On Playing Games

The playing of games in youth ministry has a long history, it also has a long history of being debated and questioned. Are they valid? What role do they really play? Should they always be tied into the lesson or bigger learning of some sort? Do they reinforce an already unhealthy atmosphere of competition in our culture? Those are great questions, and certainly worth considering. But for the sake of this post, I'm going to assume most junior high youth groups still engage in some sort of game playing in your ministry. And I'm going to assume that your game playing has resulted in frustration, confusion and chaos more than once. In Controlled Chaos, I wrote a little section on games. Here are some of my thoughts:

Be Energetic
If you’re excited about a game, students will be too. An excited leader can get a group of junior high students excited about virtually any game…even one as cheesy as the Life-Saver/Toothpick relay. It’s how a game’s played that makes it fun, not the game itself.
The bottom line: The energy of the staff will dictate the energy of the students.

Be Organized
Make sure you know how to play the game before you unleash it on your students. Be sure to gather the proper supplies ahead of time. If a student is going to get messy, bring a towel or change of clothes. If the rules of the game call for 50 balloons, make 75. If the game time is part of an on-going team competition be sure to correctly add points etc.
The bottom line: Know what you’re doing before you do it.

Be Clear
Simple, easy to understand games are the most effective. Games that take twenty minutes to explain, and five minutes to play aren’t much fun. When explaining rules of a game there are three good guidelines: Keep them short, keep them simple and keep students quiet until you’re finished.
The bottom line: Confusing games create chaos.

Be Fair
Don’t twist the scores so the 8th graders win. Don’t invent rules halfway through the game. Don’t give the 7th grade girls a few “secret” tips. Junior high students are notorious for yelling “That’s not fair!” When it comes to game time, they’re often right.
The bottom line: Keep it fun by keeping it fair.

Be Sensitive
Don’t use games to purposely embarrass students. Don’t ridicule their performance. Don’t humiliate one student to get a laugh from the others. Don’t force students to participate; they may actually have a good reason for not wanting to.
The bottom line: Use games to build up, not tear down.

Be Smart
Quit while you’re ahead. Always leave them wanting more. End each game on a high note. If a game is going poorly, quit before it turns disastrous! Tip: Don’t play a game that you would be uncomfortable playing in front of parents. If you think maybe you shouldn’t…you shouldn’t!
The bottom line: It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Be Willing To Mix It Up
Not every student likes every type of game. In addition, not every student is adept at every type of game. Because of this, be sure to mix up the types of games you play. Keep a balance between physical games, mental games, group games, individual games etc. If you limit the variety, you limit the interest and enthusiasm. Also, avoid the temptation to play students’ favorite games too often. Their favorite game can quickly become their least favorite game if you play it every week. In our ministry we try not to play the same game more than three times a year…no matter how popular it is.
The bottom line: Don’t get into a rut; even a good one.


Mike said...

One of the things I'm working on balancing is games with competition versus games that are more fun. We have some kids that really want to win, and some that would rather just run around and have fun.

So i would ask, how do you temper the kids who are ultra-competitive, while encouraging the kids who just want to play?

Kurt Johnston said...

Mike, we try to always focus on the "fun" aspect and really minimize competition. Most of the games we play are goofy and don't favor athletic kids so that helps. Our "prizes" are always dorky and dumb and we rarely (if ever) have any sort of ongoing point system that breeds more competition.

chad said...

games are awesome. i don't knwo why they sometimes get flack. they work to break down walls, mix the kids together, create energy, and build affinity.

keep up the good work

only thing i would add is that there is nothing like a character or skit driven game

always have music in the background that is catchy energetic

love it!