When it comes to youth ministry, ideally the goal is the same across the board; to continually point students to the gospel as they become more like Christ. However, when it comes to philosophy of ministry—how this happens—there are ranging differences from region to region and even from street to street in a city. One of the big questions is “what does my youth group do about games?” The spectrum spans from one end, where youth gatherings are 90% fun activities. To the other end, where youth are not called to entertainment but the serious beliefs of the faith.

Like many philosophies, to sit on one end of the spectrum or the other is to err. There is a healthy middle here worth striving for. If you’re a leader of youth, please preach the gospel and point to Christ in every moment. You can also use games intentionally (key word here) as a gateway for the gospel; here are three ways games can do this:

Breaks Down Barriers

Aren’t teenagers the most honest, open people you’ve ever met? Likely not. Somewhere between the innocence of childhood and the cut-throat social atmosphere that exists in adolescence, teenagers have become experts at the façade, the masks, and the barriers. They often have barrier upon barrier; you think you’ve gone through one layer just to find they have an equally well-crafted layer below that.

The benefit of a silly game is that there is no room for a well-crafted social image when you’re covered in oil and flour. When it comes to game time, suddenly what ‘looks dumb’ is not looking dumb in the game, but not being willing to play the silly game. Games of this caliber level the playing field; we are all equal when trying to play Frisbee with our arms tied t-rex style.

This is the first doorway to the gospel because when we come to God we cannot approach him with our hand-crafted, self-made image; we come before him just as we are, mess and all.

Builds Trust

I’ve seen it numerous times; it’s summer camp and you have a team of timid or closed-off students. However, you’re a team and suddenly you have a team identity. This team also has a specific ‘call and response’ style chant. It’s the adult leader that leads the team spirit at first, but then the students take a crack at it. The little sixth grader starts the chant, and to her surprise and delight the team calls back.

What’s happening here? Is it just ‘team spirit’ that’s being formed? I would argue that something far more significant is developing. Every time that student calls for the chant and the team calls back, they are learning, “if I put myself out there, my team will have my back.” This is the definition of trust. If the student begins to believe this in game time, they will carry this belief into small group or into deeper conversations. They begin to believe, “if I am open about this, I will still be accepted.”

Games are a gateway to the gospel because when trust is formed in ‘play time,’ that trust gives you ‘relational space’ or ‘relational access’[1] when it’s time to talk about the things that have eternal weight.  

Creates Community

Imagine there is a brand new student to your youth ministry. Nobody knows their name yet, and that student feels alone in a crowd. However, it’s game time and the student that was once nameless now has their name being chanted by every student in the room.

Games can be a place where students move from anonymity to community. It is a tool that can bridge more relational gaps than any length of ‘small talk’ can. Games not only bridge gaps between individuals, but also as a community unit. In games the youth group practices how to laugh together, give grace, and unify for a common purpose.

Games are a gateway to the gospel because they foster community, and it is through community that the Lord builds his church and transforms through the gospel.

The last thing I want to stress here is that key word I mentioned above; intentionality. The game culture in your youth group that leads to the gospel is one that is inclusive, supportive, and where leaders are intentionally using it as a tool to build bridges for the gospel. The ‘win’ in games is not to come out first but to reflect and practice the gospel.

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[1] For more on ‘relational access’ see this article on Relational Discipleship.