Are Students Actually Welcome in Your Youth Ministry?

May 15th, 2017

With the risk of simplifying too much, youth ministry can often be that weird place where you eat snacks, hang out with friends, hear a Jesus talk…and play really dumb games.

But have you ever stopped to consider why your youth ministry even plays dumb games at all? We don’t often think about it, but we send a loud and clear message to our students with the types of games we play at our youth ministries. And the message we send with our games usually tells students whether they are welcome here or not. Why?

When it comes to youth ministry games, there are usually three types of students involved:

1. Dominating Derek

Derek is that student (guy or girl) who loves playing your typical youth ministry games – dodgeball, gaga ball, relay races, obstacle courses, etc – because he always wins…or tries to. He is athletic, competitive, and smells like your gym teacher’s B.O. Derek dominates games regardless of how many smaller students he knocks over in the process. He scares the other students, but nothing ever changes anything because the youth pastor loves to dominate too (or doesn’t know any games that can even the playing field).

Side note: I have found that many youth leaders are like Derek. They love to win all the games because they finally don’t have any competition. These are the youth leaders who are always the last ones in the game when you play dodgeball…you know who I’m talking about. When these are the last people standing in your activities, what are you telling students? That leaders matter more than students.

2. Punching Bag Paul

Paul is the bravest student of all because he continually subjects himself to Derek’s competitiveness even though he knows he will never win. He isn’t even good at ping pong. He is 100 times smarter than Derek, but that never matters at his youth ministry because all the activities are designed for Derek to win. But, because he wants to be an active member of his youth ministry, he plays the part of the human punching bag in all of his competitive youth pastor’s games.

3. Never-Involved Nate

Nate is the type of student who will never participate in the activities because he is not as athletic or competitive as Derek, but isn’t as brave (or stupid) as Paul. Because he knows he will never win, and because he would rather not have to sit down for the message all sweaty, he just stands on the fringe and watches everyone else. And because people leave him alone during the activities, they tend to leave him alone during the message and during small groups. No one really tries to get to know him, so he comes and goes…unknown.

What Games Communicate to Students

Now, I realize that these are broad generalizations, but my guess is that you recognize these three students in your ministry to greater or lesser extents. I know I do. And the unfortunate case with all three of these students is that they tend to send a message, and it’s not a good message. The youth ministry that has games that only Derek can win at sends the message to all current or prospective students that only the strong and competitive are welcome here. And I know that no youth leader would intentionally say that, but our actions – and activities – speak louder than our words.

How to Change

So how do we lead activities that all types of students can be good at, and at the same time, be really fun? The first step is to start filtering your games through this question: Is this a game that Derek, Paul, and Nate would enjoy and be good at?

Recently, I actually had to eliminate a couple games from our game arsenal for this very reason. It seemed like the only games that were being led at our youth ministry for a long time were games that only Derek was good at; Paul kept playing, but he was always beaten (literally and figuratively); and Nate just showed up late and left early because he didn’t want to participate (and no one was taking the time to notice him for who he really is). The message that was being sent from our “ministry” was that we loved having everyone present…so they could make Derek feel good. And I hate this message because it is exactly the opposite of what we want to communicate. If we truly want to be a place that says, “Everyone is loved and welcome here!” then we need to craft our messages, our small groups…and our activities around this.

What if you don’t know of any fun activities that everyone can be good at? Check out my past post about How To Create a Really Fun Group Game.

Frequently drinking specialty coffee or eating Doroto’s Locos tacos, Brant Cole is often mistaken for just another student. With his wife Christine, he has been in youth ministry since 2010. Gifted in relational connections and transformational preaching, Brant finds it to be one of the highest privileges to do ministry with and to students. To him, student ministry is extremely important because students are not just the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today. Brant has his M.A. in Pastoral Studies and Congregational Leadership from Moody Theological Seminary, and currently serves as Youth Pastor at WALLOON LAKE COMMUNITY CHURCH in Walloon Lake, Michigan. You can connect with Brant on FACEBOOK and learn more about his church’s youth ministry on FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.