A while ago, Tasha and I attended a large gathering for students. The organizers did a great job planning powerful worship and prayer experiences, and they invited well-known musicians and speakers to lead the meetings. After a few days of meetings, we began to sense something was missing. Not wrong, not bad, just not quite complete. We had a few conversations trying to nail it down, when finally one of us realized what was absent – humor.
Some of you are shocked that a youth event wouldn’t inherently be filled with laughter and light-heartedness, but some of you likely find it strange that we would identify humor as a key element in youth ministry programming. And to us, that’s exactly what humor is – a key element in youth ministry.
Few things soften people’s defenses and lower their resistance like humor. Even the most hardened student will open up to the work of the Holy Spirit if they’ve spent some time laughing during appropriate parts of your programming. Plus, developmentally, adolescents need a safe place where they don’t feel pressure to “be cool.” So (and you can quote us on this to anyone who doesn’t value humor), silly games and pointless laughter are key elements in healthy youth ministry programming.
A few cautions about humor:
- Avoid innuendo in your humor. Much of the humor students are exposed to in today’s culture is sexualized. As sad as it is to type this sentence, work to stay away from words that have developed multiple meanings.
- Avoid humor that is negative towards your students (or adults). We’ve actually written into volunteer training the following sentence: “Never cut down a student or an adult . . . for any reason, even if he/she deserves it, even if it’s ‘just a joke.’”
- Avoid humor that is negative towards anyone. We love students, and we know you do too. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking to hear people make snarky comments any time a celebrity makes a mistake or a bad decision. Let’s avoid wading into that territory by keeping our humor above-board.
How to include humor in your programming:
- Tell funny stories. Seriously, work humor into your announcements, your message intro, your high-five time with your students, etc.
- Play funny games. The internet is loaded with great ideas for games you can play with your students that will get everyone laughing.
- Show funny videos. Every element of your programming should be intentional, but every element doesn’t have to be heavy. We love to use videos from Rhett and Link, Jack Vale, and Bored Shorts.
But what do you do if you’re NOT the funny girl or guy?
You should totally be yourself. But we believe humor is an important enough element that it’s important to find someone funny to help you out. For example, our friend Kurt Johnston isn’t funny, so he regularly calls us up and asks us to help him be funnier. We write a few zingers for him, and he’s happy. If you find a funny partner, you could invite them to do your announcements, have them emcee an up-front game, or just interact with students before and after your programming.
Humor is important, but it’s not a substitute for prayerful, Spirit-led teaching and worship. But if you want to break through some of your students’ barriers and help them open up more to the things of God’s kingdom, ramp up the funny-factor in your programming and have a blast watching what God begins to do.
– Tim and Tasha Levert