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Great game ideas require execution. It doesn’t take much to turn a youth ministry game into a train wreck. We’re hoping you can learn from the mistakes we’ve made over the years and avoid these de-railers:

(1) The leader of the game lacks enthusiasm.
Whoever is leading a game must believe that game is worthwhile of getting everyone involved. Anything less than total commitment will trickle down and you’ll have less excitement and participation. We’re not saying you have to be and electrified Chihuahua hopped up on crack, but you do have to believe in what you’re asking everyone to do. Your confidence will encourage students to eagerly participate.

(2) The game gets too competitive.
Ministry games get too competitive when leadership misses the big-picture. Be fair, but firm. As we were working on this article, a veteran youth worker tweeted, “Dodgeball Tournament: always one competitive player on the team and it always seems to be the adult!” Avoid this by getting your leaders on the same page BEFORE the games begin. There’s nothing more sad than an adult reliving his youth and dunking over a seventh grade girl. Competition has the potential to bring out the worst in others—prepare for it.

(3) The adult leaders aren’t involved.
Last time we checked, there’s no such thing as the spiritual gift of apathy. This is why it’s normally a bad idea to have your adults standing around the edge of the room with their arms crossed and uninvolved. In our opinion, a healthy youth ministry fights furiously against communicating “US v. THEM”. Good games involve adults too so teenagers can see adult leaders having fun… and losing (we make it a rule never to allow adults to win).

(4) Humor that ridicules or embarrasses.
When someone fails, falls or loses, it’s not the time to capitalize on their loss. While it might make for a good laugh, laughter at the expense of a teenager may push them away from your ministry (and maybe even God).

(5) Cliques are reinforced rather than challenged.
If you’re not careful, a game can have the opposite effect of building community and enhancing new relationships. This can happen when formed friendship circles are given the opportunity to band together against others. Be careful how you form teams, and be very careful about allowing teenagers to form teams—remember, it’s brutal to be picked last.

Student Leadership tip: We expected our student leaders to spread out and meet others when there’s a game time and remind them that it’s not important who wins.

(6) The game is too unsafe.
It’s okay if a game is a little unsafe…like roller coaster unsafe (it feels more wild than it actually is). You don’t want to push the envelope where your student’s safety is concerned. It’s not worth the risk. We once used Tiki torches in a relay game and thought this was funny until Tiki fuel spilled all over a teenager (he didn’t catch on fire… although that would have made for a great video).

(7) The game goes too long.
Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. The best time to end a game is while the students are still enjoying it! Leave them wanting more and go out on top!

There’s another option for a game that’s going too long and not working—stop it. Don’t force it… abandon ship…there’s no code among GAME CAPTAINS that says you have to go down with the ship. Obviously, you’re not planning for a game to fail, but if it does, cut your loses and move on.

What are some ways your games have taken a program off track?
 

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