There is a serious deficit in many of our youth ministries. Yes, I’m serious. Yes, it’s significant. It And oh, it’s theological… but it is not whatever theological issue you just thought of…
Our youth ministries are seriously lacking in FUN!
Now, wait, I said fun and you immediately groaned and thought…
You: Fun, I bet he means more games. Ugh, games.
Zac: You are wrong!
You: Get out of my head!
Zac: It’s fun AND games, friend-o. Don’t get it twisted and make it all fun=games.
Fun AND games.
Let me tell you right now . . . fun can be games, but not all games are fun. When we talk about fun, what we are talking about is an issue of philosophical, theological, and ministerial importance. If we get “fun” right, we can achieve a lot of the other goals we had in mind.
The Philosophy of FUN
“When the fun stops, the learning stops too”
–J. Willis, educational psychologist.
That’s not just a nice idea, it’s intrinsically linked to how well we learn and retain. Do a deep dive into education or business to see how people are trying to improve retention in students and employees. There is a consistent thread: “How do we make the environment more fun for our people?” It’s become an even more pressing question in the last year when so many were given the chance to isolate and dislocate.
Communicate the importance of fun as connection
It has to be in your communication and training from the top down. It’s a philosophy of ministry issue because it has to ooze out of everything you do. In special regard to your small groups leaders, let them know you value fun. Some of them are really fun! I promise you they are, they are probably just waiting for your permission.
Across the board, one of the things that was most exposed in youth ministry in the last year and a half was the lacking connection small group leaders have with their students. When many churches stopped meeting in-person, so too did their leaders. They stopped communicating, and stopped connecting. They felt untethered from the place or program where they knew to find their students.
Why? Because the connection they had to their students was tied to content delivery inside a program and not to a relationship they had cultivated. Give your leaders permission to use fun as a means of connection with students and the foundation for relationship building.
The Theology of FUN
I have been reading Psalm 37 over and over recently and I can’t help but see a playbook for discipleship ingrained in the text.
This Psalm is not just an ode to God’s goodness and glory, but rather instructive for the ways in which the worshipper should be positioned before God. We are to trust, commit, be still, and delight!
Moreover, the rest of the wisdom literature points us to joy as a byproduct of God’s deliverance and righteousness. David danced at the sight of the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel). Paul commends and reminds us in Phillippians 4 to be joyful, to “re[joy]ce” again and again (because maybe we forget?).
So not to make light, but minister, you should be fun because it’s a holy work.
The Plan for FUN
Okay, but what’s the plan?
There are a 1,000 different ways to enhance whatever you are doing to make it more fun. Sometimes it may be the smallest thing, but ironically some of the most fun is not accidental. It is planned.
Not all fun is spontaneous.
Some of the best fun is planned.
So take a moment and review what’s on the menu for next week/month.
Where is the space for fun?
In the flow of your time with students on Sunday, Wednesday, or whatever is next, where is the space for fun? Is it limited to 7 minutes for a screen game before songs & a sermon?
Would you like to do whatever it is you have planned for your students?
Have you asked your students when/where they have fun?
When in the schedule of your weekly plans and programs is there something planted to create delight or offer joy? Is there a way you can change the order or play with the schedule to increase more enjoyment?
Practical steps to make room for FUN
Add delightful people
The easiest first step to add more fun, especially if you are feeling unfun, is to include enjoyable/delightful people in the planning of what you are doing.
It is hard—dang near impossible—to sustain a steady flow of joy-infusion on a weekly basis. Good news for us is that ministry is a team sport. One of the best things you can do is to not only develop your adult leadership and student leadership teams to perform the tasks of ministry on a weekly and monthly basis, but a team o’ fun to help think, create, and enhance the hopes your ministry team had for whatever was planned next.
Add a soundtrack
I know I am biased, I love music, but your students do too. Whether you have a hype mix for dodgeball night, a chill mix for pre-service coffee time, or just add some real “bops” for kickball after midweek, buy your ministry a bluetooth speaker and lug that thing everywhere your ministry goes. You will be surprised at how much the mood of the room will change with music.
Add (good) food
I wish it was more complicated, but as often as you can—in whatever ways are allowed—add food, good food. It feeds the senses and all five senses love fun.
Add art to the table
If you haven’t already, consider adding a “fun bucket” to each small group’s table/area each week. Stock it with some art supplies, playing cards, play-dough, or other tactile options. You will be surprised at how much having some other outlets to creatively talk/discuss will help fuel connection.
Add student voices
This is the best inroad to grow your ministry. In the most obvious statement yet, “students know what other students like.” So if you are wondering whether or not Pi/Pie night is going to be a hit, don’t ask Facebook peers, ask your students. Fun is sometimes contextual and even though my group loved Star Wars night, (May the Fourth Be With You On This Revenge of the Fifth) yours may hate it. The only way to find out is to ask them! Add them to your regular lineup of meetings.
Fun is an area of passion for me. I don’t always get it right, but I believe strongly in the importance of nurturing fun inside of student ministry. Fun is what holds their attention, fun is what builds connection, and fun is theological matter of joy. So do not dismay, go in the joy of today that the Lord has given.
And DM me for playlists and recommendations @zacworkun.
This content was written by Zac Workun. Zac serves as the Student Ministry Training Specialist for Lifeway and is one of the co-founders of Youth Ministry Booster. He has served the local church in various youth ministry roles for over 15 years.