This year at The Orange Conference, and the following week at The Youth Ministry Summit Canada, Kenny and I taught a breakout session about creating fun games for students. I’ve had a lot of requests for the notes from that breakout, so… um… here they are!

CREATING GAMES THAT ENGAGE STUDENTS

SUMMARY: Fun matters. It matters to a kid’s faith, so it should matter to us as we create ministry experiences for them. There are a lot of ways to infuse more fun into your weekly experiences, and creating engaging games is one of them. But if you’ve ever prepared or led a game for students, you know that finding, creating, and executing games that connect with students isn’t always easy or intuitive. So in this breakout, we shared six principles for making great games happen.

FUN MATTERS

We should be strategic about infusing our weekly environments with fun.

Fun matters to a kid’s faith.
Fun matters to a kid’s relationships.
Fun matters to a kid’s development.

FUN OVER TIME EQUALS CONNECTION (See Playing for Keeps, by Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy)

Fun over time convinces kids you actually like them.
Fun over time makes a friendship go deeper.
Fun over time reconnects what has been disconnected. 

So if you want to have more fun…

Loosen up.
Learn what they like.
Lose the agenda.

…And play a game or two.

THE INGREDIENTS OF A GREAT GAME

1. THINK IT THROUGH

Think about your program.

Where do games fit within your order of service and why? Have you thought about it?

What is your flow of energy from beginning to end? Is it strategic?

We start our serves with games because…

1. We want visitors to walk in during the most welcoming and social part of our service.

2. We want to start the service with something high energy (games) and gradually work our way down to a more focused energy (worship, then teaching, then small groups).

Think about the game.

Think about all the details in advance (set-up, tear-down, delivering instructions).

Always give your games a run-through during the week to make sure it works. We practice our games during our weekly staff meetings.

Think about the variety.

Mix up the styles of your games (up-front vs. crowd participation, guy-friendly vs. girl-friendly, physical vs. mental, etc.).

We do a 5-minute game or fun segment, followed by another 15-minute game with multiple rounds.

2. RESPECT YOUR AUDIENCE

Don’t force them to play. The goal of the games is for kids to have fun. For some kids, it’s more fun to watch than play.

Don’t embarrass them.

If you call a kid to the front, give them an out if they feel uncomfortable.

Be sensitive. Middle schoolers especially can be easily embarrassed. Guard their hearts.

You want kids to have fun, not inflict emotional scars.

Don’t force them to pay attention.

There are times in the service when you do need them to pay attention. But the game is not one of those times.

Remember, the goal is for kids to have fun, not to get 100% participation in the game you’ve prepared.

If they’re not enjoying it, try something different. Learn what they like.

Don’t forget about the introverts.

Youth ministry sometimes tends to cater to the extroverts.

Consider games that are just as entertaining to watch as they are to play.

Consider new styles of games where kids of different skills and temperaments can shine.

Go easy on the kids who want to connect with their friends and have a conversation instead of playing a big group game. Building relationships and connecting with their peers is a good thing.

 3. CONTROL THE ENERGY

Get a great playlist. Your games are probably not the right time for an acoustic version of “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”

Find the right hosts. 

Recruit people who can help move the game along while also being entertaining.

Consider finding two hosts who can play off of each other, create friendly competition, and exchange some fun banter or commentary while the games are played.

Our game host duos are always one guy and one girl.

Keep it positive.

Nothing kills the energy like, “Wow, this crowd is dead!”

If kids aren’t impressed by your games, it’s your fault. Not theirs. 🙂

If your hosts are having fun and enjoying it, your kids are more likely to engage and follow their lead.

4. INVOLVE SMALL GROUP LEADERS

If fun encourages connection, then make sure the connects you’re encouraging are strategic.

We want everything we do to point to small groups. Your games can help small groups win if you strategically incorporate small group leaders into the mix.

Let small groups compete against other groups. Have a small group leader and a kid from their group go head-to-head with another small group leader and kid.

Any time kids are rooting for their small group leaders (preferably while they do something stupid, messy, or mildly embarrassing) is a win.

Create opportunities for SGLs to make memories with their groups.

5. REWARD YOUR WINNERS

Keep it competitive… but not too competitive. Games are boring without competition. But this is church we’re talking about. So keep it friendly.

Give awesome (and strategic) prizes.

Consider collectible bracelets, buttons, or stickers. We give rubber Game Champion Wristbands. Kids collect them and compare their winnings with other kids, leaders, and staff people.

Give social media shout-outs to your winners. It’s free.

At the beginning of each semester, we do Small Group Turf Wars. The winning group gets first dibs on their small group space for the semester, then we work our way down the rankings chart. (This is also free.)

One more free prize idea. We sometimes create a special section in our theater (couches, side tables, cool lighting) for the winners of our games. They each get to bring a friend to sit with them and they are all given “the VIP treatment” for the rest of the service.

6. PLAN YOUR TRANSITIONS

Connect the dots. The fewer distractions between segments, the better. Help kids focus.

Set up the next programming element to win. We move from games to worship, so part of our hosts’ responsibilities is to make that transition smooth for the kids and for the band.

We wrapped this breakout by actually playing a few games together. If you haven’t already, check out Kenny’s project Fun Ninja for a ton of free game ideas – complete with videos, photos, and detailed instructions. He’s pretty awesome at games.

Okay, what did we miss? Do you have any tips for creating great games that engage students?