General Ministry
Josh Griffin

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.

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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.

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  • Jmgreenhill says:

    We used to do messy food games at a church I worked at a number of years ago. At one of the nights that we did this, one of the kids remarked..”I can’t believe that we’re wasting all of this food.” …..after that I swore I wouldn’t do them again.

  • James says:

    Hi Ben,

    We just had our annual youth retreat a few weeks ago and the theme was “the Amazing Race.” I borrowed a lot of ideas from the show of course, but we did one weird food challenge that I will never do again! Two different youth ministry leaders in our area recommended it to me; here it is: happy meal in a blender. McDonalds donated hamburgers and fries and I picked up a gallon of chocolate milk, we blended one burger, bag of fries and chocolate milk for each team. Each team had to pick one student to drink it five minutes or less. Of course some of the guys drank the whole thing in a minute and half, but a lot of the girls were throwing up for it. I certainly learned my lesson, and won’t do that game again!

  • john says:

    I disagree; we do those games from time to time, but never with random or uninformed students- I let them know what they’re getting in to, and the “hams” always beg to come up while shyer kids get to sit back and laugh. I’ve never encountered kids who didn’t want to come to youth because It,s “all fun and games ” – but we have a ton of students who are now deeply committed who initially kept coming because of the fun and exciting atmosphere of our “crowd” service,

  • Spencer says:

    I completely disagree.

    The students that volunteer for the games are the type of students that want the attention. They want to be funny.

    I have backed off of the disgusting games since the start of my youth ministry and my leadership team said they wanted me to incorporate more “gross games”. They create a lot of memories and not EVERYONE has to participate. Everyone enjoys watching someone doing something silly and gross. Not everyone likes dodgeball or other “safe gym” games.

    The focus of our youth group is the spiritual aspect, not the “game time” at the beginning.

  • Kevin says:

    I think a spin off from the gross games is the shame games, where a student comes forward and ends up looking stupid in front of their peers. I never find there to be value or humour in belittling a student for the benefit of “entertainment.” Classic examples would be the chair an inch off the ground, but the student thinks they are like 4 feet off the ground, or 4 kids are brought up and blindfolded and then 3 taken away so everyone can laugh at the one kid still eating a mushy banana or something. That’s so uncool. Apart from that, I’ve been very averse to gross games. There are tons of quality games out there that don’t need to rely on the gross factor to be awesome.

  • Andy says:

    Messy/gross games are like most things in youth ministry: if you think it through and have a plan they can work great, if not you may well be in for it. We do messy games periodically in our middle school ministry, but only take volunteers, usually giving them a solid heads-up of what they’re getting into. We’ve found using them periodically to build the energy level or as an attention getter for the message can create energy, memories, and even a buzz at school. However, we never do gross games as all play games and again, try to have a plan and boundaries in place to assure safety and keep things positive. If you plan, have a purpose, and use sparingly they can play a role in your programming.

  • Landon says:

    i agree, in my opinion gross games are the worst, a remnant from a previous decade of youth ministry. i also see that they represent a lack of creativity, if you can’t come up with something better to do, then may as well, throw a bunch of old stuff in a blender.

    thank you for this post.

  • Erik says:

    We have one fear factor night each year in place of a halloween party. Each year is a little different. We have a gross food related game that each year draws more and more NEW youth. We are a very small church, maybe 12 families on Sunday morning, but the youth gfroup draws 6o+ youth each week. Most do not go to church anywhere. We break up into teams, if a kid doies not want to play they can opt out. when its your turn you shoot a basket, make a put, whatever, if you miss you roll 2 dice. the numbers 1 – 12 correspond with a food….all gross, most however are eaten regularly in other countries or fed to starving youth in 3rd world countries, a couple are always just gross and one always involves a blender…choc cake and cider…mmm pizza flurry or happy meal shake,. we use this game eventually to teach the youth what others eat and why. We also tie fear factor night into death and fear. Should we worry. Should we fear death, etc. This is usually one of our biggest draws of the year….but we only do it once.

  • Ray says:

    I have to say that I agree with almost every thing you shared here. Over the past ten years as a youth pastor, I’ve discovered that most of our students do not enjoy playing gross games. That being said, we do play some because many of them enjoy watching.

    I think the greatest problem lies in forcing students to play. No one should ever be made to do something gross, but let’s be honest, sometime gross can be fun and funny. Millions of people watch Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest every year, which is not exactly a beauty contest. I think it is simply knowing your students and your audience. Know who you can use, make sure you disclose the game and make sure to give away an amazing prize!

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