I learned something recently: in youth ministry, games are important. I mean really important.
My church had vacation bible school two weeks ago and I was teaching the middle school class. That first night I went straight into the lesson and I got crickets and glazed eyes. One thing was apparent: my approach wasn’t working. I had planned a lesson along with some small activities but my quiet group ended up zooming through the lesson and I still had an hour of time to fill! We grabbed our snack from the kitchen and headed outside to eat it since it was a beautiful evening. We ended up playing different versions of tag, and this group of students who were shy and quiet at first, were suddenly laughing and talking. The games ended up being a major team building exercise. It helped them find things in common and get past the initial awkwardness that can come with meeting new people. They needed the games to break the ice so they could feel comfortable participating in discussions about the lesson.
Now I realize games are vital to building community in youth group. So after doing some research, our team has compiled a list of the top 20 youth group games with you. I have a feeling many of these games could be put to good use at Ichthus this week.
You take apart a flashlight and hide the parts throughout the play area. One kid is the Grog, which is a monster that can freeze you in place by tagging you. Everyone has to work together to find the parts, assemble the flashlight, and shine it on the Grog to defeat “it.” Our group of students LOVED this game. It was a favorite by far.
Sardines or Christians in the Catacombs
This is the game of sardines, but explain it with the story of how the early Christians met in the catacombs, but they still increased in number. One person hides in a dark place, and then as people find them, they join in hiding, until one person remains. It’s hide and seek, backwards.
Dodge ball with a twist. To start, everyone must have a hand on a nerf ball. Throw the ball up in the air and everyone scatters. Somebody grabs the ball in the air or off the ground. Whoever has the ball can only take two steps. After two steps, the player must throw the ball — dodge ball style — at another player. If the ball hits a player, that player sits down right where they are. BUT, they can still play, they just can’t move from their seated spot. If a player is hit by the ball and catches it, then the throwing player sits down. At any time sitting players can snag the ball if it rolls by, and they can throw it at standing players trying to get them out. The game ends when only one player is standing. Hint: it’s a good game for larger groups but its lacking in action if you have less than 10 people.
The youth group gathers in the evening when the church is dark. They congregate in one lit room and one person goes to hide a large doll (any stuffed animal will work). That person also hides a “murder” weapon (hint: use goofy items to keep it light such as a spatula or telephone), then comes back and releases people out of the room one at a time. One random person will be given a flashlight and they are the “killer.” Players walk around and have to find the weapon and victim (doll). Players also need to know who the “killer” is without getting caught. Players are caught when the “killer” flashes the light at you. If the “killer” catches a player, they are out and have to go sit in the main room.
Set up several stations that vary in grossness or scariness. Break kids in two teams and let them choose which stations they play. Assign points for each activity earned then add them up at the end to determine the winning team. Cuisine Station: Fill several large plates or bowls with your choice of sardines, pigs feet, frog legs, seaweed, etc. (look in the foreign food section at your local supermarkets). Place another empty container at the other side of the stage or the other end of the room. The student has a designated amount of time to grab one of the items in their mouth, run across the room and drop it into the empty container. They must transfer as many food items as possible in the amount of time given.
Here’s a fun, sneaky trick: melt a snickers in the microwave for several seconds. It will look like something else entirely and it takes some time before students realize its candy.
Free Fall Station: Contestant stands on raised platform and falls backwards into arms of catchers. Use mats just in case. Proof is in the pudding Station: Contestants dig sardines out of chocolate pudding with their toes. Use time limit for elimination.
Digging For Gold: Fill a huge (clear) Rubbermaid storage container with water and enough potting soil to make it cloudy and dirty looking, along with a few worms, and a few other gross things (be creative). Put several coins in it and each team member has to grab two coins out.
Don’t Crack station: Put garbage bags down for this one or go outside. Put eggs under both of the students’ heals. They must stand on the their toes to avoid crushing the eggs. The person who can last the longest without crushing their eggs wins for their entire team. Get creative with different station ideas and customize it to fit your students.
Photo Scavenger Hunt
Assign points for odd items that students can find to take a picture with around the Church property or within a designated area. Get creative with your lists. Plan to do this at a time like VBS when much of the church staff is present so you can include silly ones like “do the air guitar with the worship pastor” or “do the disco with the children’s pastor.” Give them a time limit and deduct points for every minute they are late returning. The added bonus of this game is you automatically have some great photos of your students that you can put in the youth group room. If your at Ichthus this is a great way to capture photos of the week.
Minute to Win It
This is a game show on NBC and its full of mini-challenges that must be completed within one minute. On the NBC website, you’ll find a list of all the games including a video tutorial, official rules, and a list of supplies needed for each game. There are more than 50 games you can choose from! Pick a handful of the ones you want to use then make sure you have all the necessary supplies on hand. Watch an episode of the show on the website to play it like the pros do or create your own twist on the game.
There’s two teams, each with a white board. Give them an word and the team has to guess the word they drew. This would be a good ice breaker activity before a lesson if you tie in themes from the lesson into the drawings.
Four on the Couch
The goal is to get 4 of your team onto the same couch. There must be one less seat than people in the room (must have a couch; you can play three on a couch if necessary). Divide into at least two teams and have everyone put their name in hat. Everyone draws a name and that becomes his/her new name for the game. But everyone should keep their names a secret. Now the person to the left of the empty seat in the room calls out a name. The person, who drew that name, now moves to the empty seat, and switches names with the person who called out the name. Now the person to the left of the new empty seat calls a name. You repeat the process. So you have to try to get to the empty the couch and call the right names to get folks on the couch. This takes some thinking but is fun and competitive in a non-athletic way.
Everybody stands in a circle and hold hands. You have something in the middle of the circle (anything works, try a big 50 gallon trash can) and it is the red-hot poker. You then try to drag, push and pull one another into the red-hot poker. If you touch it or break hands then you are out. Play until you have the last one standing.
Slip ‘N Slide Kickball
If you have a group of athletic, competitive students this one is for you. Basically it’s kickball but you add a slip ‘n slide between the bases. Keep some band aids on hand for this one just in case.
Capture the Flag
This one needs no explanation, but feel free to add twists. Include more than one flag, take turns having the teams play offense and defense, play with three or four teams going against each other, etc.
Tug of War
This is another classic, but is always a hit with youth groups. Make it extra fun by doing it once a year and utilizing interesting competitions: students vs. leaders, boys vs. girls, senior high vs. junior high. The key to a good match-up is to put a small number of the strongest against a large number of the weakest. For example, take a handful senior high boys and place them against 30 middle schoolers.
Ultimate Duck-Duck-Goose or Duck-Duck-Goose-Inception
When there are more than 50 students, this game is a lot of fun. Play duck-duck-goose as you normally would, however when a few people get tagged and they go to the middle, then they begin another game of duck-duck-goose. I’ve played this game with 100 students before and they began a game within a game within a game within a game. Two other twists you can initiate are using a sponge while the person is going around and ducking to hold over people’s heads or having more than one person go around at a time.
Tap It Out Telephone
This ones great because you don’t need any supplies. It’s like telephone but instead of whispering something, you use your finger and draw the word on the person’s back. Everyone is in a straight line, with multiple teams doing this. First team that gets to the last person and has the correct word wins.
Name That Tune!
Divide students into teams and have one student face off against another student from the other team. Play five seconds of a popular song from iTunes and have them guess. If both students don’t know, let anyone call it out.
This one is a favorite because it requires strategy and teamwork. The game is divided up between two teams. The goal is to get a ball into a basket. This can be a basketball hoop, but I have found it just as fun playing it with laundry baskets placed on a table. Each player has their own chair and is played in rounds. At the beginning of a round, the players have a short amount of time to place their chairs in a position. Once placed, they are not allowed to move from their spot. They then must pass the ball to each other, without it getting intercepted by the opposing team. After each round the players become more strategic and shift from focusing on offense and defense. Whereas one round may consist of one team placing all their chairs around the opposing goal, they’ll quickly realize that they are unable to shoot from their location. Likewise, a team that has no one in the middle of the field is unable to make an adequate pass to their teammates. An interesting side effect of this game is the loner and unpopular student will often become the most passed to player. They are the ones that are open, because the opposing team neglects to place a chair next to them to guard.
Real World Bible Drills
Bible drills can be fun but with a twist on an old classic game, students can translate it into real life skills. Instead of saying a specific Bible verse like John 3:16, have them find narrative stories like David and Goliath. After doing a few of these narrative type stories, branch out even further. Have them lookup a passage of the Bible that someone can use if they feel deep sadness, struggle with addiction, feel lonely, etc. This really challenges the students to use critical thinking and provides them with skills they can use later in life.
Give everyone a penny. On ‘go’ they must balance the penny on their chin while trying to knock everyone else’s penny off. This means the penny will lay flat on the chin and the students will be looking up into the air. Last one standing with the penny balanced wins. It is quick and easy and the perfect game if you are waiting for doors to open before a conference or for your favorite artist to perform at Ichthus.
Devise a number of questions and set up a board to play jeopardy. A fun twist to add is to create one or two categories that have nothing to do with the Bible. I always tried to add one about myself because the questions to think of were easy, and it helped new students get to know me.
Other helpful resources:
New Group Games App. It’s a growing database of over 100 games that you can browse through on your iPhone (only costs about a $1!). Each game has an image as well as icons to that allow you to see important information like how many people can play the game or how long it will take.
List of games and activities, including pairings with Bible lessons, from the Youth Ministry Institute
What games do you play with your youth group. What is most successful?