“All you do is play games at youth group.” – Complaining Parent

The Claim

If you have ever been a part of a church youth group in any capacity, you have likely heard the bizarre claim that all your group does is play games.

There are many reasons that parents want their teenagers involved in a church youth group: free babysitting/date night, so their teens can grow in their faith, so their teens can make friends and see friends, so their teens can be around positive mentors and role models, etc.

However, I have noticed that (often times) those who make the claim that a youth group only plays games happen to send their teenager to their youth group for the same reason, here it is – so their teen’s behavior changes to the liking of the parents.

The claim that church youth groups only play games are most often made by parents that want their children to come out of their youth group as perfect saints.

The Issue

There are some church youth groups that for whatever reason have given into such parenting pushes. The leaders of such groups end up primarily preaching and teaching against things like alcohol, sex, profanity, and so on. The teenager learns, being a Christian = being against such things. Therefore, if I avoid such things, I am a saint! Of course, those parents seeking this outcome for their children will only praise the church youth group and support it however they can.

There is a major issue with this though. IT IS NOT THE GOSPEL.

The gospel comes in says, “You are not a saint, cannot be a saint through behavior change, you are a sinner, you can only be accepted by God through Jesus, then in the eyes of God you are a saint, and the rest of your life you are a sinner becoming more saintlike!”

Wait, so being a Christian is not primarily about avoiding things, but by accepting Jesus? YES!

It is important to not demonize things like sex and alcohol, but to teach their proper place in the life of a Christian. However, it is even more important to primarily preach and teach Christ and His gospel.

So what about the games?

If church youth groups are supposed to be about Jesus’ gospel, then what’s the deal with playing games?

Let me be clear, I am friends with many youth leaders (and married to one), have been a part of many youth groups, and have NEVER came a cross a youth group that only played games. However, I have been a part of youth groups that NEVER played games.

Nevertheless, here are five options/philosophies that church youth groups could implement when it comes to games:

Only Games

Again, I am aware of no church youth group that only plays games. However, if such a group exists, just clarify that the purpose of the group is to play games and that it isn’t a “traditional” youth group. Perhaps, call yourself a “club” as opposed to a “youth group.”

Never/Rarely Games

We are gathering together to hear the gospel and grow in our faith. Therefore, we might occasionally have a game night, but most of our time together will be focused on spiritual growth.

Recreational Time

During our gatherings, we will typically have a time before or after the message to play some games. The games will vary drastically. There is not necessarily one rhyme or reason, it’s simply what youth groups do, and sure there are a lot of good benefits from playing games.

Intentional Gaming

Clearly, you are about to see my bias.

We play games purposefully and the games we play are chosen intentionally. Let me tell you what I mean. Sometimes the games chosen are solely for fun, but usually there is a lot more to it than that.

Here are some examples:

  • The message is about the importance of community. Therefore, the game is teamwork-based, if people work together, they succeed, if they don’t, they fail.
  • The message is about perseverance. Therefore, the game is difficult, frustrating, and not easy to win.
  • The message is about ____. Therefore, the game is a visual illustration of ____ to help the teenagers remember the lesson.

Additionally, some teenagers dislike games because they dislike competition. Therefore, it is important to avoid only playing competition-based games. Yes, there are games that are fun that do not have winners and losers.

Final Thought

In the world that we live in, your church youth group may be one of the only places that teenagers experience healthy recreational time. Imagine the culture shock of going from playing Grand Theft Auto to playing a family-friendly game of Charades. Your church youth group can communicate to teenagers, “There is another way of having fun! There is a way that can actually be life-giving and healthy!”

Or, if you want to make it biblical, Proverbs 17:22 reads, “A joyful heart is good medicine.”