The question I’m most frequently asked at the start of any given youth night is “What game are we playing tonight?” The truth is that for a number of our youth it’s the things like snacks, social activities, and games that really gain their interest in coming. I challenge you to give them what they come for! Most of our teens come to socialize and have fun. They are mostly unaware of their desire to get anything else out of the youth night. We need to give them exactly what they want, on the surface, as well as what they need in their hearts.
I think many of us tend to slap together some game at the last minute to get the energy out of our youth. Or maybe you’re at the opposite end of the spectrum and you go all out every chance you get, with paint wars or black light dodge ball. Regardless of where you stand, there is great value in youth group games and activities. Here are a few tips to make your games and social events more successful.
1. Know what you are talking about
Don’t just snag some game off of the Internet and print out the rules an hour before your night begins. Games are often used as icebreakers and set the tone for the night. Know the rules. Practice giving the instructions until each step is clear and simple. You have to be able to lead the game and do so confidently to start your night out on the right foot.
If you have any adults or volunteers, yourself included, who are not participating in the activity then you are opening up the door for your youth to bail as well. Encourage your core team members to participate, and you yourself should participate any chance you get. Not only that, you guys should get into it! Volunteers often set the tone for the night. We are the leaders after all! Play, have fun, and don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself!
3. Give them something to play for
Teenagers are super competitive. Anytime there is something worthwhile to be won, they will go all out for it, even if the game or activity is a total bust. Give them opportunities to have a winner and make the prize something exciting! Let them compete for a gift card, or food, and if you’re really feeling really daring, you can offer up a crazy stunt for them to compete for, like dying your hair or a pie in the face.
4. Controlled Chaos!
After years as a camp counselor and youth minister, one thing I’ve picked up on is kids love being rowdy. When you have a game or activity that is a hit, chances are things are going to get crazy and that’s okay. Just last week I led a series of Minute to Win-It competitions for high schoolers. By the end of it we had a thousand tissues covering the floor of the gym and my ears were ringing from how loud it got in the gym. But despite the crazy mess that it caused, it was totally worth it, because the youth were having a blast. As long as they aren’t putting themselves in danger and aren’t burning down the youth room, let your comfort levels be stretched by the craziness that comes with teenagers!
5. Always have a message
Yes, games and activities are fun. Maybe they end with the champion shaving your head or maybe everyone falling on the floor laughing because someone took a pie to the face. Whatever the situation may be, if it stops there then your game has failed. We do everything with a purpose, and if your purpose for a game is just to wear your youth down, then your intentions may not be coming from the best of places. Always have a message. It doesn’t necessarily have to relate directly to the teaching for the night, but always be able to wrap up your activity by allowing your youth to see where Christ was present within it. Maybe it’s something as simple as talking about healthy competition or displaying how joy is contagious. Whatever it is, allow them to see that Christ works in everything.
Games and activities are times for your youth to let loose and have some fun. Let them do that, but don’t let it come at the expense of safety or an encounter in Christ. Opening their eyes that the Spirit of God is truly present and working even in the midst of embarrassing activities and laughter could completely uproot some of the misconceptions that many young Catholics believe today.