Have you ever had a conversation with someone about your ministry and kind of felt like there was a sly, back-handed comment in there somewhere? For example, you come back from a week-long youth retreat and the secretary at the front desk says something along the lines of, “Oh hey! You’re back! How was your vacation?”

A few weeks ago, as we were dismissing our Sunday morning gathering, one of our middle school small group leaders walked up and said, “Good job! One of my guys went, ‘Wow! Church was actually fun today!’” What you may have just read was that church was fun that weekend. What I heard was, “Church has been boring every other weekend.”

The other day I was walking through the mall and ran into a student I hadn’t seen in a few weeks. He asked me, “What did you do at church this past weekend?” “Well, we wrapped up our Christmas series,” I said. At first I was happy that this student had missed a weekend and legitimately felt like he missed out on something. He knew he belonged at church and regretted that he couldn’t be there – but then he replied, “Oh no. I meant what game did you play?” These two conversations really got me thinking about something. Of course, we all want our youth groups to be a place where students are having fun, but what does “fun” look like in your context?

There’s one more phrase that personally grinds my gears. Until recently, if you were to ask a student in our youth group, “What do you do at church?” They would probably say, “Well, we come in, have fun and then talk about Jesus” as if having fun and talking about Jesus were mutually exclusive and two separate parts of our programming. This got me thinking, what can
we do to redefine fun? How do we change a student’s description to, “Man… we go in, learn about God, and it’s so much fun!”?

We’ve tried a few things that seem to work well so far. We cut our game portion (we only meet for 55 minutes so it really helps allow for more effective interaction), but we kept a segment called The Impossible Shot where first-time students can shoot a nerf ball into a basketball goal propped up in the back of the room, against the wall. If they make it, they win a gift card to a place of their choice. We’ve also added a simple greeting time that we just didn’t have before. It’s simple, but it gets students out of their chairs and helps maintain energy in the room. The final thing is that we’ve put a little more effort into engaging students during the teaching portion of our services.

The purpose of this article isn’t to offer solutions, because if I’m completely honest, I don’t have any. Instead what I want to do is open a dialogue. I don’t believe the lie that the gospel isn’t compelling enough to students that we must “dress it up” like a trojan horse to convert them with a “sneak attack”. I believe the Word of God can definitely stand on its own. I’m just wondering, what can we do as youth workers to make the Kingdom, not our programs, “fun” for students?

Leave your comments, thoughts, questions, and suggestions below. I’d love to hear from you!

– Ayren Nelson

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