“Toast” Gets Toasted

A creative idea is added to our youth ministry web site… and criticism is quick to follow.

Why is it that comment sections breed pessimism and ignorance?  (Yeah… I’m definitely going to rant about this one.)

Here’s the situation. A girl submits a creative and fun game idea to our web site, we add the game to our page… and then a couple people feel that it’s their duty to start criticizing her idea. Not even intelligent criticism.

One of the top pages accessed on our youth ministry web site is our Games & Icebreakers page. Last month that page generated 22,670 page views, mostly youth workers browsing through our database of literally over 1,000 free game and icebreaker ideas. Many youth workers use game & icebreaker ideas like these to “break the ice” (go figure) with kids and open doors for relational ministry.

Yes, I’m aware that some people think that games don’t work.

They are wrong.

Sound dogmatic? Well, here’s the facts. If games are proven to be beneficial in some situations, then one can’t say that they don’t work. The more intelligent statement would be, “Games aren’t the answer for every situation.” Or, “Don’t use games without any purpose in mind.” But don’t incorrectly surmise, “Games don’t work.”

This is nothing new. It’s become trendy to criticize games in the last few years. I’ve written entire articles on this debate (like this one, To Game or Not to Game).

Frankly, I’m tired of the whining.

A few days ago a game idea came in from Sarah-Jane that I thought was creative… it was titled, Toast. Toast is “hot-potato-like” game idea. I liked the idea. My game guru Todd liked the idea. I even showed it to my 16-year-old daughter Alyssa and asked her opinion. She thought it sounded like fun. (She thought it might actually be fun with her friends at a slumber party too.)

The concept is simple. A bunch of people gather around a table with two pieces of toast and an assortment of condiments (ketchup, butter, honey, etc.). You put one piece of toast in the toaster, and while waiting for it to pop up, people take turns adding condiments to the other piece of toast. Keep passing the toast and adding condiments until the other piece pops up. When it pops up… the person with the other piece in front of them has to eat it, with all its creative condiments.

Alyssa (in her creative mind) thought it might even be more fun if you organized the condiments into themes that weren’t so gross. In other words, instead of doing the typical “gross out” youth group game, do a “ice cream toppings” theme with chocolate, caramel, marshmallow topping, rainbow sprinkles, etc. This game could have fun holiday options (Christmas cookie decorations, etc.)

So why criticize it?

One person criticized it for wasting food. I don’t want to get into that debate in this blog. I don’t like wasting food either, but if done right, this game won’t waste food. (They eat the toast)

The ludicrous criticism was this:

I would like to know how this game edifies the church or builds your youth into a better relationship with Jesus?

Sigh.

How is this person going to be pleased with any game?

The fact is, I used games in my outreach ministry for years for pure fun. Yes, for fun! (Fun isn’t sin, you know.) Kids brought their friends and the ministry grew week after week. We shared the Gospel weekly and I saw a ton of kids come to Christ and get plugged into the church through that ministry.

Is that edifying enough for ya?

Last year I volunteered in a local jr. high ministry and had a small group of guys. I remember several weeks playing dodgeball with my guys, laughing and having a great time. This kind of bonding led to great conversations.

Games… done right… open doors for relational ministry.

Nuff said!

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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25 Responses to “Toast” Gets Toasted

  1. Dave says:

    Jonathan,

    I 100% agree. I spent about 10 years serving in youth ministries that ranged in size from 5 – 60 youth. Games work if you put some thought into them beforehand. For example, If you have a group of 20+ and and only 5 kids seem to be interested in games, then maybe upfront games make the most sense. In my experience, those 5 will tend to vollunteer and the other 15 will enjoy watching them. It also makes sense to plan more games than you have time to play, so that if one flops, you can just end it and move on to the next one.

    As to the edification question, I’ll go with something I learned from one of my Bible College profs. People have felt needs and real needs. As youth ministry leaders, we know that the most important real need our youth have is to be discipled. The youth, however, may never allow God to meet that real need through you, unless you aknowledge and seek to meet their felt needs. A big felt need is fun. In my experience, if you show a youth that you care about them having fun, they will be much more open to having their real need of discipleship met.

  2. Rick says:

    I’ll join your rant, because I think this problem is larger than games in youth group. I have had to defend relationships too many times to those in the church. Even in the larger church setting, we look at relational activities as if they are mere fluff. Is someone going to lead a Bible study at the next pot-luck? Who will lead a 30-minute prayer time at the next campfire?

    What’s crazy about all this is that everyone will freely admit that building relationships is key to helping introduce people to Christ in the first place. So why do relationships become so unimportant once we have come to Christ?

    Not every activity has to have a justification. Not every event has to have a hidden agenda. (Actually, our agenda should never be hidden.) There is simply nothing wrong with taking time to simply be with people.

    Whew. I feel a lot better now having said that.

    • Rick… so true. Maybe we should provide someone reading scripture outloud in the bathrooms so that we don’t waste that key time when people are “doing their business.”

  3. Jared says:

    As a Campus Life director (which you once were too, right?), I say, “Preach it!”

  4. Jason says:

    Amen Brother!!

    May God forgive me for meeting their physical need in order to meet their spiritual need. Oh wait, maybe He is ok with that since Jesus did the same. (Read about fishes and loaves, many healings, personal conversations where He would have an empathy that caused people to respond to His truth)

    Games add leverage to our ability to talk about Christ. no Jesus does not need our games to take place in order for the holy Spirit to work. But the truth is that teens need to see that Jesus is fun as well as He is God. Teens come with a sense of “This is church, so it can’t be fun” the same as adults do. Playing a game breaks the ice and breaks down their barrier to acceptance of the truth that will be spoken of God’s love.

  5. Colleen says:

    As a fan of this website since the beginning…just posting in enthusiastic support of Jonathan’s Game Theology. Don’t like games? Don’t play ’em. Wanna know where your young people are? They’re being discipled somewhere else — probably at our group…where there are games! In all seriousness — anything we bring to youth ministry deserves focus, purpose and discernment. People don’t get to just globally decide that games are bad. Just like I don’t get to just decide that games are empirically good. But with all due respect and grace, if you’re on this website…um…you’re looking for resources. So save the snarkey posts for someplace else. Every faith community is unique. I certainly have encountered youth ministries that truly don’t enjoy or don’t need games. Those kids were just more consistently formed in their faith from home and had a more mature understanding of church. And that’s fine. Some communities need to be built, some need to be built up, and some need to be opened up. I have never been in a parish that didn’t need some sort of building. And thus there are games, team builders, and other fun events that mediate leaving a community and the people in it better than we found it that evening.
    GAME ON! Keep up the great work!!!

  6. Jay says:

    I guess we need to do some games that are more “politically correct” to appease some leaders. We better watch out because next there will be an Occupy Jonathan’s Blog start up to raise the level of awareness of how much food product is wasted on teen games at churches, thus causing the loss of jobs and the inability to pay back student loans. Campfires and Kumbayah are the wildest games some people can dream up.

    Personally…bobbing for Spam is one of my all-time favorites..EVER! And no claims of wasting food can be made because no one is really quite sure if Spam actually falls into the “food” category.

    The unhappy people need to find joy, fun, and games. The Kingdom of Heaven is for such as the game players….

  7. Rachel Hill says:

    Wow, being in the ministry, it seems like there is always someone waiting to tell you what you’re doing wrong. I think the source for youth ministry does a wonderful job and I’m thankful for the resource. My mother in law was the original one who found it several years ago, and we’ve been using it ever since. Thanks for your pointless games! The youth love them, and so do we 🙂

  8. Patrick Garrett says:

    Thank you Jonathan! God blesses and continues to bless The Source.
    I am sorry you must endure such criticism, though your response here is well done, tastefully “rebuking” and speaks to the point. You needn’t worry about defending yourself nor your site; I am sure the critics’ youth group is just booming!
    A question: would Jesus have used anything in his ministry that seemed inocous in order to further the Kingdom?

  9. Adam says:

    Thank you. That is all.

  10. Joshua says:

    I’ve found that by getting students active and engaged in games, mainly the ones just for fun to start out our weekly meetings, help to get them active and engaged in the lesson time or group time following. Their participation tends to carry over. Also, if it is a high activity game, it helps to mellow them out a bit in the energy department, haha.

  11. Scott says:

    All I have to say is, “hurting people hurt people”.

    Thanks Jonathan and staff for ALL you guys do for the Kingdom!

  12. Jesse says:

    Wow, I didn’t even know people still thought like that anymore..Maybe I’ve been out of the super fundy loop too long. I would say that the ONLY reason we have around 6-10 Jr. Highers (apart from our normal attendees) frequent our youth group services on Sunday and Wednesday evenings is because we play games in our gym for 20 or so minutes. These kids hear the Gospel when they wouldn’t otherwise and my wife and I get to connect with them and their friends. It’s a win/win.

    It’s sad when people try to discourage a good thing. I think the games you guys post are awesome and a huge help to those trying to help spread the Gospel and connect with the youth of this culture.

  13. every youth group meeting starts with a game.
    every middle school meeting involves two games – one large group, one up-front.
    I find it’s the best way to get kids EXCITED to be there and a great way to build relationships with the kids.

    And I need to tell you all a story – may you either learn from it or try it for yourselves.

    I’ve been in youth ministry for 10 years and I’ve always wanted to do a food fight with the kids, but could never justify wasting food for fun. One day this last summer, as I was trying to figure out the best way to kick off our high school meetings. Then it hit me – Ketchup vs. Mustard!!!

    We went to your local bulk food store and bought huge cans of ketchup and mustard. We poured ketchup and mustard into those red and yellow picnic bottles that really squirt well. We sent out post cards telling kids to wear clothes that could get extremely stained and set up our battle field: the church parking lot (we don’t have a lawn because we’re an inner-city church).
    We divided the kids into two teams who still didn’t know what their ammunition was (it was wrapped up in paper bags), counted to three and watched the great war begin. It was AMAZING and so much fun.

    Poor judgement calls that you may want to consider=
    Mustard STAINS the pavement, especially light colored sidewalks.
    Mustard stinks and the entire neighborhood will wonder why it smells like a hotdog outside.
    Mustard DOES sting the eyes. If I were to do it again (at another church, of course), i would suggest goggles or safety glasses.
    I didn’t relate it to a Biblical lesson (clean-up took long than I expected).
    Elders will still think this is a waste of food.

    Good judgement calls you may want to consider=
    We were outside. DO NOT do this inside. You will get fired. I promise.
    The bathrooms are close to the doors and kids were told to also bring a change of clothes and put them in the bathrooms.
    No REAL food was wasted and no animals or humans were hurt (except for some stinging eyes).
    The kids that were there LOVED it and the ones that weren’t were really sad they missed it and haven’t missed another night yet this year 🙂

  14. Tonya Berry says:

    See this is exactly WHY our ministry is independent of any organized church. God called us out of it and out of all the drama and critical Jezebel spirits! Long live Generation Actz and long live the youth group game! We’ll be playing toast at Generation Actz very soon by the way…sounds like a great one for our annual Christmas party!

    • Colleen says:

      Sorry…cannot let this one go by. Won’t speak for anyone else…but I am a minister at an “organized church.” A big one. And we work really hard to not be like the community you described. I promise. I think God calls everyone “out” of those behaviors. And just because we hear that call as one that challenges us to be active and model a positive example within the faith community instead of outside it doesn’t make organized church any more or less than anyone else. Just sayin’! I hope all communities who are answering a call to keep on building the Kingdom keep up the great work!

  15. jon d. forrest says:

    I have seen Jonathan this way before and I think we are almost to the point where he starts feeling bad and calls off the dogs and gets all full of grace and says, “well, to each his own.” He has so much trouble being mean. And really we all need to be a little more graceful. I’m a big believer in games. (played “uh or um” this a.m. with 70 middle schoolers as an up front game) They definitely have great value but let’s not destroy the poor folks who are obviously trying to bring change in their kids lives and are not convinced of their value. I don’t think we are going to influence them positively by calling them names or questioning their hearts. I’m just trying to be Lil’ Wayne showing you “How to Love.” Because even if I have an awesome game or raise the dead or move a mountain without love, I’m like a tinkling bell. You can be right and still be wrong. Right?

    • My original point exactly Jon. A girl submits an idea and get’s blasted. I don’t rebuke people often in my blog… but I made a special exception for these people that were questioning motives and being critics of something they obviously know little about. But yes, I agree… that doesn’t give license for us to blast back. When rebuking get’s fun… it’s probably not good. 🙂

  16. Reatha Burson says:

    God can, and does, use all things to draw people to himself. If he can use “bad” things for that, why can’t he use something good… like games and fun? Keep up the good work Jonathan!

  17. Alisa Laska says:

    I love doing games with our youth group. I have been using your website for game ideas a lot over the last few years. I have begun to get a reputation for doing messy games, since you have so many good ones on your site. It was funny, last night we had a youth leaders’ meeting and they were joking about this. I was saying that I got some new event ideas from the website where I get all the good game ideas and they were joking that they liked the event ideas a lot, but can they somehow block me from going onto the parts of the site with the gross games? It was really funny. I had to share that with you as part of this conversation on games. We’ve had a blast doing a lot the games on your site and they have definitely built community in our group. 🙂