“How many of you like to play video games? How many of you know that you can use video games to tell people about Jesus?” That’s how I led into sharing about this youth outreach event when I got to tell our church about it. We had over 80 people show up for this event and over 60% of the youth were new to our church! That was a huge win! I want to give you some “behind the scenes” info you can use for your next outreach event. These are the reasons I’m able to call this event a “win.” I hope you can glean something here to make your next event a win as well!
I knew I wanted to run a video game tournament so I visited the game stores in town. I introduced myself to the managers and gave them a quick picture of what I had in mind, and then asked if they wanted to help make it happen. I got a couple guys who gave me their standard line about how I really needed to get in touch with someone back at corporate HQ. But, the manager at one of our stores got excited about it. I kept pursuing the conversation with him, and within a couple weeks we had a date set. He never did get permission from his area manager, but he supplied us with game systems, controllers, games and even one copy to give away as a prize (we supplied TVs, adequate space, PR, manpower and a great atmosphere). He wanted to make something happen for kids in our area, and he knew this was a crowd he wanted to network with. (Incidentally, he doesn’t go to church. His motivation to join us had little to do with my motivation for hosting this tournament, but neither of our goals were in conflict either so it worked to bring him on board. And, he spent time in our building getting to know our people. He heard the Gospel at this event, and we’ll stay in touch and keep inviting him to check us out one of these Sundays.)
In addition to finding a game store willing to work with us, our adult leaders and I solicited prizes from local businesses. We had giveaways for everyone who came to our event. Plus, we had prizes kids would get excited about winning.
An invitation from a friend is the number one reason any new visitor is going to come to church or youth group. Invites from friends were a big influence at this event as well, but I was excited to see how many kids noted other reasons for coming. We had 11 kids who came because they saw a poster or a flyer and 8 showed up because of Facebook (and I’ll bet some of the kids who came because of a friend also connected with our Facebook info). Those stats were encouraging to me because we pushed our advertising budget for this event. We had posters in businesses and schools. We printed flyers for our kids to give to friends. We also used some paid advertising on Facebook to get the word out. From the response, our advertising worked.
Something for Everyone
We knew for this to be a successful event there needed to be something for everyone. The game tournament would attract gamers, but we needed an event that any kid in our city would get excited about. Plus, in order to accommodate as many gamers as possible on limited equipment, we realized that kids would be rotating in and out of the tournament play. When kids aren’t playing video games, what are they gonna do? If it’s lame it would make the whole event a drag. So, we had free food. We had some inflatable games in our lobby. We set up a DJ stand in the middle of everything. We had other carnival-style games where kids could win raffle tickets. And, we had drawings throughout the day where kids were winning stuff constantly.
A Time to Speak
We saved our big prizes for the end of the day. As things drew to a close we had two big awards to give out. Of course, the winner of the tournament got one. But, we also had another cash prize we awarded by a random drawing. Anyone could win, whether they were in the tournament or just hanging out and eating hot dogs. You had to be present to win, so that gave everyone incentive to stick around. That meant, when I took the microphone late in the afternoon I had the attention of this room packed full of teenagers. This was my chance to tell them about Jesus. This is where I got to tell them about a God who loves them and has a plan for them. This is where I got to give them the Gospel and invite them to grow in this relationship God wants to have with them. I got to lay it out there in five minutes, and then I got to invite them back. I told them to come back for our weekly youth night. I invited them to come to church the next day. Sharing the Gospel and inviting kids to connect with God’s family were the whole reason for this event. We were intentional and strategic about making sure we got to do that. I had conversations all afternoon where I got to share these same things with kids one-on-one, but I could state it even more boldly and more plainly when I had their attention for those few uninterrupted minutes just before the prize drawing.
A Reason to Come Back
When you host a big event, everyone who has a good time wants to know when the next big event will be. You pick up momentum with a big event like this. You lose all that momentum if you don’t have a next event you can point to. Our next event was a little further removed from the tournament than I would have liked, so we decided to make a big deal out of our weekly youth night. We gave every kid at the tournament a “Bring-Back” card. We told them we’d do a prize giveaway at our next youth night and if they bring that card with them they’ll get a couple extra entries. Plus, we decided to have free pizza for everyone. The rest of the night will be our “normal” youth night, but we added some “big deal” elements to give kids a reason to come back.
This was a great event for us. We’ve had some events that have missed the mark, and that’s frustrating. Not everything at this event ran smoothly, but many of the pieces came together to make it a success. I hope some of the thoughts here are encouraging and helpful as you plan your next outreach event. If you have specific questions about this event or anything I shared above, please let me know and I’ll do my best to answer. God bless your work in His kingdom!
Hey Matt, Im a youth pastor at Calvary Temple in Anniston, AL. I’m looking to do something similar to this, but my pastor is a tad bit worried about security concerning youth we won’t know. How did or would you handle that?
We’ve done just two events like this so far. At the first one we ran Black Ops II, which I would not suggest in every context (see my note below). At the second event we ran two tournaments: Call of Duty:Ghosts and Madden 2014.
The Call of Duty games carry an M (Mature) rating. At our first event we wanted to play Black Ops because it was by far the most popular game among teens at the time. We rented copies and figured out the parental controls. The multiplayer format doesn’t include the storyline which contributes to the game’s rating. Turning parental controls “on” removes the gore. Plus, our players were live on-site so we could monitor comments made by gamers. With these things in mind we decided to run the tournament. When I answered parent questions I made sure to remind them that this event was intended to reach kids who aren’t in church, and those kids were already playing the game.
I’m really glad you took time to write out this article. Taking games and making it to such extend really is thinking out of the box. One question though, what are some of the games you guys chosen for your tournaments?
Appreciate the answer. Thanks!