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3 mins

This One Time…

Once upon a time, I thought it would be a great idea to fill a hot tub full of milk, sardines and pigs feet.

Who hasn’t, right?

It was one of those crazy youth ministry program nights where our leadership team thought up absurd things we thought we could get students to do. The teens knew coming in that it would be off-the-wall hilarity, and in turn invited a bunch of friends out.

I’ll come back to that in a moment.

The hot tub was typically used for church baptisms, but it was a top-of-the-line model that had a lot of depth to it and even tons of jets (which we never used in baptisms, obviously). The milk was originally powdered milk, but after we added water it became an opaque lake that rose to the top of the hot tub. We called the game “Bobbing for Pigs Feet,” which is obviously why we tossed pigs feet in.


The sardines? That was just our way of making the whole thing even grosser. We’d gone this far, so why not go further?

At the end of the night when we unveiled this spectacle and surprised the students with it, everyone applauded. Some teens said, “No way,” but did so smiling. Others dove their heads in and began competitively looking for pigs feet. It was grand.

A success, right?

The story even has a funny epilogue to it. Three weeks later, our church had a baptism and (as always) used the hot tub. Although I’d thoroughly cleaned it out the night of the original event, during the baptism we encountered several sardines floating up out of the jet holes where they’d been embedded. I cleaned it once more. Two months later at the next baptism, it happened again.

Great story, right?

toiletbowlI thought this was the norm of youth ministry.

After all, this one time years earlier when I was in high school and checking out Christianity our youth ministry had a big event at a winter retreat where three toilet bowls were in the middle of the room… in a boxing ring the retreat team had created. The toilets were plugged up so they wouldn’t leak, because each was filled with dark apple juice and several small Baby Ruth-like candy bars. Guys had to dunk their heads in to get as many as they could before time ran out.

news_fishAfter that event, a group of girls were challenged to passionately kiss a large fish (dead, of course, bought from the grocery store) that they were each handed. The girl who won really played it up, even slipping it some tongue. We all applauded her Oscar-winning performance. The next morning she had a swollen rash all around her lips and couldn’t eat breakfast. We thought even that was hilarious.


Yes, I can sense your reaction to all of this.

You think you see where I’m going with this, and I see you seeing where you think I’m going with this. You likewise have a conclusion about the topic at hand that I’ve been somewhat passive-aggressive at raising.

That’s why I’m not going to raise the topic with any further clarity. Your mind is made up on this, isn’t it?

fallonSome youth workers would say these games are horrible, as they’re no different than what students might experience in a college hazing. Others would argue they’re good-natured fun with some edge, much like Jimmy Fallon has built a platform for on the new Tonight Show. I imagine some youth workers are writing down the details of the stories I shared as you plan your next retreat.

So that’s why I’m just telling you some stories here.


I’ll simply end by returning back to an earlier comment…

our students invite their friends out to these events.

Maybe that’s why we do them, because we know a certain crowd of kids won’t come to a deep Bible study but will come to a pigs-feet, toilet-bowl fish-kissing night.


Maybe that’s why we shouldn’t do them, though.


This one time I thought one way about it all. Now I think differently.

Your mind is made up… or maybe it isn’t.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “This One Time…

  1. I have never been willing to do games like this. I think there is more harm in them than help. I am really picky about the games I choose, both from a content level (no guns or ‘killing’) and from a embarrassment or awkwardness level. So I never have them eat something gross. I find it cruel and unnecessary method of having fun. Students face an inordinate amount of peer pressure in the real world and pressure to “oh, c’mon, don’t be a wimp” kind of ‘hazing’ in sports and other organizations that they belong to. I don’t want to be a purveyor of that kind of ‘fun’. I have used “Never Have I Ever” and my students (even sr. high) have spent 45 minutes laughing and falling between chairs as they scramble to change places. It’s a game that allows them to get to know each other better and have fun. We play sardines. We have snowball fights (with marshmallows). We play games that are mildly competitive but not brutal. We work hard to be a safe place and have our youth group be a kind of “sanctuary” from the world, where students are respected and encouraged by others, where they know their friends “have their back”. It makes a difference and my students have said as much. We may not have 200 kids come, but we have students carve out two hours of their week to be at youth group week after week. That speaks volumes. Youth ministers need to really think about why they are doing these games. Is there another way they can have students 1) come 2) bring a friend 3) talk about it for weeks to come 4) come again without it being gross or humiliating? Put your mind AND heart into it. I know you can come up with something great.

    • This is great, Erin! I really admire how you have set up your activities with intention while also space for life. Way to go!

  2. I was youth pastor for more than 10 years after 13 years of being a children’s pastor. I did to series based around toilet bolls and gross games. Often drank things from a blender or bobbed for goldfish. Some had purpose, others didn’t (except to have a blast and give them something that they still talk about to this day. Today I am associate pastor. Most of my worship team grew up in my youth group and are solid in their faith. In the end, the purpose was seeing kids see church as a fun place, a loving place, and ultimately come to Christ. It worked. It’s not the “Right” way and I don’t believe there is one. Lets just reach people and make sure no one gets too hurt in the process. 🙂 Thanks for your article!

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This One Time…

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