Why Awkward Youth Group Games Are Important
A few weeks ago, as some friends and I were enjoying dinner together, the topic of our conversation somehow drifted into our memories of youth groups growing up, and from there into all those “awkward, youth group games” our youth pastors made us play. You know, games like “Honey, If You Love Me, Smile,” “Four On a Couch,” “The Phonebook Game” and “Fish Baseball.” (I’m not sure if those last two were played outside my own youth ministry experience, so if you’ve played them before, it’d be great to know).
As we sat there laughing at how silly we were and how awkward some of those situations
were growing up, I found myself wondering what it was we all gained from those memories and those games. Obviously, at the first mention of “youth group,” these games are the first things to come to mind and have the obvious benefit of providing compelling and hilarious stories for years to come. But what’s the point of playing Honey, If You Love Me, Smile? Does anyone even play those kinds of games anymore? And how do these games even matter when most kids today are perfect content to play each other in Call of Duty online or play Angry Birds alone on their iPhones?
I think some of these games were so formative and can find a place in youth ministry today because they embrace the awkwardness that is teenage life. Let’s face it – teenagers are awkward, no matter how cool they try to be. (And the further I get from my own teenage experience, the more I’m coming to realize that to be human is to be awkward, we just get better at hiding it as adults). But especially today, in a world where teenagers are being forced to grow up quicker and take on adult roles sooner, a youth ministry that provides space for laughter and for teenagers to remember that it’s ok to be weird can be refreshing and redemptive.
Providing space for us to embrace our awkwardness is important because it communicates that you can let your guard down when we’re together. This emphasis has to take place in the context of safe community and in a spirit of unity, not at the expense of anyone else. I’ve seen on numerous occasions where activities like this can turn into a few people’s awkward situations becoming everyone else’s joke fodder. When this happens, our communities turn instantly from a place of celebration and fun to a place of ridicule.
Teenagers already feel the awkward tension of their own adolescence; they don’t need our group or our ministry pointing that out to them and making a joke out of it. But when done in a spirit of community, where teens and volunteers can let their guard down, put down their masks and their attempts at being cool, we can all enjoy and celebrate the fact that we’re awkward, and that’s ok.