My philosophy on church ministry functions, games, theme nights, youth group dinners, etc. is that a function should have one thing: purpose. I believe that all activities should have a goal, and should not be done “just because.” Sometimes, when it comes to games, that goal may be simple–to have fun. But quite often there is plenty of opportunity to combine that goal with many others: community building, connecting to a Scriptural Truth, ice breaking between participants, etc.
When I first got my primer in “how to lead games”, I was handed a piece of paper, which I later learned was penned by John Busch, who currently serves at Camp Lutherhoma in Talequah, OK. This paper contained 15 points of things to remember and do while leading and presenting games to any size group, and the contents changed how I looked at leading games from then on.
Let’s take a look at this list on presenting games. As we go through them, keep in mind that idea of purpose. Think about how you can adapt these ideas, as you lead games, to become more than just “that first 10 minutes of youth night”. How can your games be an essential part of teaching or group integration?

Game Presentation and Techniques

1. Get the group into a formation where everyone can hear you before explaining the game.
Think about a classroom setting. Those who sit in the front of the class are usually more likely to be focused and pay attention. The same applies for games. If some participants are in front of others, those in back are given self-permission to not pay attention. A simple circle formation solves this issue, but feel free to improvise: maybe a square, an oval, a rhombus?
2. Lose as little time as possible getting into the actual playing of the game.
“Today we’re going to play a game called…” That phrase makes me cringe whenever I hear it. The leader just did two things. First of all they just wasted a sentence in saying what the game was–a very small percentage care what the name of the game is–and stalled getting into the game.
Secondly, they potentially just implanted a set of ideas in the minds of the participants. For example, if I mention that we’re about to play a game called “duck, duck, goose,” more than likely a set of rules and variations entered your mind. Does there have to be a certain number of ducks before the goose-ing can begin? Is there a mush pot? Does the goose have to go around the circle a certain way? Do they have to shout ‘GOOSE’? By just going into the explaining of the game immediately, you begin to kindle the excitement right away, and all players have no pre-loaded ideas of how the activity might work (which is actually good, because you’re not spending as much time in answering all the questions regarding variations).
3. Give explanations clearly, briefly and correctly.
The more words that are inserted into your explanation, the easier it is for the players to be confused. Now, I will give that there are certain lengthy games that take a good amount of explanation and set up. For the most part, however, try to condense the explanation so that you can start playing as soon as possible.
4. Demonstrate in slow motion. Take a partner onto the playing area and show the participants what the game looks like.
Do NOT skip this step. When I lead games, I often do it in a progressive fashion, combining this point and number three. I will grab a volunteer or another leader and begin demonstrating the game immediately. Most players learn more quickly and effectively when more senses are engaged. So I verbally explain the rules, while visually showing how it’s done, and often am able to experientially engage them by asking them to try it out step by step.
5. Be patient in pointing out mistakes. If possible, make this a part of the fun. Call attention to mistakes but not the individual making them.
This is another great time to do some “non-examples”. While a game is progressing, if there is a crucial mistake that you want to touch on, simply pause the game, show the non-example, and the on-example, and keep going. Keep it light-hearted by exaggerating the action. Remember not to “call out somebody,” as that can potentially limit their enjoyment of the activity.
6. Encourage everyone to play, but do not insist on them doing so. If they don’t want to play, they may have a valid reason.
Forced play will often not go well. Encourage as much as possible, and if the player is still apprehensive, try again later.
7. When a game of activity does not “Take Hold” for some reason or another (mood, inability, lack of time to master it) move quickly from it to some other game or activity.
I have had a number of instances when, as a player, I learned a game and had an absolute blast. Then I took the same activity to another group, and they just didn’t get it, or didn’t seem to have any enjoyment in doing it. If I have time, I may quickly tweak the instructions, or go through certain points again. However, if it still doesn’t seem that the group is into it, I simply end the game, and move on.
8. Stop the game when the interest is at its height.
Nothing kills a game more than allowing everybody to have a turn being IT “just because”. We’ve all been in games that started great, but eventually kept dragging on and on, and became boring. When the group is having the most fun playing a game or doing an activity is exactly the time to end it. Why? Because not only will they just associate good memories with the activity, but you now have a fun game that you can play again at a later time.
9. Be firm, but kind, when enforcing the rules.
This hearkens back to number five from last month. By kindly re-explaining or enforcing the rules, we do not risk the chance to alienate an individual.
10. Have extra material for use in case of an emergency. Foresight…be prepared.
If I know that I need to be leading games for a group for about 20 minutes, I usually plan for 30-45 minutes of activity. This allows me flexibility. Some groups just don’t grasp certain games, so I end the activity and keep going. With other groups, I see that one of the activities I was planning may not fit the group as well as one of my back-ups may, so I have the extra resources to change course.
11. Never give out a ball or any other game item until they are ready to be used.
Hand somebody an object, and the focus changes from you to the object instantly. If I plan on immediately leading the group through the first part of the activity, I may pass out things ahead of time. Otherwise, I wait until I’m done.
12. Be thorough but do not insist on meticulous perfection. At the same time do not tolerate the “anything goes” spirit.
Take things on a case by case basis. Sometimes a player does something that you didn’t explain thoroughly, or that they didn’t understand. In any case, make a judgment call. If the move doesn’t seem to take away from the game, then keep the game moving. In some experiences, I’ve had groups add in or inadvertently tweak things that worked very well. As an example, a player stepping out of the boundaries is not always worth the fight in mentioning if play is continuing along. On the other hand, all the players stepping out, or things becoming unsafe, warrants either re-explaining or moving on.
13. Never boss, scold, or ridicule.
See #’s 5, 9, and 12.
14. Keep things moving.
Nothing kills the mood more for games when players just got done with something great, then have to sit around and wait while the leader sets up the next activity. If you are leading with a few people, plan out the order with the games, so that the next leader can be setting up and ready to jump in and go. If leading by yourself, have a mental map of the order of your games, and have materials set up and ready to go.
15.Enjoy the activity yourself!
One of the great benefits of playing games is that the group gets to know each other a little more while playing it. Leaders and other adults add great benefit by playing the games with the kids. The youth are able to see adults in a “more silly” environment, and the leaders are conversely able to see the youth in a different light.
Please feel free to add any more anecdotes or ideas for game leading at the end of this article. Leading games is certainly not an exact science, but by thinking through some of the strategies, we can move games into a purposeful experience to use as a tool in our ministry.