Culture -

4 examples of the power of play —

By Becca Haines

Play is powerful.


Silliness and laughter might not rank very high in your youth ministry tactics, but it should.


Play opens up avenues for community and deeper conversations that wouldn’t otherwise exist – especially for young people who are hard-wired to have a good time. The power of play is so important, in fact, that CIY integrates it into every program it creates.

Here’s four examples of how CIY utilizes the power of play to great effect.


1. SuperStart’s Plug ‘N’ Play.


Patrick Snow, CIY’s senior director for weekend events, said fun is the gateway to connecting with students and is intentionally woven into the programs at CIY – especially for the preteen program, SuperStart.


“What we know about preteens is they still connect and relate to each other through play,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for us to design into the program a time when the adult leaders can do that with their students. That’s why it’s called ‘Plug ‘N' Play’ – it’s plugging in with one another and connecting together through times of play.”


Plug ‘N’ Play is an intentionally scheduled time on the afternoon of day two of every SuperStart event. Groups have the options to do whatever they’d like with their students during that time, and most choose to have fun adventures – whether at a local facility like Incredible Pizza, or in a local park, or even in the lobby of the church playing games like Ninja and 9 Square in the Air.


2. MIX’s Outer Realm.


Eric Dwyer, preacher (and former youth pastor) of Christian Church of Mountain Home (AR) said God created all things – including humor – and he respects it as an aspect of Christ. He noted this while dressed as a big, puffy, green alien last summer at MIX during an Outer Realm game.


“If you’re not having fun, if you’re not laughing, you’re missing out,” Dwyer said. “I think we mistakenly think that Jesus didn’t laugh.”


MIX intentionally designs the Outer Realm as a time for students to pause and play with their leaders to build relationships that will help better connect them during small group time. Blake Sabiston, pastor at Crossings Community Church, understands the depth to this fun segment of the conference for middle schoolers.


“It’s not just a game or competition – it’s a memory,” Sabiston said. “That fun piece of MIX is huge. It’s vital and it needs to happen, and it does happen. There’s a lot of laughter. There’s a lot of memories made between adult leaders and students. They’ll tie those fun memories to Scripture and Jesus, and we’ll be able to unpack that later as adults by helping them remember the fun things that brought those truths to life.”


3. MOVE’s Alternative.


Even at the high school level, fun is incorporated into the MOVE week with the Christmas-theme “Alternative” talent show that happens on the third night of the conference. MOVE Director Lane Moss said the moment happens mid-week when students often could use an emotional breather.


“The Alternative is literally exactly what its name implies – an alternative from that heavy-ness,” Moss said. “It’s a blast and has become one of our favorite things we do all week. Everybody dresses up, and it’s just Christmas in July. The charitable and generous sentiment associated with Christmas is needed for the Alternative because we want students to cheer each other on as they perform their talents. It’s a great way to show support and connect everyone in the audience as the Church.”


4. Believe’s Break-Out Area.


Before and between every session at CIY’s Believe event, junior high students have the opportunity to engage in any of a number of games in the break-out area – from 9 Square in the Air to Gaga Ball and even impromptu games of Ninja and hacky sack.


Believe was fortunate to partner with the creator of 9 Square in the Air during is 2018-2019 tour, and through that partnership we learned that the game was originally designed as a way for a youth minister to fully utilize the power of play at his church. Youth Minister Steve Otey said he created the game 19 years ago out of an attempt to bring two separate groups of students together – the volleyball players and the nine-square players. His game combines elements of both, and the power of play is so profound that it’s literally a game that has swept the nation.


“Laughter breaks down walls,” Otey said. “Ultimately when a kid feels comfortable there are more opportunities to share the Gospel with them. We’ve seen 9 Square in the Air connect kids and build relationships with their youth ministers. I would encourage youth pastors everywhere to look for ways to be creative – to tweak games and curriculum to better serve the students. You never know how God will use it. He’ll take it far from anything you ever imagined.”