Pickled pigs feet. Blended Happy Meals. Live goldfish?!? While this list sounds like it comes from an episode of Fear Factor, these are all things I’ve seen (or at least heard about) students eat during youth group games. And I’m OK with that, under certain circumstances. (BTW, this post is written as a counterpoint and alternative view to Keith Parker’s “Why We Don’t Do Gross Games in Youth Group” also on this site. I highly recommend you read it.)
Let me say this upfront: the purpose of youth ministry is to provide a place and environment where students/teens/youth can meet Jesus, be known by peers and leaders who love them, and be trained for service in the Kingdom. That is the ultimate priority.
So, in all gross games, there must be some purpose. There must not be a conflict with the kingdom purposes of our ministries. If there is, the game loses and cannot happen. If your whole ministry or service is about how cool the games are, you’re doing it wrong. If you are shaming your students and using the gross games to dominate them, you are doing it wrong.
But is that enough? Here are some tips for those looking to play gross games:
(These are a spin on the points in “Why We Don’t Do Gross Games In Youth Group” by Keith Parker)
1. Potential Embarrassment / Alienation
It’s possible to embarrass a kid with gross games. If they’re forced to play (or think you might make them next time) they might never come back. But I’ve found this to be true with all games. I try to mitigate this by being inclusive and allowing them to participate at will and find ways to participate that they are comfortable with. If we are building relationships and not making the game a shaming event, it usually is at least good for a laugh with the shy/introverted/reluctant student.
Don’t play games that are for your own enjoyment to laugh at people. Play games where everyone can be included: either by cheering/participating from the crowd for upfront games, or by playing games where everyone has a role or opportunity to play the whole way through.
2. Safety (and Perception)
We want student ministry to be a safe place. If a student is terrified you are going to single them out and embarrass them for everyone else’s benefit and fun, you are doing something wrong. But this is a danger with all games and fun activities. If you play dodgeball and attack the small kids or are just reliving your teen years as “top-jock”, you need a new job anyway. Let your students know that it’s by volunteer only, and help celebrate those who participate and those who don’t. If you can’t figure out how, then just don’t do them. It’s not worth it.
But if you can find that place of making it a fun time that celebrates the weirdness of the kid that loves to eat blended foods, by all means show them that there’s a place for that, too. Just make sure you have their safety and the perceived safety factors in mind. I want youth group to be a place where kids can be themselves, and sometimes that includes being crazy and eating stuff I won’t touch.
3. Have Purpose in All That You Do
What is the point of games at all, let alone the gross ones? Well, as we stated on a shirt we made for our youth to celebrate the joys of Kajabe Can-Can, “Recreation breaks down walls and opens hearts for Jesus”. If I have to run around like a maniac in a crazy game of “Don’t Touch the Can” to get a student to soften his heart toward the gospel and earn a little credibility to speak into his life, I’ll do it in a heartbeat. I have some guys from camp who watched me participate in a leader event called The Gauntlet. It’s basically American Gladiator for youth leaders. It was super fun and amazingly difficult. But the best part wasn’t doing well in the event, it was when one of my guys said to me, “Brian, this week I’ve seen you embody what it means to be a warrior for Christ in life, in games, and in the way you live for Jesus.” I’ll sign up for that thing every single time if it will add validity to my walk and my words for these guys.
Gross games can be something fun that totally opens people up in just a few minutes of our collective groans as someone downs a jar of baby food. But if that purpose isn’t there, it doesn’t matter and all you’ve done is feed someone something nasty for no reason.
4. Don’t Make a Mess
The first rule of gross games is “don’t make a mess.” The second rule is like it. The third is “if you make a mess clean it up.” Your games are going to be a hindrance to your ministry if you just anger your facilities people. Work with them to figure out how to play games without destroying the carpet. They might even know great alternatives to things you want to do if you are willing to talk with them about how to facilitate your games and where is the best venue for them.
5. Time Management / Waste
When I was looking for a job, I remember checking out a youth ministry that played games for 45 minutes out of the hour they had scheduled for service. They played pictionary. Elimination pictionary. No one enjoyed this: not the leaders, not the students, not the finalists. Don’t waste time on something that no one wants. If your whole week is spent planning out your next game, you’re wasting the tithes and offerings that pay your salary. If your whole budget is spent on extravagant prizes, the same goes for that. If you are just wasting gallons and gallons of good food and money on supplies that only result in someone puking on stage, you’re wasting money and time.
But, as with any other games, if you can keep it in a place where you are using this as a tool to open their ears to hear you and soften their hearts to receive the Word, then you might find yourself in a place where your youth group is their favorite place to go. And let’s be that place.
If youth ministry is a place where students have fun, that’s great. But if youth ministry is a place where student’s lives are changed in the name of Jesus, then you’re actually living out the Great Commission. Strive for that one. Don’t compete with the guys down the street to have the craziest youth group, or the best lights, or the coolest band. Use what you have to get into their lives and hearts with the Gospel.
On this note, I love what Craig Groschel has put into the mission and core values of Life Church: “we will do anything short of sin to reach people who do not know Christ.” Amen.
What are your thoughts? Do you do these games? Am I a heretic? Let’s talk about it!