A few years ago, NBC introduced a show that has really revolutionized the games we play in youth ministry, A Minute to Win It. I love these games, they are simple to set up, have a predetermined amount of time, and the students love playing them. I think the best part about these games is there is no shame. If a student can’t beat a game, they don’t have to walk back to their seat feeling like a loser, because the games are easy enough that anyone can do them and at the same time hard enough that no one can really do them.
Previous to this, there was another game show that many Youth Ministries borrowed ideas from, and its about to start airing new episodes again. I strongly urge you to think before you use any games from this show, and that show is Fear Factor. Now, I’m not against Fear Factor. When the show used to be on, I used to love watching it. So don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Youth Pastors shouldn’t watch the show. This isn’t a blog post against Fear Factor at all.
The title of this post isn’t aimed at the show Fear Factor. No, I believe one of the greatest threats to youth ministry is what many call the “Disgusting” games.
I remember when I was in 7th grade, we played a game in Youth Group where there were 4 teams on one side of the room, and on the other, there were four grocery bags, and the idea was that one at a time, one person from each team would run over to the bag, and without looking, reach in, pull something out, and eat whatever they pulled out. They would be a variety of things, like maybe a snickers bar, maybe a can of coke, or maybe a jar of baby food and a jar of pickled pigs feet. Then the student had to run back across the room.
Or even the games where a student has to eat as many Twinkies as they can in a minute, but one of the twinkies they are given is full of mayonnaise instead of the cream filling. I’ve heard of more disgusting games, and am sure you have. But what I have also seen, specifically in middle school, is a real threat to ministry to specific students.
I had planned on writing a post about this at some point for the last few weeks, but my greatest encouragement came last night after Middle School when one of our girls came up to me afterwords and said “I really just want to thank you for not making us play any gross games. I never came to Middle School Mayhem because the first day I went in 6th grade, I had to bob for pigs feet. I don’t feel embarrassed playing your games though.”
I already was committed to never playing a gross game in our youth group, now I’m committed to trying to wake up others to think the same thing. Because here is the deal. This post is called “One of the greatest threats to youth ministry” because I honestly believe these kinds of games are extremely damaging to our ministry to students.
The First way they are damaging is because of the very nature of the game. When we play these games, and we ask for a volunteer, we really are asking for someone to come on stage and be laughed at while they get very uncomfortable. There’s no community building happening in this game, except for a community of students laughing at the contestant. Specifically for already shy kids, this can be an extremely painful experience, and like my student expressed last night, one that makes them not even want to come to youth group.
The second way they are damaging is they perpetuate the myth that Youth ministry is just a bunch of silly games. We have a lot of students in our church who don’t come to our youth ministry. I’m working at getting them involved, but I also know one of the things that has kept them out is the image of “just fun and games” that many youth ministries have adopted. If I was a parent, and I sent my student to youth group and they came home and said “I don’t feel well, we played dodgeball with fish tonight,” I’m not sure I’m ever letting my student go back there.
Call me crazy, but I just don’t see any benefit to playing disgusting games. I’d love to hear one if you have one, but for me, these kind of gross games serve as nothing but a threat to real ministry, and we will never do them.
What’s the grossest game you have ever heard of our played yourself?
If you use Gross games, why have you chosen to use them in your ministry?
If you don’t use gross games, why have you chosen not to?
Ben Read is the Student Ministries Director of Trinity Evangelical Church in North Reading, MA.