for ministries everywhere, but household budgets are also reducing. This would be an amazing opportunity to offer something to students for free that helps to encourage them in their faith and know they are loved and valued.

If you do not have the budget for sending these out for free, consider trying to offset the cost however possible. Whether it is by doing a lot of the prep in-house or by putting some of your budget toward the cost. These boxes do not need to compete with the scale of the ones we see on Facebook, and truly they are designed to simply encourage and challenge your students. So think about sending handwritten or notes created for free on sites like Canva, instead of getting ones done at Staples. Utilize gifts from within your ministry or the church in each box to offset cost. Things like this will help to minimize the cost and bring a smile to the face of your students. I would also encourage you to make sure that no student is excluded due to cost. If you know there are students who can’t afford to sign up, consider adding a scholarship for them in some way. Whether you ask church members to help, you use part of your budget, or you partially scholarship them, this will be a way to make sure everyone can participate.

True Subscription vs. Automatic Delivery

When it comes to subscription boxes, people need to sign up in order to receive one. You could consider doing this within your ministry but you should probably acknowledge that not everyone will sign up. Whether you offer a paid or free option, consider sending out the first box “on you” to all of your students. If you are asking for students to pay, cover the cost for the first one and include a note asking people to subscribe because you believe it will encourage them and help them grow in their faith. Then you can include a price for them as well and a way to sign up.

If you are going to cover the cost regardless, consider still having a sign up and encouraging students through a note on the box to do so. Give them a few easy steps for signing up and allow them to take the initiative and generate buy-in to this new option.

Mail vs. In-Person Delivery

When thinking about how to deliver these boxes, think through dropping them off in person or mailing them. Everyone loves personalized mail, but it may cost you a significant amount and with the delays happening due to COVID-19, you are not guaranteed that it will arrive on time.

A great option is delivering these boxes to your students in person. Whether you deliver them all, or your leaders jump in to help, this will be an added blessing to your students because they get to see you and have an interaction. It may be with masks and socially distanced, but you still get that time to say hello and tell them about the box and how you hope they will join you in this.

What to Include

This is where it gets fun! These boxes should be focused on encouragement, spiritual growth, personal connection, and fun. When you incorporate these elements, the ideas are endless for what you can include. I would highly recommend being intentional with what you put in each box. Here are some ideas:

  • A personal note. Use the note to encourage the student you are writing to. Let them know you miss them and can’t wait to see them. Also, explain the items in the box and the function for the Bible study should it be included.
  • Snacks. An easy way to a student’s heart is through food. Buy a few twelve packs of soda and put a can in each box. Purchase some individual bags of chips for everyone, or buy larger bags at your local dollar store. Throw in some small pieces of candy or a single full size bar. A granola bar and fruit snacks are also great options. A bottle of water or a reusable water bottle is also a great option.
  • A pen. If you are encouraging students to participate in a Bible study, put a pen in the box to help encourage them to do it. If you have pens that are branded with your student ministry name or logo, throw those in. Or buy some fun ones at the Dollar Store or in the Target bins at the front of the store.
  • A notebook or journal. These are a great way to encourage students to write their notes from the study, journal their prayer requests, or just write about what is happening in their lives. These could easily be ones you have on hand with your logo already on them, or a spiral bound notebook you picked up at Staples. The nicer they are the better, but take cost into consideration.
  • Filler. This may seem kind of simple, but part of the fun of getting a gift is opening it and finding what is inside. So consider shredding a bunch of different color paper and using that as an easy but fun filler within the box that will help it look nice and complete.
  • A schedule. This will serve as a helpful reminder for students about when the boxes will come and when you will do your discussion of the study.

Follow Up

This is the big piece to these boxes. Follow-up includes making sure that students received their boxes, it is encouraging them to do the study, and it is actually hosting a meet-up to talk through the study in the box. Hosting a meeting whether digitally or in person will allow you to connect with your students, help them grow in their faith, and give you insight into how they are doing. I would encourage you to lead the first one or two meetings, but then allow students to step up and lead as well. This will give them ownership and a desire to be more invested in the studies you are sending out, as well as helping them grow as leaders. A fun way to see who will be leading next is by throwing in a special note or item in a student’s box that says they will be leading for this week or month.

Ministry Ideas During Lockdown: Bible Studies

As many states continue to enforce stricter protocols while COVID-19 cases rise, ministries must continue to adapt and look for ways to care for their people. A huge part of what we do as student ministers and leaders is discipleship and helping our students continue to grow in their knowledge and love of God’s Word. But the question is: how do we do that well? Or perhaps you are asking: should we do this on Zoom or another digital platform? Today I’d like to offer a couple of ways we can continue to help our students grow through Bible studies during this time. At the end of the post I’ll share some of my favorite places to find studies that are both free and paid.

Mailed Bible Studies

This option allows for you as the youth leader to put together a Bible study packet that you can mail, email, or drop off to each of your students. Your method of delivery may vary depending on restrictions in your area, how many students you have, and your optimal communication methods overall. However you get it into their hands, make sure it has a few key items.

  • The Bible study itself. If it doesn’t have questions with the Bible study, consider adding some open ended questions of your own instead of just asking your students to write down their thoughts. This will generate more organic and thought-provoking content.
  • Directions. This is an important part. Sometimes we need to give our students a little extra guidance on how to move through the study. This is especially important to remember because all of your students may not know how to actually study the Bible personally.
  • A pen. This may seem silly at first, but the fact that you are giving them a pen means there is an expectation. You want them to not just read the study but to engage with it. You are challenging them to truly invest in God’s Word and understand it’s truth.

We also need to make sure that we cast vision for our Bible studies. If you just send one out to your students with no premise they are less likely to jump on board than if you had communicated the plan and the heart behind it. Consider texting your students about what you are doing and why you want to do it. Then make sure to invite them into the study with you and ask them if they would like to do it. In doing this you are creating buy-in and helping them to see that you value them and want them to be a part of this journey. Cast the vision and desire for the study in your communication. Let them know why you are doing it, and also clearly communicate the format of the study. Is it daily, weekly, or monthly? Are you doing the study together or is the expectation they do it and then there is a conversation about it? Thinking through these questions will help ensure a successful time of growth and conversation with your students.

The next thing to think through is engagement. You must make sure to engage and encourage your students as you do the study together. Send out texts asking how they are doing with the study or if they have any questions. This will serve as a subtle reminder but also as a way of helping them in the study. Make sure to let them know it is okay if they miss a day or two. It isn’t the end of the world if they fall behind and they shouldn’t be kicked out of the study. Life gets busy for all of us and that shouldn’t count against them.

Lastly, we need to consider the interactive piece. Much of this depends on where you live and what types of gatherings you can have. Below, I go into a little more detail about digital engagement, so here I want to talk about in-person interaction. Consider gathering at your church, a local coffee shop, or at a local community hang out spot and talk through what you have studied. You may need to have multiple meetings depending on the limits on gathering where you live, and this would be a great opportunity to allow your leaders to step up and serve in a new leadership capacity so you aren’t the only one running all the meetings. Whenever I do Bible studies or discipleship in this manner, I don’t work through all the questions but rather pick and choose which I think will drive more engagement and deeper discussion. Doing it in this manner allows for flexibility and freedom when moving through the conversation. Also, make sure your students know that they are expected to engage during this time and a simple “yes, no, or I dunno know” doesn’t count. Everyone doesn’t need deep answers but everyone does need to participate.

Digital Bible Studies

In this method I would recommend following all the steps above except the in-person meetings. Instead, add an interactive online piece in place of in-person time together. A key piece I would highly recommend doing (if you are able in your area) is dropping off the Bible study in person. Even if you cannot meet in-person for the study, consider dropping off the materials and maybe a small “study package” for each student. As a way of encouraging them, include a can of soda, some snacks, a handwritten note, a small notebook, and few other small items to begin the study with you.

If you are like me, you have probably seen a drop off in numbers whenever you switch to an online youth meeting. I believe the reason for that is students (and honestly all of us) are experiencing “Zoom fatigue.” Students are drained from all the online content and having to see themselves and their peers on screens for hours on end with no break. They are constantly analyzing and thinking about how they look, how they are perceived, and how they are being judged. So with all of that at play, how do we make this work?

First, you must make sure that your level of excitement and buy-in is clear. Students know if you want to do something or if you are passionate about it. If you seem down or upset that you can’t meet in person, they will feed off of that. So make sure you let them know you are in this with them and excited to grow together.

You also need to set clear expectations with this. Make sure your students know what you desire of them for this study and what they are committing to, but also clearly communicate what the expectations are when you meet digitally. Do they need to have the camera on? Do they need to share? Will there be group conversation? Are they expected to be at each meeting? Providing this information ahead of time will allow them to know what they are committing to.

It’s also important to send out encouragement to your students. Whether this is through a phone call, a group or individual text, an email, or a handwritten postcard, make sure you are reaching out to them so they know you are invested and care about them. I would say that the more personal you can make the encouragement, the more buy-in you will receive. Digital meetings can feel impersonal, so personal engagement and encouragement will help your meetings succeed.

Make sure that your time together isn’t just the study. Utilize your time to engage with one another. Check in with your students. Ask them how they are doing, how has their week been, what was one good thing and one hard thing that happened. Consider playing a game with them (you can find some easy small group game ideas here). This will help open up communication and allow everyone to relax.

Finally, make time spent in the study engaging. Try to get everyone participating, whether that is by you asking everyone for an answer or if it is by rotating around the “room” for each question. I would also recommend allowing one of your students to run the meeting time each week. This will allow your students to engage and participate more, and ultimately it will help to foster a family type environment where people feel loved and valued.

A few helpful places to gain some easy and ready to use Bible studies include LeaderTreks, Download Youth Ministry (make sure to select small groups on the filter category), and She Reads Truth and He Reads Truth (both sites having reading plans as well that are free for girls and guys).

Ministry Ideas During Lockdown: Digital Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are a ton of fun, but typically we default to thinking of these as having to be in-person events. With the technology we have though we can easily leverage these events in a digital format. Today we want to offer some ways you can implement these digital ideas in your ministry and utilize them during the holiday season as well.

Before implementing this, here are a few key things to consider:

  • Do my students have social media?
  • What social media platforms do my students most utilize?
  • What type of involvement do I want from this?
  • What do I want this challenge to do for our program?
  • What level of involvement will this need?
  • Is there a prize involved? An easy prize would be digital gift cards or a socially distanced youth pastor drop off of a gift card or gift box at the winner’s home. If you do drop it off, get a video or photo and share it on your social media to drive more engagement.
  • Make sure to bring the energy and engagement on your end. If you aren’t engaged and having fun, your student won’t either. Your level of involvement will affect theirs.

Scavr

Scavr is a great online resource that allows you to build, manage, and host the scavenger hunt in a live format if you desire. This could be fun if you wanted to host this digital event at a set time where everyone is actively engaged with it. However, the limitation comes where only you are seeing the photos as they come in because they are submitted through the Scavr app. A way you could work around this is either have students and leaders also share them under a hashtag on social media or you try downloading all them and put it into a slideshow for everyone. You can also use an online video chat afterward to talk through the event and award prizes to the winner. For more information on how to utilize this program, check out our earlier post on games for small groups.

Stories

Instagram Stories would be a really easy way for you to incorporate digital challengers to be completed. Reach out to your group ahead of time and let them know the rules (the easier the better: complete the task, post it in your story, and tag the social media account that is hosting the challenge) and then either host the challenge on a single day or do a challenge each day for a week. This is a great idea to utilize over Christmas break because it offers engagement, community from a distance, and opportunities for you to connect with your students.

Youth Pastor/Leader on a Shelf

Most of us are familiar with Elf on the Shelf. But consider a digital scavenger hunt where each day students will need to recreate a photo or video that the leader shares of themselves “on a shelf.” Come up with a bunch of fun places to pose and challenge your students to recreate them to the best of their abilities. Utilize a fun hashtag with this one like “Youth Leader Elfie” and think ahead about how you can create new, exciting, and safe poses that challenge your students each week.

Acts of Service

Consider using your digital scavenger hunt as a way of blessing others in your church or community. Give students a task each day or week, depending on the size and nature of the task, and have them share a photo or video showing they completed it. You can be as specific or general as you like with this challenge. It could be taking out the trash at home, shoveling snow for a neighbor, donating food to a food pantry, baking cookies for frontline workers, or helping get the church ready for Christmas. This is an awesome way to encourage students to embody the life Jesus calls us to live.

This type of scavenger hunt would be a great follow up to a series on serving or living sacrificially as it makes it very practical. You could also host a digital pizza party afterward and debrief what was learned. To host a digital pizza party, buy each student a pizza and a 2 liter of soda (Aldi has great deals on these products) and deliver them to each student who participated. Let them know that they should prepare the pizza for your Zoom meeting so you can all share in a meal together.

Christmas Break Version

If you are looking to give your students something to do over your whole break, consider putting together a list of tasks, challenges, service opportunities, and anything else creative that you can think of. Send this list out to them and let them know the rules and timeline for the event. If you want students to submit photos and/or videos, make sure you have a place that has enough digital space to store them. Also, if they need to do acts of service consider having a parent sign off on it. This could also be an opportunity for you to leverage family engagement by challenging families to do this together and compete against one another.

Ministry Ideas During Lockdown: Social Justice Advocacy

With the reality that many parts of the country are moving back toward COVID-19 lock-downs and more restrictions are being added, we are again faced with the fact that ministry is going to look different going forward. As we think creatively about what this may look like, we have to acknowledge that we may not find an easy fix. Where you live and serve will dictate the level of engagement you can have on-site with your students and the size of your gathering.

Over the next few weeks, we want to share with you some creative ways to think about doing ministry in our current climate. These ideas are meant to help get the creative juices flowing and to help you think outside the box about how to do ministry in your context. We’d love to hear from you as well and see how you’ve been able to continue pursuing ministry during these times.

Our first creative approach to ministry happens to fall perfectly into this Christmas season. Social justice involvement through the Dressember organization is something Elise has written about before, but it is exceptionally timely given the reality that much of our ministry is now happening in a digital format. This is a campaign that you can utilize to bring your group together as you rally to champion social justice.

Dressember participants commit to wearing a dress or tie throughout the month of December to raise money and awareness for organizations that fight human trafficking, modern day slavery, and other social justice issues domestically and abroad. Students can create their own fundraising page and set a monetary goal through Dressember’s website. Anyone with a fundraising page can also create a team page so that participants can band together to raise money and awareness.

Consider setting up a team for your students with a unified goal and host weekly meetups, either in person if possible, or via video calls. Use these meetings to share fundraising ideas, stories from survivors, and help and encouragement for those who may feel frustrated. Encourage each other to keep posting and sharing content on your individual platforms throughout the month. One of the best parts of Dressember is getting to participate with others, even if you can’t physically be together in person.

As you work toward a common goal, it will help to grow unity and community in a new and different way. This is also something that doesn’t have to be limited to December. That is the key time for Dressember (hence the name), but that isn’t the only time you can utilize this approach. Consider doing something for Spring Break or Easter. Utilize this approach to raise funds for other important causes, like your local food bank or homeless ministry. Or use it as a way to bring your group together by sharing God Stories–ways you have seen God use your platforms to spread the truth and encouragement of the Gospel. Regardless of how or when you incorporate this aspect into you ministry, it can be a helpful tool to increase engagement and help move your group toward a deeper relationship with each other and with God.

Incorporating Creativity into Student Ministry

As a creative, one of my favorite lesser-known passages of Scripture is Exodus 35:30-35. It says,

 Moses then said to the Israelites: “Look, the Lord has appointed by name Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has filled him with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every kind of craft to design artistic works in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut gemstones for mounting, and to carve wood for work in every kind of artistic craft. He has also given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all the work of a gem cutter; a designer; an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen; and a weaver. They can do every kind of craft and design artistic designs.”

What I love about this passage is how clearly it states that creativity is a gift from God. He is the one who gives creative ability, and it is something that can and should be used to worship Him.

As church leaders, we have the responsibility to enable those in our care to use their gifts, and to help lead others in worshiping God. One way we can do this is by leveraging the creative abilities of others, and intentionally incorporating creative elements into our services, resources, and activities. Whether it is our gifting or someone else’s, creativity can help draw our attention to God, and cause us to connect with Him in ways we couldn’t otherwise.

Student ministry is a perfect place to pursue creativity–young people have great ideas, and often think creatively about the world around them. Plus many are creatively gifted, and want to see how their passions and abilities are part of their faith. This fall is a great time to intentionally implement new creative elements in your ministry. Depending on your church’s plans and requirements in light of COVID-19, some ideas may be easier to incorporate than others, but we have included a “COVID alternative” for each suggestion.

Incorporate music.

Music is often the most creative interactive aspect of church services; it is also the thing most people think of when they hear the word “worship.” The artistry and creativity of music draws the mind toward God, through the arrangement of notes and selection of lyrics. And while it is something many are used to, it is still a creative element that can be incorporated into youth ministry.

Whether you have a playlist going during hang-outs and games, or you have a student-led worship band, or you host concerts and gigs, there are numerous ways to incorporate music. It can be used to instantly set the tone for a space or event, utilize the talents of your students, and help to direct attention to the appropriate focus or activity.

COVID alternative: Consider filming a socially-distanced worship set list, or creating one via Spotify or YouTube. Students can watch or listen and sing along alone or in small groups. You can also create playlists for them to listen to during the week, or during their devotional time. If your students are musically gifted, encourage them to share their covers or write original songs reflecting their relationship with God and the things He has been teaching them.

Embrace poetry and spoken word.

Poetry may seem like an art form from ancient times, but if you read Psalms, you know it can stand the test of the ages. Its modern-day equivalent, spoken word, can be equally as beautiful and powerful.

Spoken word can be used to melodically and artistically present a story or concept in a new way, which can help students to think deeply about the intersection of their life and faith. It can be featured before a talk, incorporated into your lesson, or showcased on an open mic night. Consider bringing in a guest artist or student to present their original pieces, or ask them to create one around a featured topic.

Both poetry and spoken word are elements of story telling, another creative medium that can be incorporated into student ministry. (For more on storytelling, check out this post.) Story telling can be personal, or it can also be presented in other forms, like video clips. Stories grab listeners’ attention and illustrate abstract concepts, which can lead to deeper understanding and retention.

COVID alternative: Share spoken word with your students via video or audio, whether you record it yourself, or find something online. If you have students who are interested in poetry or spoken word, encourage them to work on an original piece. If it’s something that can be shared with the group, ask them if they would be willing to record it, or if you can share it for them. If you have enough interest, consider hosting an open mic night via video chat, where students can share their piece and listen to what others have written.

Include arts and crafts.

There really is no limit to how you can incorporate arts and crafts into student ministry, the options are endless. Sensory activities can help students connect to spiritual concepts and engage other parts of their brains. However, there are some good starting points and things to consider before choosing an artsy activity. Some big questions to ask: is it childish, does it have a purpose, and does it allow for creative expression?

Students, especially high schoolers, want to be treated like adults. If the activity you have planned is something they do in the preschool class, your students will probably check out, and possibly feel insulted. Make sure a craft or art activity is something on their level and not overly juvenile. Also, the activity should tie into your lesson and have a purpose behind it, especially for the students who may want to participate, but aren’t artistically inclined. If they can’t draw a sheep, can they still accomplish something? For the student who is artistically inclined, can they use the activity to creatively express themselves, even if they think outside the box?

If you aren’t sure where to start, begin by talking with your students who are artistically-inclined. They may have some awesome ideas for creative projects you can implement in hang outs, or as part of your lessons. If you can’t think of a specific craft or project, start by providing blank paper and art supplies like markers, colored pencils, or gel pens. Another option is to invest in some adult coloring books, journals for your students, or scrapbooking supplies. If you have interest, you can plan a creative night where students can paint a canvas or complete a craft, enjoy a snack, and socialize.

COVID alternative: If you’re gathering digitally, plan a creative project students can do with things they have at home. Give them a heads-up beforehand so they can gather supplies. You can also encourage your students to make creative projects part of their personal devotional time. They can draw or write a response to what they read, or creatively letter a verse that stands out to them.

Don’t neglect aesthetics.

Decorating can be challenging if you’re utilizing a shared space, working with a limited budget, or restricted in what you’re allowed to do. But regardless, there are things you can do to make your space more aesthetically pleasing, which will help make your meetings inviting and appealing while encouraging creativity. Again, an important thing to keep in mind is that students want to be treated and feel like adults, so avoid things that feel overtly childish or juvenile.

A few things you can incorporate include:

  • Lighting. If you’re in a space with overhead florescent lighting, it can feel sterile and office-like. Switch things up with lamps, string lights, or up-lighting. You don’t need a laser light show to make the space feel more interesting or comfortable.
  • Seating. Switching up your seating options can help keep students’ attention, and make them more comfortable. Try sitting around round tables, providing cushions if you’re using the floor, or adding some comfy couches and chairs.
  • Decor. If you’re in a shared space, removable decor might be the easiest way to transform your space. Think about using wall art, lightweight furniture, faux plants and flowers, lights, and pop-up backdrops.
  • Paint. If you’re in your own space, a fresh coat of paint in an appealing, neutral tone can help make your space feel new and inviting. Try adding an accent wall in a bright color, chalkboard paint, modern design, or mural.
  • Graphics. Don’t forget that you can carry aesthetics through to your materials and display graphics. Choose artful photos, modern fonts, and colors that coordinate with your space. You can also create or refresh the logo for your ministry and feature it prominently in your meeting space.

Don’t be afraid to try new things; start small, and if they don’t work, you can change them. If you’re not sure what your students will like, form a decorating team to brainstorm ideas and contribute to setting up each week. Your students can help you keep things interesting and relevant while also providing manpower.

Also, set a budget for yourself or your students. You can shop yard sales and thrift stores, and keep an eye out for curbside finds. Some things can get an easy face lift with a coat of spray paint, or become a work of art with a simple DIY project.

COVID alternative: If you’re not meeting in person, you can still create an aesthetic wherever you film lessons and promos. Make your own back drop, frame the scene, or switch up filming locations. Also, you can use graphics and artistic imagery on social media, creating an aesthetic even if you’re not meeting together.

What have you done to encourage or incorporate creativity into student ministry?

Small Group Game Ideas

Last week we looked at socially distanced games for groups that can gather in larger numbers. These games can work for some ministries, but other youth groups have made the switch to meeting in smaller groups to accommodate state and federal guidelines.

With that being said, I would like to share some game ideas for smaller groups. Some of these are the same as last week because they can also be played in small groups with minor tweaking. This isn’t an all encompassing list, but merely an attempt to share some resources that we have found to be helpful and beneficial.

Zoom Games

The reality for many of our groups is that we will be meeting virtually at some point this coming semester. We don’t like to think that way, but it is better to be prepared for it than not. So I would encourage you to think through different Zoom Games that you can play. An easy option is utilizing PowerPoint style games that you can screen-share with a group. Another option is doing trivia over Zoom or a “Would You Rather” style game. The cool thing with all of these ideas is you don’t necessarily need to come up with them. Download Youth Ministry has an entire section on their website where you can purchase these games and many more. I would encourage you to start building up your resources now to prepare for the fall. And if you don’t end up meeting online, these games can transition easily to in-person gatherings as well.

Charades

Who doesn’t love a classic game of charades? The general idea is that you will have someone acting out an action, character, or activity that they have pulled from a hat. These can be pre-made by you and your volunteers or you can have students submit suggestions. There are lots of different ways to play Charades like as small groups guessing, or as a large group guessing, or even reverse charades where one person guesses while the whole group acts it out. Whichever one you choose, make sure to remind the people acting out that they can not make noise or they forfeit that round.

Apples to Apples

This is a classic party game and is fantastic for small groups. It does require you to purchase the card game, but it will provide lasting fun for your group. There are also many different editions that you can choose from depending on what your group will enjoy more.

The premise of the game is this: The judge picks a green apple card from the top of the stack, reads the word aloud, and places it face up on the table. Players (except the judge) quickly choose the red apple card from their hand that is best described by the word on the green apple card played by the judge. Players place these red apple cards face down on the table. The judge mixes the red apple cards so no one knows who played which card. The judge turns over each red apple card, reads it aloud, and then selects the one he or she thinks is best described by the word on the green apple card. The player of the selected red apple card is awarded the green apple card played by the judge.

Yard Games

Being able to gather outdoors while the weather is nice is a huge blessing in many ways. Games outdoors are a huge win and don’t need to be planned out in great detail because many of them can run themselves. Some great yard games include cornhole/bags, ladder ball, giant Jenga, badminton, socially distanced volleyball or basketball, Kan Jam, Frisbee, horseshoes, or Spikeball. All of these options allow for social distancing and a ton of fun.

Heads Up

If you are not familiar with Heads Up, you need to download it now and play it. It is a ton of fun and guaranteed to get your group laughing. Heads Up is an app that you can download, but it does cost money. However, there are multiple free versions that you can download as well including the Charades App, Guess Word! Fun Group Games, Charades – Heads Up, and Charades! Kids. I would just encourage you to try them out prior to the night-of.

The way this game works is someone holds the phone up to their head while the app is running and a random word or words will pop up on the screen. The guesser will need to guess the word(s) by the clues that the audience gives. Most apps will let you know how many you get right, and you can have a friendly competition among your group.

Costume Challenge

This is an activity that can be done both in-person and online. I have had many of my leaders host online costume parties, and they change the theme each week to make them more fun and engaging. You can also do this in person, and if you have to wear masks you could even see about having students tie the masks into their costumes.

Scavenger Hunts

Doing scavenger hunts is a really easy and fun way to get students involved and moving, and they can be done in person or digitally. If you are meeting at a home, you could give a list of objects and tasks to your small group to find or complete around the home and/or neighborhood. If you are doing it digitally, you could have them find different items around their house and the first to show it on screen wins the round. Last week we shared about a great website/app called Scavr that allows you to create scavenger hunts that utilize the app and all that data and points are accumulated through an online leader board.

Users must download the app and sign up in order to participate. They then create a team name and will be able to see the challenges that you have put into the game. The beauty of this app is that it tallies the results and shows a leader board throughout the event. It removes the headache of trying to create and tally everything on your own, and makes it really easy.

Trivia

Who doesn’t love a good trivia night? You can set this up for small groups or for individuals to compete. If you Google trivia questions, there are countless websites for you to choose from or you can pop on over to DYM and find a ton of games that you can plug and play for your group.

Message Bingo

This has recently been making the rounds in various online groups, but the overall gist is that you create a Bingo board with different things that will pop up throughout the message or the night. You can add squares like “the pastor said ‘umm'” or “everyone wore a mask” or “pop culture reference” or “bad joke by pastor.” You can have as much fun with this as possible, and you could even offer prizes as well. There are lots of online generators for Bingo cards, but this website offers up to 30 free printable cards that you can change the layout and design on.

The Hat Game

This is a really fun game to play with any size group, but in smaller groups you can play multiple rounds. The premise is fairly simple: there are three rounds of game-play and two teams. In the first round one player will draw pieces of paper out the hat and try to get their team members to guess what is written on them by only using Charades. The next round is the player tries to have their team guess using Pictionary, and the final round they can speak but not say the word or what it sounds like. Each round is timed and then you rotate teams.

The fun part about this game is you can switch up the categories, the method for sharing clues, the timing, and much more. It is a game you could continue to use no matter the circumstance, and each time it will be an entirely different game for your group. For more ideas and a more complete set of instructions, check out this website.

Xbox/Wii/Switch Games

I am not normally one to encourage playing video games, especially during youth group time. But there are games on Kinect, Wii and Wii U, and Nintendo Switch that are great group games to play because they are somewhat active and allow for four or more people to play. I will say this though: be cautious with what games you choose and make sure that they are games parents and your ministry approve of. You never want an activity to become a stumbling block.

Would You Rather

These are great conversation starters and allow for you to actively engage your students with both fun and serious questions. I would suggest setting ground rules for your group that include no making fun of someone’s answer, no course or crude joking, and always answer honestly. A couple of websites that I enjoy using include Conversation Starters World and Icebreaker Ideas. Both of them have solid ideas for questions with a broad range of topics and age ranges.

Highs and Lows

If you aren’t familiar with this idea, it is a great way to begin conversations within a small group. Many of my leaders use this each week because it gets students talking and engaging with the group. It can look different depending on your group and its dynamic, but the basic functionality is this: each student and leader will share anywhere from 1-3 high moments from the week and 1-3 low moments from the week. They can be funny or serious and they can lead to some fantastic laughs and amazing deep conversations.

House Party

House Party is an app that allows you to video chat and play games with your group. I would recommend utilizing the privacy settings and make your room locked so only certain participants are allowed in. But with this app you can play different games together as a group and video chat at the same time. It is very similar to Zoom but doesn’t require screen sharing for games. Everyone will need to create an account and have the app downloaded in order for this to work for your group. So make sure your students know to do that ahead of time.

House Party gives you different game options like Heads Up, Uno, Trivia, Quick Draw, and much more. It is worth downloading and giving it a test run before you implement this with your group so you know its inner workings and limitations.

What are some of your favorite small group games?

Socially Distanced Game Ideas

As many of us are looking at returning to some sort of programming soon, it is important to critically think through what activities and games we will be hosting. Because let’s face it, most of our games are not about social distancing. In order to provide a safe place for students and volunteers, it is important to think about what games will provide the most fun while still being safe.

The games below can be shaped to fit any style or size of youth ministry, but they are primarily for whole youth groups that are regathering. Next week, I will share some game and activity ideas for small groups as many youth ministries are moving toward that direction of ministry going forward. Before we get into the actual games, I wanted to share a few quick tips to make these games successful and safe.

  • Smile and have fun. The more excitement and fun you have, the more engaged your group will be.
  • Encourage social distancing. You don’t have to be an enforcer, but helpful and kind reminders will go a long way.
  • Provide hand sanitizer stations. If kids are touching one another or communal objects, have these areas for immediately after.
  • Encourage hand washing. Even with hand sanitizer, it is beneficial to wash often after activities and before eating.
  • Remind everyone about the rules. Whatever rules your state and church are following, make sure to encourage adherence to them for everyone’s safety.

Scavr

Scavr is a great new resource for creating scavenger hunts that are hosted through an online platform. Users must download the app and sign up in order to participate. They then create a team name and will be able to see the challenges that you have put into the game. The beauty of this app is that it tallies the results and shows a leader board throughout the event. It removes the headache of trying to create and tally everything on your own, and makes it really easy.

A scavenger hunt is also a great activity to socially distance in because you can send out small groups and ask them to maintain the six foot rule, which will be easier to follow in small groups. Just keep that in mind as you create the challenges (i.e. no human pyramids, which equals less people getting hurt).

The Floor is Lava

This is an old school game that has been having a recent resurgence. If you aren’t familiar with the rules the game is fairly simple: do not touch the ground or you are out. The object of the game can vary from completing tasks like collecting objects or moving a team to a safe zone, to completing an obstacle course, to a last person standing challenge. The game can be as creative as you can imagine and will allow for various people to play but also socially distance.

Up Front Games

Depending on the size of your group and the rules you need to follow these may have to be your go-to activity for the time being. These types of games could be trivia style, rap battles, PowerPoint games, or any of a number of Jimmy Fallon-inspired games. These can be done with as few or as many people as you would like, and they can be done in a safe manner as well.

Seated Basketball/Soccer/Football

This is a personal favorite of mine. These games take the traditional sports we love and turn them on their heads. You do not have to be super athletic to play these games because you are seated the entire time. Before you start the game, set up your playing area whether it is indoors or outdoors. Simply place chairs where players will sit the entire game or period and label which team they are for. Then have your students pick a chair and get ready to laugh.

The rules are the same for whatever the game is with one addition: students cannot move from their chair. Have leaders roaming to place the balls back in play when needed. You can also change up the rules and objectives to add another layer to the games as well.

Trivia Games

Who doesn’t love a good trivia night? You can set this up for small groups or for individuals to compete. If you Google trivia questions there are countless websites for you to choose from or you can pop on over to DYM and find a ton of games that you can plug and play for your group.

Hula Hoop Volleyball

This is an easy game to set up and run with. Simply set up a volleyball net, or something in place of it like a sheet on clothesline, and then place hula hoops on each side that are six feet apart. The rules for volleyball don’t change, except that students may not leave their hula hoop during the game unless it is to rotate spots during a change in servers.

Scattergories

This is a great game to play as a small or large group. If you are playing as a small group give everyone a score sheet and have them all compete against one another. You or a leader will assign a letter and have the students write words beginning with it.

If you have a larger group, consider setting this up tournament style. Have students all compete with same letter and then when time is up they will compete only against the other person at their table. The winner will advance to the next table, while the loser stays at the table. If there is a tie have them play Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide the victor. The person with the most wins at the end is the champion.

Cornhole/Bags Tournament

If you do not have a couple sets of these for your youth ministry, let me highly encourage you to get some. I have purchased these before and they have held up very nicely. The very nature of the game allows for socially distanced fun, and you can turn it into a tournament to decide who is the best cornhole player. You can also set up varying degrees of game play (i.e. closer or farther away) to make it more of a challenge for your students.

Charades

Who doesn’t love a classic game of charades? The general idea is that you will have someone acting out an action, character, or activity that they have pulled from a hat. These can be pre-made by you and your volunteers or you can have students submit them. There are lots of different ways to play Charades like as small groups guessing, or as a large group guessing, or even reverse charades where one person guesses while the whole group acts it out. Whichever one you choose, make sure to remind the people acting out that they can not make noise or they forfeit that round.

Pool Noodle Tag

This is a game that will require a little more prep but can be a lot of fun. The premise is you are playing tag, but the only way you can tag someone is with a pool noodle. Make sure you have ones that are close to six feet long and explain to your group that they must hold it at the back end and reach out the pool noodle to tag the other players. It may be helpful to demonstrate proper tagging, especially if you have some overly zealous young men like I do who like to swing the noodles as weapons.

Nerf Battle

I don’t know if your students are like mine, but mine love a good old fashioned Nerf Battle. Having it now will look different, but it is still a viable option. You can set rules to include being six feet apart and if you get too close, you are out or need to re-spawn. I would encourage not swapping weapons unless they are wiped down, and always have eye protection. This would actually be a great game to encourage using face shields in because there will be minimal push back (and eye protection).

What games are you doing as your youth group regathers?

How to Value + Incorporate Story Telling in Student Ministry

Everyone loves a good story, especially if it’s true. Historically our world has relied on stories to tell us where we’ve been, where we’re going, and how to live in the here-and-now. Christianity especially is grounded on a book full of stories about God and His people.

Story telling is nothing new, in the world or in student ministry. But at times we may forget just how powerful and important the telling of true stories can be. For followers of Jesus, they can be a compelling marker for the ways in which our lives have been changed and can be changed by the Gospel.

Valuing Story Telling

One of the best ways to truly value the telling of stories within a church context is also one of the most simple: keep them true. Whether it’s a quirky illustration or a heartfelt recounting, make sure it’s a true story. Nothing turns listeners off more than realizing a great story is fake. Conversely, nothing connects a listener to a speaker more than an honest retelling of their life experiences.

True stories are especially important when it comes to connecting “real life” to our faith. For many students, faith can feel like an abstract concept, resulting in a separation of their faith journey from their everyday life. The telling of true, personal stories can model a bringing together of our everyday lives and our faith, showing how the two are woven together at all times. True stories from our lives connect the abstract to reality.

True stories also help to illustrate the life change that the Gospel brings about, showing that Jesus Christ isn’t just a historical figure but a living being who interacts with us now. Stories can demonstrate the power and applicability of the Gospel to the struggles our students may be facing. They can move a message from a broad theme of “the Gospel can change your life” to a specific example of “how the Gospel changed my life.”

In a way, the valuing of true, personal story telling is also a way for us to value the Gospel. If the truth of Jesus Christ has changed your life, you will have stories to back it up. And even more than that, you will want to share these stories so that others may know about the Jesus you have encountered.

Incorporating Story Telling

An obvious and easy way to incorporate story telling into your youth ministry is to include it in weekly messages. Again, using true and personal stories to illustrate your main points is much more powerful than a generic story about “a friend” or “a girl named Sarah.” Even if the story about your friend is true, unless your friend is telling it, there will be less of a connection between the story and your students. Aim to keep all your stories to personal and factual accounts.

Another way to incorporate story telling while also building community and connection is to invite leaders and students into the process. Some of the most powerful student ministry nights have featured a leader or student sharing their personal story of how Jesus changed their life. Consider structuring a series around the sharing of leader and/or student testimonies. Planning in advance will allow you to meet with each story teller to help them prepare and practice telling their story. In addition to giving them a platform to share the Gospel, you will also build community between story tellers and those who listen, resulting in the strengthening and building up of relationships within your ministry.

Look for ways to empower your students to tell their stories. Some may not feel comfortable sharing in front of the entire group, but that shouldn’t make their story any less valuable. All followers of Christ should be encouraged to write and track the story of how He has changed and is changing their life.

Consider hosting an event to help students write and tell their story, providing tips, personal assistance, creative options, and tools like a journal and pens. Some students might write their story like an essay, while others may want to write it like poetry or spoken word. Leave time at the end of the event for an “open mic” session for any who would like to share. Secure a few leaders and/or students ahead of time to share and help get things started.

When you incorporate story telling into your ministry, your goal should be to not only share your story or your leaders’ stories. It should be to champion and equip your students in the telling of their stories as well. Each follower of Jesus is part of God’s overarching story, and to value the telling of individual stories is to value our place in it.

Tips for Hosting Special Events

I don’t know about you but during this time of year, Christmas parties seem to be happening in abundance. In fact, we just had our student Christmas party last week and it was a ton of fun! We had a cookie and hot chocolate bar, Christmas games, caroling, prizes and giveaways, teaching, and small groups.

It was an incredibly busy and packed night, but one that was intentionally designed and formatted to fit with our vision and goals. Whenever we plan a night for our youth group we always make sure to shape the night not only around the theme but around our vision and priorities. This allows the special night to be more than just a gimmick, but an intentional evening designed to bring people in and to help them grow.

Today, I would love to share with you a few special nights that we have done and that are easy to prepare for. But before I do that, let me give you a few tips to help your night succeed even before you start.

Keep your vision and mission.

Often on themed or special nights we let certain aspects of our normal program fall by the wayside. I know that I have often cut or trimmed our small group time to allow for the fun aspects to take priority. But in looking at our vision, small groups are a huge component of what we do. Therefore we have shifted our timing for themed nights to still allow for small group time.

Cast the vision for the event.

Make sure your leaders and your students know what you are doing, the purpose for what you are doing, and what you expect. When everyone is on the same page and you have your leaders championing the event along with you, you are setting up the event for success.

Bring in additional volunteers.

One of the things I love to do for events is bring in extra help so my small group leaders can stay with their small group throughout the evening. Often that means reaching out to parents, friends, and other church-goers to help run the event which means extra leg work, but huge rewards because discipleship continues to happen.

Feature a student speaker.

I would highly suggest allowing one of your student leaders to share during your event. Not only does this elevate and empower your students, but it shows that you trust them to lead. This also gives your students more of a reason to invite their friends and allows for the Gospel to be shared in a real and vibrant manner.

Don’t forget the prizes.

A quick word on prizes: use them but don’t think they have to be extravagant or need to break the bank. Prizes generate buy-in and competition but aren’t the focus of the event. We love to give out a pizza or ice cream party as prize, or a 12-pack of soda. At other points we have done giant gummy bears or gift cards. The truth is that the size or value of the prize doesn’t matter. A prize could be a champion belt, a gift card, or a bag of candy. Be creative and have fun with what you give away.

Special Event Ideas:


Photo Scavenger Hunt

This type of event is quick to put together and run, but the tough part is when it comes to verifying the images taken. One easy way to avoid having to follow a hashtag or check multiple social media accounts is to have an adult leader in each group who takes the photos and marks which ones have been completed. That way honesty is kept and teams are held accountable by someone other than you as the primary leader.

I recommend looking on Google or Pinterest for ideas. You will get a variety of poses or challenges by doing this, but I would also suggest thinking about having teams pose with various items, rooms, or people at your church. Think about posing in a nursery, taking a picture at the church coffee bar, having a team “play” worship, or take a photo in the senior pastor’s office. Adding in personal elements specific to your ministry will make this event even more special.

Scavenger Hunt

Most of us have done a scavenger hunt before but if you try to make it specific to your location it will make it a lot of fun. You can have items like find a shepherd’s staff, collect two bulletins from two different Sundays, find a picture of a missionary, or whatever else you can think of. You can also add in a lot of generic options like find a two foot tall stick, collect five ants that are alive, or find and carry two cinder-blocks.

One added suggestion would be to create a score sheet that has different point values for the items that are based upon difficulty. Teams then can add up their scores at the end and you will have a winner.

Tailgate Party

This is an event that allows you to utilize materials you already have or that are easily accessible but in a new and creative way. Take your volleyball, 9 Square, corn hole, kickball bases, footballs, and basketballs outdoors, bring a sound system outside, set up the grill, and have a blast. Simply by utilizing the outdoors, music, materials you have, and food, you have created an event that is fun and inviting. Allow your students to create their own adventure under the banner of your schedule and get ready to have a blast.

Open Gym

Allowing for an open gym night can be an easy win for your program. Consider implementing these type of nights into your regular programming. These type of nights allow for students to be creative, for leaders to participate, and for there to be tons of activity happening in multiple places. You can have basketball and ultimate Frisbee happening at the same time. Students could play dodge-ball and Spikeball in the same room. Simply put all the sports equipment in the gym and allow students to have fun and be creative under the guidance of your adult volunteers.

Minute to Win It

This is a fun and easy one to run. A quick YouTube or Google search for “Minute to Win It games” turns up hundreds of results, and most of them require only a few materials. My suggestion would be to utilize a Minute to Win It graphic, a countdown time, and have multiple games going at the same time. This allows different groups to be engaged throughout the program. We also put some small pieces of candy at each table for the teams to take a piece when they complete the challenge as another fun twist to the evening.

Must-Have, Easy Games and Activities

Student ministry always has some component of fun and games to it, but if we are honest sometimes games are hard to run or get creative with. I get it. I tend to focus my energy on teaching and interpersonal relationships over games, and often that means I need to dig into my repertoire of ready-to-go games or ones that are easy to set up and run.

This week I want to share with you some of my must-have games and activities that have proved invaluable over the years. I want to provide you with some activities and games that have an upfront cost but long-term benefits, and some activities you can host with resources you have on hand or are low cost. All of these can be run with minimal or no direction to free you up to do what you need to.

9 Square in the Air

This is an amazing resource and promises hours of fun and friendly competition. Think of it as a unique combination of foursquare and volleyball but you don’t have to be a super star athlete to play or win. This is an easy to set up activity and it runs itself. You can also host tournaments or play a “HORSE” style variant as well. It is a little pricey, but this product was developed by a youth pastor who has a heart for other youth workers so they offer discounts to churches. Simply email them and ask if they will help out with pricing, and they will get you a discount code.

Cornhole or Bags

This is a great activity to have out during a social time or game time. It is super easy and almost everyone knows how to play: toss the bags onto to the wooden board and try to get them into the hole. It is also super beneficial because it runs itself and if you have a couple of sets you can run competitive tournaments or just have multiple games going on at once. These run around $120, but I have found looking for slightly higher quality cornhole games ensures they will last.

Giant Jenga

This is just a lot of fun and the name says it all…it is the Jenga we all know and love, but giant sized! The cool thing about these sets is you can price compare because multiple store have them throughout the year (Aldi currently has one on sale in its seasonal section), or you can even make them yourself if you have some two by fours. This is a lot of fun and sure to bring a ton of laughs and moments that should be shared on social media.

Spikeball

This has taken the college world by storm but it is also a must-have for any student ministry. This is a new and unique style of game that is similar to volleyball, foursquare, and a trampoline for your ball. It can be played one on one, or up to three on three and has really simple game-play. This is a game you will need to walk students through once or twice but it is fairly easy to catch on, and it will run itself if you just set it out for a few weeks in a row.

GagaBall or Octoball

If you haven’t heard of this game, prepare for a game that is a ton of fun and really simple to run and set up. You can always build or purchase one of these games, but my recommendation is to use eight-foot tables to setup the octagon. The game is fairly simple: players stand inside of the octagon and drop a ball (a kickball or volleyball works really well) and hit the ball at opposing players with their hands in an effort to get them out. If a player is hit below the knee they are out. GagaBall can be done indoors and outdoors so this can be a year-round activity.

Sports Equipment

Depending on your facility and what you are allowed to do in it, having a variety of sporting equipment is a must. We don’t have a gym at our church but we do have a lot of outdoor space to use during the warmer months. We have collected various balls, Frisbees, cones, flags, and other equipment so once the weather is favorable we can go outside and have fun. Kickball has become a huge favorite and so has ultimate frisbee. Both of these games are super simple and involve minimal setup and facilitating to make them a success.

Minute to Win it

Everyone knows these games and they are a blast to play. You can find any number of these style games online, and many of the items you need you may already have at your ministry, can find for low cost in dollar stores, or ask families donate (i.e. toilet tissue, empty tissue boxes, packs of Oreos, etc.). Part of making this event fun is setting up a rotation for groups of students to move through so multiple people can play at the same time.

Board games, puzzles, and coloring books

These are relatively low cost or free if you can get them donated. Students love to play card games, board games, and even trivia, so I always keep an eye out at Walmart, Target, thrift stores, and yard sales. But also consider asking people to donate their gently used activities and then incorporate them into your ministry.