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Tips, Tutorials, and Checklists to help manage ministry risks

Does Your Youth Group Play Crazy Games?

Keep these tips in mind when planning your next gathering.

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Games play an important part in today’s church youth groups because they lay the groundwork for healthy social interaction. But physical games can end with someone getting hurt. Be smart with the games you play in youth group.

Games Provide Benefits

Americans ages 8-18 spend more than seven hours a day consuming entertainment media from various technologies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Interactive games counter the trend by promoting face-to-face communication.

Some relational benefits of a well-executed game include:

  • "Breaking the ice" and encouraging a deeper interaction between students and leaders.
  • Creating an environment that allows students to take positive risks.
  • Building a team mindset among members of the youth group.
  • Releasing energy and having fun.
Games Can Get Out of Hand

If leaders haven’t considered all of the possible dangers, a well intentioned game could result in:

  • Physical pain and serious injury.
  • Hurt feelings or embarrassing revelations.
  • Disorderly behavior.
  • Violations of safety and modesty policies.
Where’s the Problem?

Leaders may not be aware of the dangers when it comes to planning games for youth groups, especially the cost of activities that seem harmless in the beginning. Needless to say, games with sharp objects or fire are always a bad idea. Also, games involving kids of varying shapes and sizes can result in physical injuries. All games should be evaluated and assessed for risks before they become a part of the youth group curriculum.

For example, one popular relay wraps youth members in plastic wrap like mummies and then asks them to race to a finish line. The plastic wrap leaves students unable to catch themselves if they trip and fall. Only after a series of falls resulting in concussions, broken teeth, and worse have some youth leaders realized that this cheap and easy race has serious consequences. Usually, the game takes place in gyms, recreation centers, or other hard surfaces, such as parking lots, further increasing the risk of injury.

Learn to Anticipate Danger

A good leader anticipates danger. A great way to do this is by simulating a run-through of any game you bring to the youth group. If you can’t do this, list all conceivable ways the game could be hazardous, and write out solutions to those possibilities.

For example, a silly game like Chubby Bunny, in which participants stuff their cheeks with marshmallows, seems perfectly harmless. But imagine if a student inhaled a marshmallow and started choking. How would you prevent this situation from becoming fatal? Should you choose another game instead? A simple “what-if” planning session could illuminate this risk.

Follow These Practices
  • Remember who’s in charge: Don’t let the desire of youth members to play a certain game overwhelm you. If you are not prepared, don’t play the game. You can always reschedule an activity for a later time.
  • Take action: Be quick to step in and stop a game from being too rowdy or uncontrolled.
  • Provide appropriate supervision: A youth leader should never set up a game and leave youth members alone to play it. A proper adult to student ratio should be used to supervise youth activities at all times. Without appropriate supervision, even a reasonably calm game can get out of hand.
  • Share information: Tell other youth (or church) leaders about the games you plan. They are most valuable when they understand their role as supervisors.
  • Discuss protocol: Don’t assume all leaders will handle problems in the same way. Before a game is introduced, leaders should connect to determine how to deal with problems that could arise.
  • Address inappropriate attire: Some attire is inappropriate for certain activities, such as wearing flip flops to play basketball or white T-shirts to a water-balloon match. Physical activities or games involving water might cause clothing (worn by either gender) to reveal too much skin or undergarments.
  • Set a standard: Have your students dress for both modesty and safety. Having a consistent policy allows leaders to approach anyone who may not be dressed appropriately.
  • Be sensitive: Have extra shirts on hand or be willing to change the game if enough youth forgot gym shoes. The goal is to have as many participants as possible.
Steer Clear of Problems
  • Avoid last-minute decisions. Give yourself enough time to prepare and to make sure you have the resources you need to conduct games properly—and safely.
  • Avoid games that consist of throwing objects towards another’s face. (Food, balls, sticks, etc…)
  • Avoid mixing younger and older, or weaker and stronger students in physical games.
  • Avoid making contact games mandatory. Students who are uncomfortable with physical contact are likely to be the first ones injured.
  • Don’t allow the students to change or modify your games. They probably won’t account for the consequence a change or modification will bring.
Check Out These Resources

For more information on youth games and youth safety, check out these resources:

  • Best-Ever Games for Youth Ministry: Les Christie's book shares over 200 games that are easy to pull off and field-tested with teens in many settings. It includes suggestions on how to lead games, select games, and save games gone bad.
  • CharlieValor.com:  Download the Youth Activity Survival Kit.
  • BrotherhoodMutual.com: Search through free articles on youth safety in the safety library.