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Video games are as popular as ever. Among the hottest games right now are Minecraft, Fortnite and Call of Duty. Kids and adults alike spend hours competing against known and unknown opponents to win a prize that’s always just beyond their reach. So they keep coming back to try again.

Most churches would love to have a youth ministry with a following like some of today’s most-played video games. As we continue to reinvent and reimagine ministry, perhaps there is something the church can learn from gaming that can inform what we keep, what we discard and what we create for children’s and youth ministry today.

For starters, game designers are great storytellers. Video games invite players into a story — an imaginary world with its own rules and way of perceiving. An avid gamer can toggle back and forth between the world we live in and the world of the game. They know there is another story.

Story is what Christians do so well, but sometimes we lose sight of our compelling narrative and construct our youth ministries to give youth ministry participants a rule book of life’s “do’s” and “don’ts,” instead of an invitation to live into the life-transforming Christian story.

Video games are also big on discovery. Players move through games gaining new knowledge as they move between levels. They learn what to do and what not to do. They begin as novices and over time develop a sense of competency that translates into self-confidence. How do we give children and youth an invitation to discover what is good and rewarding about the Christian life? In what practices must they become competent to live into the abundant life we have in Christ? We probably don’t need to outfit the church classrooms with video game controllers, but maybe we can learn something from the world of gaming that makes us better at nurturing young souls for the kingdom of God.

Resources

Fuller Seminary heads up ambitious ecumenical project to engage millions of young people

Five years in the making, the TENx10 project aims to “help faith matter more” for 10 million teens in 10 years. The effort has involved many groups across the church and might serve as a model for more collaborations.

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Lessons from The Robloxian Christians online church

Does a virtual church for children and teens have any lessons for “real-world” churches? Yes, says the founding pastor of The Robloxian Christians.

By Daniel Herron

Religious teaching can use gaming technology to reach people where they are

Technology offers different capabilities – storytelling, problem solving, design thinking – to engage learners in religious teaching, says a rabbi and game designer.

Q&A with Owen Gottlieb

Playing and praying with children in worship

Giving kids a place in the front of the sanctuary allows them to worship in a way that comes naturally to them: through play.

By Melissa Florer-Bixler

How to empower youth to do theology

Youth ministry experts with decades of experience are learning the benefits of engaging youth in theological reflection that isn’t dumbed down, writes the coordinator of the Lilly Youth Theology Network.

By Jeffrey Kaster


Before you go…

Ministry is not a game. Obviously, the stakes are much higher in ministry than in a video game. But one thing we can say is that game designers work day and night to figure out how to connect with their audience. I daresay the church can be guilty of misplaced nostalgia: We think that if it worked in the past, all we have to do is wait long enough and it will work again. Let’s challenge our leaders to listen and learn so that we can leave a positive spiritual legacy for the next generation.

What new strategies for youth ministry are you engaging as your congregation seeks to reengage young disciples? You’re always welcome to reach out to me and the Alban Weekly team to let us know what you think and what you’re doing in your context. The email address is alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity


‘Leading and Thriving in the Church’: A new podcast from Alban at Duke Divinity

In the first episode of “Leading and Thriving in the Church,” Prince Rivers talks with Stephen Lewis – president of the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) – about trends they’re seeing in churches, what thriving ministers have in common, advice for new ministers and more.

Listen now!

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