Everybody likes to have fun. People like to be happy, even those students who are trying to bring Goth back. Having fun in student ministry, however, is actually the subject of some debate. Where does fun fit in when it comes to our mission to disciple students?
On the one hand, ours is a serious business. We are fighting for people’s souls. We want kids to learn deep theological truths and find application for these truths in their own lives. We have limited time to communicate these truths, and this time is much too valuable to waste.
On the other hand, if kids don’t think something is fun, they do not do it. This is true from participating on a football team to participating in church.
I think we manage this tension by intentionally defining the kind of fun we want our students to have. Our definition determines the parameters of where we land when it comes to balancing the fun and the serious.
Some ministries are all about the fun. I have been a part of student ministries that were essentially teenage fun clubs. It was all fun events all the time with Bible study as a necessary evil to lend legitimacy to the fun that was bringing in the kids. I have also been a part of the fun=evil ministries. Here the fun events were the necessary evils that kept kids interested so they would funnel into the deep Bible studies and churchy activities that were the “hard work” of Christian discipleship.
So let’s say we want to find a balance and embrace both the fun and the serious. What does that look like? Is it possible to have an actual strategy to deal with the fun v. serious tension? Here are some options (Spoiler Alert, I’m a fan of option 3):
Option 1: We see fun and serious as two opposing options. We would then say things like let’s balance the fun by playing dodgeball for 30 minutes and then we’ll parse the Greek in 1 Timothy for 30 minutes. The upside is that we at least try to balance our objectives. The downside is that we have completely demonstrated that parsing the Greek is not to be considered fun. I never want to give the impression that following Jesus is boring. What is the win with this option? Is it well rounded kids or is it to bait and switch kids into digging into their Bibles?
Option 2: We see fun as the entry point for crowd students and the serious stuff for core students. Here we want to do fun things so that kids will come to our church and then get plugged into the more transforming initiatives or programs of the church. It’s true that some of our big fun events will bring in kids who would never come to a church small group. It’s also true that these events are much easier for our students to bring friends to. One issue I have with this, however, is that sometimes the fun events again become a part of the bait and switch that is so off-putting. The message becomes: now that you have done some fun stuff, let’s get you in a small group. Another issue is that this method only works for students who actually are moving from the crowd to the serious. In my experience some kids just will not go much deeper than the fun events.
Option 3: We give everything that we do a discipleship win. In this scenario, we do fun things and serious things, but we think outside of those labels. Here we see that everything we do needs to move students into deeper discipleship. If it’s a trip to Six Flags, we win when the kids grow in community with one another and an adult is able to have a faith or life conversation with each student. If it’s a Bible study, we hope that they have fun and learn about Jesus. We still have events that are designed for the crowd students, but it is not a win to have students show up; instead, it’s a win if we are able to have a real conversation with that student. With this approach we see every event as a step towards deeper faith for the student. The typical approach is to think that the discipleship is happening in the Sunday School room or at the small group time. This limits the impact that we can have. Instead, let’s understand the way a faith journey works and help students navigate it every chance we get.
I started out student ministry thinking that fun events were a little much. However, I have seen their ability to reach lost kids and I have seen the opportunities that they create for incredible conversations that may never happen in another program that we offer. When students look back, the truth is that they will not remember many of the talks we gave but they may remember the conversation that we had with them on the bus on the way home from Laser Tag.