18 Youth Group Games, Lessons, & Activities for Churches
March 6, 2020 |
Thriving youth groups are crucial for churches that want to grow. But planning youth group games week after week can be tough. You want students to feel like you value them enough to prepare something special, but you also want to respect your volunteer team’s time by not spending hours during every meeting coming up with ideas.
We’ve pulled together 18 church activities you can use at your youth events this year to keep things fresh. Some of these are big group games everyone can play together. Others are team activities to encourage collaboration and community. Others are contests where a few kids come up front. There’s a mix of activities you can do outdoors or indoors, and we’ve included age-appropriate serving opportunities as well. There are options for all of your upcoming events, from Sunday morning church service to midweek bible study to your summer youth conference.
To help you choose the youth ministry games that work best for you, each one includes a cost rating (Free, $, $$, or $$$), as well as estimated prep time, a list of supplies, and a note about whether or not it’s messy.
Remember that often the success or failure of youth group activities will depend on how much leaders model enthusiasm for it. If the adults look like they aren’t invested in the games and activities they’re trying to get students to do, the kids won’t get into it, and the game will flop even if it’s good. But kids can get excited about some pretty weird, goofy stuff if you really sell it. As much as possible, leaders should be doing these activities with students, not just “facilitating” them off to the side.
Pro tip: Leave students wanting more. Even a great game becomes a bad one if you make people play it for too long. Cut games off before kids get bored, and be sure to read the room for signs that it’s time to move on.
Jump ahead to the section you’re looking for, or simply read on:
- Team Youth Group Games
- Outdoor Youth Group Games
- Up-front Youth Group Games
- Serving Opportunities
Icebreaker Youth Group Games
Icebreakers are a great way to start church events. These activities get everyone up and moving, and they help encourage kids to mingle and come out of their shells a bit (which is why some people refer to them as “mixers”).
1. ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS CHAMPION, AKA “BIGGEST FAN”
Prep time: 0 minutes
If you tell a bunch of kids you’re going to play Rock, Paper, Scissors, they’ll probably roll their eyes at you—even if you’ve come up with a cool variation like Pirate, Ninja, Knight (or whatever). What makes Rock, Paper, Scissors Champion fun is that it quickly descends into madness.
Everyone picks an opponent and plays Rock, Paper, Scissors, or whatever wacky variation you come up with. Best two out of three. Or not. It doesn’t matter. Whoever loses becomes the “biggest fan” of the young person who just beat them. Then together they go and find a new opponent for the winner to play, and the fan cheers on their “champion.” Each round, the loser and their fans become fans of the winner. Eventually you’ll wind up with about half the group cheering and screaming for one person, and the other half cheering for another.
Encourage kids to cheer for the person who beats them by name—so if they don’t know the person’s name, now they have to learn it.
2. WHO AM I?
Prep time: 15 minutes
Supplies: flashcards, marker
Get one flashcard for every kid and leader you expect to have at your youth group (plus some extras, just in case). On each flashcard write the name of a celebrity or fictional character. The more well-known they are, the better. They could be actors, musicians, athletes, public figures, superheroes, or characters from books or movies. Be sure to pick people your students will know and appreciate, not just the famous people your leaders grew up with!
Give every kid one of the cards and don’t let them see the name on it. Have them hold or tape the card on their forehead with the name facing out, find another person, and ask one yes or no question about the name on their card. Be sure to give kids plenty of example questions to use, such as:
- “Am I someone who’s alive right now?”
- “Am I a real person?”
- “Have I been in a movie?”
- “Do I make music?”
- “Do I have a beard?”
Make sure kids only ask each person one question so that they have to move around and talk to multiple people. Once they feel ready, they can try to guess who they are. When kids guess correctly, they can still help give other people clues. You can end the youth group game after a certain amount of time so nobody feels singled out if they couldn’t figure out who they were, or you can give bigger hints toward the end.
3. ALL HANDS ON DECK
Prep time: 0 minutes
This is an outdoor/indoor game that’s intended to get kids into small groups with others, and it will take a little more explaining and demonstration up front. (You may need to borrow kids to demonstrate if you don’t have enough leaders.)
Designate a leader to call out instructions. When the game begins, everyone is going to be walking around, waiting for the leader to give an order from the list below. Each order will require a different number of people to create a scene, and everyone has to scramble to form a small group with the people around them. (You can make it competitive by removing the slowest group each round or doing a countdown people have to race against, or you can just let everyone keep playing.)
You can change up the scenes however you want to use more or fewer people, but here’s a template of orders the leader can give:
All hands on deck (one person): Everyone stands at attention, facing the leader with a salute. You can make “standing at attention” and “saluting” more interesting by telling kids to pose in different ways too.
Man overboard (two people): One person forms a “railing” by getting on their hands and knees, and another person puts a foot on their back and pretends to look for the “man overboard.”
Walk the plank (three people): One person lays on the ground to form the plank. A second person puts their hands behind their own back and stands by the plank. And the third person stands behind person #2, pretending to hold a sword.
Lifeboat (six people): Each group sits on the floor in two rows of three and pretends to row their lifeboat. If you have a lot of kids, you may want to increase the number of people to eight, ten, or twelve for fun.
You can invent other scenes or choose a non-nautical theme with all new combinations if you want to bring this game back for another gathering.
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Team Youth Group Games
Team youth group games invite kids to work together and encourage and support people they don’t know. They also allow for friendly competition. You can give prizes for the winning teams or just play for fun.
4. COSTUME RELAY
Prep time: less than an hour
Supplies: two or more absurd (and large) outfits, preferably with a couple of layers
The only prep for this youth group game is to find some weird costumes or outfits for kids to wear. You want this to be awkward to run in, and it should take a while to put it on and take it off. Make sure you have a big room, a gym, or outdoor space for kids to move around.
Break the students into even teams and have them line up on one side of the room. When you say “go,” start music or give some other signal to begin. The first kid in line puts the outfit on and races to the other end of the room and back. (You can mark the “end” with a leader, a cone, a coat, or literally anything.) As each kid runs down and back, they take off the outfit and the next young person in line puts it on. The first team to have everyone make it down and back wins.
Pro tip: Have students sit down once they’ve finished, so it’s easy to see who’s left on each team.
If you have room for it, you can take this game to the next level by introducing an obstacle course or challenges such as hopping on one foot to the end, hula hoops they have to use for 10 seconds, objects to jump over or run around, etc.
5. HUMAN KNOT
Prep time: 0 minutes
For this youth group game you need an even number of people on each team—so have the students form teams and then fill in with church leaders. Teams can be anywhere from 4–20 people. (But it gets much harder the more people you have per team.)
Each team stands in a circle, and every person grabs a hand from two different people across from them. When you give the signal to start, each team races to untangle themselves without letting go of anyone’s hand. The goal is to end in a circle with no hands in the middle. As the groups untangle themselves, some people will wind up facing the inside of the circle and others will face the outside.
This fun game takes a lot of cooperation and communication as kids try to problem-solve, give each other directions, and maneuver around.
6. TRIVIA NIGHT
Prep time: 1–2 hours
Supplies: Paper and pens
You can run a trivia night however you want, but you may want some optional supplies to make it feel more official: tables, chairs, lamps (for ambiance), a projector, a microphone, speakers, a whiteboard, and snacks.
The bulk of the prep work is coming up with trivia categories and questions. Obviously, the more categories and questions you come up with, the longer your trivia night will last. This is a good task to delegate to leaders or work on as a team. Make sure your categories and questions are relevant to the kids in your group (the broader the better), but here are some categories you might use:
- Social media
- Youth leaders
Resist the temptation to make every question ridiculously hard. At most, you should have one really tough question per category.
You can make trivia night into a really fun, out-of-the-ordinary event by putting additional effort into the ambiance. Use lamps instead of the regular lights to make it feel more like a café. Let kids enjoy snacks while they discuss the questions together. You could even create a snack menu and have leaders be “servers” for the night, bringing students their “orders.” As the host announces each question on the microphone, include it on the projector too. Keep track of each team’s score on the whiteboard.
You can do a minimal version of this with just paper and pens, but if you take the time to make trivia night more elaborate, it could easily become an annual tradition and one of the highlights of your youth group.
Outdoor Youth Group Games
When the weather is nice (or at least tolerable), it opens up opportunities to play some messier, more involved games. Some of these can be played inside, but they’ll be easier to clean up if you just give everyone a change of scenery and head to a field or parking lot.
7. FRUIT BASEBALL
Prep time: About an hour
Supplies: Lots of fruit (vegetables are OK too), baseball bat, goggles (optional)
Fruit baseball is exactly what it sounds like. You could go out and buy a bunch of cantaloupes, tomatoes, grapefruit, bananas, and other produce, but there’s a free way to run this game too.
Most local grocery stores have produce that’s too old or deformed for them to sell. They may already have a program they send this produce to, but if you ask the right store (or the right employee), you can probably get all the fruit and veggies you need for free (or at least a significant discount). If you tell people what it’s for, they’ll probably be more likely to help you.
Keep in mind, some produce isn’t just messy. If you use peppers or citrus fruits, you should probably have your batters wear eye protection of some kind.
Remember: the important thing here is that everyone gets at least one opportunity to obliterate a piece of fruit. Feel free to modify the rules or be lenient with strikes so that kids have more chances to participate in this outdoor game.
8. ICE BLOCK RACING
Prep time: Less than an hour
Supplies: Blocks of ice, cones (optional)
There’s probably a store near you that sells large blocks of ice. Buy at least two of them (one for each team you plan on having). This is a good old-fashioned relay, and you’ll want to do it on the grass. Have one kid from each team lay on top of the ice block and hug the sides with their arms. Someone else will hold their legs and either push or pull them to a cone (or whatever you use to designate the end of the course) and back. Then they switch: the student who was pushing or pulling hugs the ice block, and the next student in line takes their place. Have kids sit in the back of the line when they finish their leg of the relay.
9. “SNOWBALL” FIGHT
Prep time: about an hour
Supplies: Tons of jumbo marshmallows
This youth group outdoor game is a total free-for-all where kids and leaders get to pelt each other with giant marshmallows. (Regular marshmallows will work in a pinch, but if you can find jumbo ones, they’re a lot more fun!)
If you want, you can form teams and turn this into marshmallow dodgeball, but if you have a smaller youth group it’s still plenty of fun to just spread out the marshmallows and let kids go crazy.
10. THE AMAZING RACE
Prep time: 2+ hours
Supplies: Envelopes, paper
If you have the time to plan and prepare, you can turn part of your town or a local park into a course for the classic game, The Amazing Race.
Choose a series of popular, easily recognizable locations to form your course. You’ll need to create easily solvable clues that lead teams from one location to the next. To begin, each team gets a clue to the first location, and as they complete challenges at each place, they’ll get clues to the next location until they finish the course.
At each station, you’ll need to come up with a challenge kids have to complete which may or may not be related to the location. (Ex: Make a three point shot on the basketball course, send your whole team across the monkey bars backwards, guess the flavors in a smoothie, take a picture with a stranger wearing green, etc.) Have a leader at each station to explain the challenge and hand out the next clue.
Set a time limit, and make sure everyone knows what time the game ends and when they need to be back at the starting location–whether they completed the course or not.
Pro tip: As much as possible, be sure your course doesn’t send students into busy intersections, and don’t forget to review basic safety guidelines before you begin—teenagers can always use a reminder.
11. BIGGER OR BETTER
Prep time: less than an hour
Supplies: paperclips or pennies, drivers
Bigger or Better is an unpredictable game where kids start with a paperclip or penny and go from house to house asking people to trade them something that’s bigger or better than the item they have. Depending on your kid-to-leader ratio, you may need to ask parents to volunteer as drivers. Assign groups of kids to each car you have so that there’s one adult per group.
Make sure you set a time that everyone needs to be back. Whichever team returns with the biggest or “best” item wins. Be prepared to see surfboards, mattresses, outdoor heat lamps, go karts, and other absurd items.
Pro tip: Teenagers tend to be pretty bad at telling strangers what they’re doing. Leaders should talk them through what they should say when they get to the door so that people will be more inclined to help them. Also, some people may be willing to loan items they want back. That’s OK, but make sure those items make it back to their owners at the end of the event.
Up-front Youth Group Games
Sometimes it’s nice to mix things up and let students sit and watch something. Up-front games are great because they let you put the spotlight on kids who may not get as much attention, or use some of the strong personalities in the room to your advantage.
Some up-front youth group games may involve playing a trick on the participants (where the audience knows what’s happening and the players don’t), and some may involve tricking the audience. Either way, it’s important that you know your students well and pick kids who will enjoy the game and be successful with it.
12. WHAT’S UNDER THE BOX?
Prep time: a couple hours
Supplies: long table with a hole on one side, big tablecloth, stopwatch, watermelon, wig, baseball bat, a couple random items (such as a shoe, a ball, or phone), a few large boxes
This is a game that tricks both the participants and the audience. To start you’ll need to cut a hole in a table that’s big enough to comfortably fit someone’s head through from underneath, and a tablecloth (with a matching hole) that’s long enough to conceal a person under the table.
Before you set up the game, call up three contestants. Two of them can be random, but one should be a kid you can trust to ham it up and be a little crazy. Ideally this person should be a baseball or softball player, but it’s fine if they aren’t. Take these kids aside to where they can’t see the setup or hear you explain the game to the audience.
Arrange the tablecloth on the table, place the random items on top along with the baseball bat, and cover them with the boxes. (The bat should be the last item before the hole.) Have a leader put the wig on and crawl under the table with the watermelon, put their head through the hole, and cover them with a box.
Here’s what you’ll tell the audience:
“Our contestants think they’re racing to identify the items we’re going to put under the boxes on this table. I’m going to time them, and they’re going to flip over the boxes one at a time to guess what’s underneath. [Flip the boxes to show them.] But when they get to the last box, this is what will happen. [Flip the last box and have the leader yell.]”
(Make sure the leader is facing the contestants, not the audience.)
Here’s what you’ll tell the contestants:
“You’re going to go out there and when you hear, ‘Go,’ flip over the first box, shout out what’s under it, and move to the next one. The person who names all four items the fastest wins.”
As each contestant comes out, repeat these instructions and remind them that you’re timing them.
When you get to the pre-picked contestant, you’ll give them their own separate instructions, and something different will happen. Have the leader put the wig on the watermelon, and put the watermelon through the hole instead of their head. When the pre-picked kid removes the box, the leader will still yell, the kid will pretend to freak out, grab the bat, and smash the watermelon.
Pro tip: Make sure the leader keeps their hands on the very bottom of the watermelon, and that they don’t raise the watermelon too high so that the audience doesn’t see their hand. Also, pick a big crazy wig that will cover plenty of the melon.
13. CHARADES WITH A TWIST
Prep time: 0 minutes
Supplies: One chair
For this youth group game, it’s extra important that you know your students and choose ones who will thrive under the attention. You can choose any number of kids, but 3–5 is probably ideal. Pull these kids aside to a place where they can’t hear the person leading the game and the audience can’t hear them. Have another leader assign each of your volunteers a scene they’ll have to act out using the chair. You’re welcome to come up with your own ideas, but here are some that work well:
- Watching your favorite team score the winning touchdown (feel free to substitute another sport)
- Going on a rollercoaster
- Riding a bucking bronco
- Sitting on a cactus
- Watching a scary movie
Encourage them to really get into it so everyone can tell what they’re doing.
But here’s what you’ll tell the audience:
“We’ve asked each of our volunteers to show you how they go to the bathroom.”
After each student acts out their scene, tell them, “Wow! That was really interesting! Thanks for showing us how you use the bathroom.”
14. EGG BLOW
Cost: less than $20
Prep time: less than one hour
Supplies: clear and flexible tubing, eggs, funnel, garbage can
Band kids and athletes tend to do well in this gross test of lung capacity and stamina, but anyone can participate in this fun activity. Choose four students and pair them up for 1v1 matches. Put the funnel into the clear tubing and crack an egg into it. Hold the tube so that the egg settles into the middle, and then have the first pair of kids each take a side, and put the garbage can between them.
When you give the signal to start, they’re going to try to blow the egg into the other person’s mouth. If the egg reaches someone’s mouth or they bail and dump it in the garbage, they lose. After each pair goes, have the winners face off to determine the champion.
Note: Any non-toxic clear tubing will do, but make sure the diameter is wide enough for the egg to easily fit ( ¾ inch clear vinyl tubing should be easy to find at a hardware store). If you have to buy a long tube, you’ll probably want to cut in. A few feet should be plenty.
15. SODA SOCK
Prep time: less than an hour
Supplies: enough cans or bottles of soda for each contestant to have one, garbage can
For this game, you’ll want a handful of brave students who think they can handle something gross. When they come up, have them remove a sock. Open a can or bottle of soda for each kid, and have them put their sock on top of it (the top of the can or bottle should be all the way at the bottom of their sock). Tell them they’re going to have to drink the soda through the sock, and get ready to start the game. Right when you’re about to say go, stop the game and say:
“Wait, wait, wait! This is too easy. Pass your soda to the person on your left.”
And then the game actually begins. Whoever finishes first wins. (Keep the garbage can close.)
Youth group isn’t all fun and games. It’s also an incredible opportunity to help students explore, understand, define, and practice their faith. As you strive to teach kids how to live out the gospel, serving is a great way to invite them to share Christ’s sacrificial love with others. These serving opportunities may be special events you schedule for times you wouldn’t normally meet, or you may want to just keep it at your usual time to make it more convenient for everyone.
16. VISIT A NURSING HOME
Visiting a nursing home is a wonderful way for your youth group to serve together because everyone can do it, and it shows your kids that sometimes attention and conversation are profound gifts we can use to love others.
Your students will be nervous about talking to strangers, and they may struggle to find common ground. So, before you go, talk to your group about ways they might start a conversation, or encourage them to play a boardgame with someone. You may also want to caution them about some of the things they might see or experience. Equip them to be successful. Give them tools to show the residents and staff that they are loved and that they matter.
Pro tip: Call the nursing home you plan to visit in advance. Talk to them about the ideal times for a large group of visitors. It will also help to get a heads up about their specific guidelines and any recommendations they have about what to bring (games, books, small pets, etc.).
17. CLEAN UP A PARK
Public parks are for everyone in your community to enjoy. They can also be difficult to maintain and keep pristine. In just a couple hours, your youth group can bless your community and serve your neighbors in a tangible way by cleaning up this shared space.
You may even find that it creates opportunities for conversation too. People will be curious why so many kids are picking up trash and cleaning up the area, and some of them may even want to join you. Make sure you help your students understand the connection between acts of service and their faith in Christ, so, if anyone asks, they’ll be able to talk about why this park and this community matter to your church and why you see this as an act of love.
You could also talk to your city council or parks and recreation department to find out about projects where they could use volunteers. This could allow your students to do some more interesting jobs (like landscaping), and if your parks are already pretty clean, this is another good way to have a visible impact.
If you can, try to take before and after pictures to help kids feel a stronger sense of accomplishment. Pile your trash bags together so your students can see that they’ve made a difference.
Pro tip: Have your students and leaders wear matching shirts that communicate what church you’re from. This will help others visually connect your act of service to a church that cares about the community, regardless of whether or not neighbors talk to you.
18. NEIGHBORHOOD WORK PARTIES
Parents know it’s hard enough to get teenagers to help take care of their own yards and homes. So it really says something when they’re willing to give up their time for free to help their neighbors. And regardless of whether people are able to do their own yard and house maintenance, many people will appreciate the gift of a cleaner yard.
Depending on the season, where you live, and what equipment you or your neighbors have, students could do jobs like:
- Rake leaves
- Shovel snow
- Mow lawns
- Fill in holes
- Trim hedges
- Plant flowers
- Clean gutters
The point is to find needs that people don’t have the time, energy, or desire to take care of themselves.
Pro tip: Make sure your teams of students and leaders tell people that you’re looking for work people would like help with for free. If you don’t make a point of saying that, most people will assume you’re doing a fundraiser or something, and some will say no simply because they don’t want to pay for help. And that’s not the point of this.
Choose Youth Group Games & Activities That Align with Your Mission
Every youth group game or activity you ask kids to participate in should have a larger purpose. Maybe it’s to help give your students opportunities to take baby steps toward building relationships with each other and with leaders. Maybe it’s to make unseen kids feel like the star of the show. Or to create an experience students will want to share with their unchurched friends. Maybe it’s an opportunity for your teenagers to live out your church’s mission in your community.
Even if you feel like you’re scrambling to pull something together each week and struggling to come up with new and interesting youth group games and activities, remember that this is all about creating opportunities to point kids to Christ, loving them well, and showing them that you care enough to plan something for them.
Tools to Communicate with Your Youth Group
Now that you have lots of youth group game ideas, it’s time to plan, schedule, and communicate these activities with your people. With an online tool like Church Community Builder, you’ll have access to a Group Management feature that can be extremely helpful for you as a youth leader. This feature allows you to:
- Create a group that includes all the contact information for the kids in your Youth Group.
- Communicate with your Youth Group members via email or text message.
- Schedule events and easily track attendance.
- Manage your Youth Group on the go through the Lead App.
- Add in special days such as Birthdays, so you don’t forget anything.
These are just some of the things you can do through this Church Management System to make your life as a youth leader much easier. Click here to schedule a demo and learn more.