7 Tips For Running Great Games

This post originally appeared on Download Youth Ministry's Blog.

A youth worker once told me “if you can make them laugh, you can make them listen.” Games leverage fun to quickly gain relational access to a student. Without this relational access, it’s significantly more challenging to convince them they should listen to you, especially for new students. I operate under the notion that games are part of the toolkit God has given youth workers to advance the Gospel. Games aren’t the point; the Gospel is.

If that’s all true, youth workers should make a point of running incredible games! I get the opportunity to travel and hang out with other youth pastors and their groups frequently. Here’s what I’ve noticed: some youth ministries are knocking games out of the park, other youth ministries make me wish I was knocked out just being in the same room!  

With that in mind, here are 7 tips for running better games in your youth ministry.


1. Know the “Why”

The first and most fundamental thing I can say is this: understand why it’s important to use games in your youth ministry. Don’t do games because that’s just what you’re supposed to do. Own it. When you do, you’ll find yourself being more strategic in planning your meetings which will result in increased confidence!


2. Practice before you play

If you believe games play a significant role in your ministry, and you’re going to expend resources planning, shopping, and executing the game, make sure the game is going to work! You’ll be surprised at what you learn from running through the game a couple of times. Don’t let a game bomb in front of all your students and leaders because you didn’t test it first.


3. Think “Ramp Time”

This takes your games from good to great. Instead of saying this “ok, we’re going to play (insert random game here),” build momentum for the game before students even get to youth group. Last year we did a Lip Sync Sing Off. Instead of choosing contestants at random the day of, we built momentum by pre-selecting great contestants a number of days out. We released videos on Instagram of the contestants smack-talking one another or short previews of their performance. When the time came to play the game, the crowd had been backing contestants for days, and the energy was amazing!


4. It’s all about the music

Nothing kills a game quicker than dead air. Spend some time and create a bumpin’ playlist that provides texture to your environment (and remember to turn the cross-fade on!). If you’re looking for inspiration, you can follow my game music playlist on Spotify. 


5. Never embarrass a student

Too many times I’ve witnessed game emcee’s (often the youth pastor) unintentionally embarrass a student during a game. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the energy and fun of the moment and mistakenly say or do something to a student’s detriment. Resist this urge at all costs!!! Not only does it make you look like a jerk, but the result you get is the exact opposite of the whole point of doing the game in the first place. Games are a tool to create a safe space for students to engage. Don’t flip this on its head and embarrass a student for engaging. A good rule of thumb is this: have students volunteer for games as opposed to forcing them to play. And if you get the sense that a student who volunteered wants to drop out, find a way to make it easy for them to do so.


6. Train your emcee’s

The emcee/host makes or breaks the game. You can have a great game, but if you have a bad emcee, the game turns out bad. On the other hand, you can have a bad game mixed with a good emcee, and you will have a good experience. Make sure your emcees are: positive, welcoming, lightening-quick on their feet, and understand competition. If you end up with a 3-way tie and only 2 prizes, your emcee has to be able to work some magic!


7. Leverage strategic prizes

I’ll admit it. I’ve been onstage hosting a game only to realize: I don’t know what the prize is when someone wins! Don’t do that. Instead, use prizes as promotional tools or transitional segments in your service. For example: if you launched summer camp registration recently, give away a free registration as a prize. This can segue you out of the game and into an announcement about summer camp. Maybe you’re selling donuts in your café after the service with proceeds going towards your upcoming missions trip. Give away a box of donuts and transition into talking about why you’re going on a missions trip. Remember, games are all about leverage.


If you do these 7 things regularly, you’ll take your games to the next level. If you have some additional pro-tips, leave them in the comment section below!