Chances are, if you’re a youth or children’s ministry worker, you’re probably well steeped in the world of playing games. After all, for many of us in age and stage ministry, games gave us an entry point into community and Christian discipleship. They function as a social mixer that promises to break down barriers among those to whom we minister each week. I cut my teeth in youth ministry on games like chubby bunny and the trash can game—both long banned in our current ministry contexts. I didn’t always like playing them as a young person, but I sure did enjoy leading them as I led various youth and children’s ministries over the years.
While I still appreciate a fun—and slightly inappropriate—youth group game, my understanding of the place of games, and play in general, has changed over the past decade or so. In 2003, I was introduced to a board game called Settlers of Catan, an award-winning international phenomenon in the board game world, where players are trying to settle an island by building houses, cities, and roads. It was nothing like I ever experienced, and directly after we finished that first game, I wanted to play it again. I was hooked. A week later, I had picked up my own copy of Catan and started looking for other board games that offered a similar engagement. As it turns out, there were hundreds upon hundreds of them on the market.
As I played more, I also began to realize the inherent benefits that board games offer us, particularly those of us in ministry. While having a board game night may not seem like the most exciting way to connect with your children and youth, I’d like to suggest that it’s the very thing we need.
First, with so many new games that are aimed at a broad range of ages, board games become an incredible intergenerational “third thing” to draw multiple generations together around a common activity. Where else in the world can an eight-year-old and an eighty-year-old find an engaged connection over a common activity?
Second, board games are great way to connect with those individuals in our ministries who might not feel comfortable playing the big-group games for fear of embarrassment or injury. We must face the fact that not all ministry games accomplish their goal of drawing people together. Board games offer a more intimate setting that rewards thoughtful play over physical play.
Third, research shows that games are really good for us (see sources below)—intellectually, socially, relationally, and emotionally. They may challenge us in the moment, but they have the potential to stretch us as people, dealing with losses and celebrating well. They teach us to think, act, and interact with one another in new and interesting ways.
While board games haven’t likely been a staple of your ministry, I’d encourage you to drop by your local board game store (if you have one) and check out the incredible games available today. Whether you’re playing games before or after your ministry time, or you’ve scheduled an evening to have a board game night, introducing them into the life of your ministry should prove both beneficial and perhaps even a bit formative for the broader community.
Gwen Dewar, “Board games for kids: Can they teach critical thinking?” Parenting Science, November, 2012, https://www.parentingscience.com/board-games-for-kids.html
Mei-Ju Chou, “Board Games Play Matters: A Rethinking on Children’s Aesthetic Experience and Interpersonal Understanding,” EURASIA Journal of Mathematics Science and Technology Education, 2017 13(6):2405-2421, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/50eb/27022328770251e3ae4abcda50d14f0f3329.pdf
Mutsuhiro Nakao, “Special series on ‘effects of board games on health education and promotion’ board games as a promising tool for health promotion: a review of recent literature,” BioPsychoSocial Medicine, volume 13, Article number: 5 (2019), https://bpsmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13030-019-0146-3
Megan Zander, “The Surprising Benefits Your Kids Get From Playing Board Games,” November 22, 2019, https://www.scholastic.com/parents/kids-activities-and-printables/activities-for-kids/arts-and-craft-ideas/benefits-board-games.html