What Makes a Cool Youth Ministry Game?

By Ken McCoy | JumpStart Ministries | Charlotte, NC

My iPhone buzzed and chimed – incoming text message. A friend sent a couple of videos of a youth group playing some games last night, and I immediately burst out laughing as soon as I started watching the first one. “Jeannie! You’ve gotta see this!” She laughed too. Just for you, I put the two videos together and uploaded the file to YouTube. You can watch it here. Go ahead, it’s only a minute long, so watch it now and then come back here to discover what the video inspired me to write.

That video has a lot of what makes for a cool youth ministry game. Here are some off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts about this subject.

  • It’s unusual. How many times have YOU played a relay where you pass a live fish along? Me: never. But now I want to! A great youth group game is one that you haven’t played anywhere else. That’s why I coach youth leaders to get unusual with the games they play. If you’re playing Kickball, play it in such a way that is unique to your group – like have only one base, there are no force outs, and you can have as many players on the base as can touch it. BUT, if they’re making a mad dash for home and just ONE of them gets hit by the ball, they’re ALL out!
  • It has “Brag Factor.” When your young friends are saying to their friends the next morning, “Dude, you shoulda been there! You won’t believe what we did!” – that activity has “Brag Factor.” You can bet that plenty of kids were bragging to their friends this morning about the fish relays!

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  • It’s easy to set up. The best games are those that require minimal explanation. Form a single line as a team. Pass the fish down the line. The last person kisses the fish and passes it back. First team to get the fish back to the front, wins. Easy peasy! Complicated games CAN be fun, but sometimes the setup takes so long the kids lose enthusiasm before the game can start.
  • Anyone can play. The studly guys are just as good at playing the game as the tiniest girls. Coordinated kids aren’t any better at this game than uncoordinated ones. That means everyone can play – and you don’t wind up with some non-energetic kids sitting against the wall and watching.
  • Guys love it. When I’m planning the youth ministry activities, I have one person in mind: a 16-year-old guy who’s not sure he wants to be there. If we can reach that guy, get him engaged and having fun, then we can reach ALL the kids.

So, have a GREAT time with teenagers – can you imagine trying to play these relay races with a bunch of baby boomers?!

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KJ-52: The “Drake Phenomenon”

By Jonah Sorrentino – a.k.a.  kj52

Unless you’ve been living under a proverbial cultural rock, Aubrey “Drake” Graham is pretty much the hugest rap artist on the planet. Starting from child star on Degrassi and moving from the burgeoning internet indie scene to massive success as a solo artist with Cash Money records, it’s hard to ignore this singer/rapper/actor.

He’s weathered a few storms such as the accusations that he doesn’t write his hits (a huge no-no in the world of underground hip hop) to his beef w/ Meek Mill (which most declared him the winner) to his current tiff w/ the artist Pusha T (which hip hop declared him a loser). Yet through all this he just released his latest double album/playlist Scorpion to massive success.

I came up in an era of hip hop where authenticity was KING – you could get destroyed by a fake image/past/lyrics/etc. (see Vanilla Ice) but the truth is that this is out the window. Music is like cotton candy these days, we eat it, wipe our mouth, and move on. Drake has become a Teflon Don, nothing seems to stick and he continues to put up massive numbers.

The music industry has changed. You no longer have to sell units to win or lose – it’s just about how many streams you can generate. The industry is closer to WWF in many ways: there is no bad press anymore – even the most hated generate tons of streams online. The name of the game is that all press is good press.

With the negativity that hip hop pushes out, how does this effect youth ministry? The reality is that we all have access to the music – no longer is it limited to buying the album. Music is free, and we’re all being bombarded by what they are saying. We can’t shelter or sequester kids from the songs anymore, all we can do is equip them to deal with the messages that are sent and offer them alternatives.

CD burning parties (remember them?) are long gone. You can’t burn a Spotify account! Our efforts are better spent in countering what the world says and presenting students with God’s truth and hip hop alternatives (which are freely accessed also).

Alert! 23 of the 25 songs on Drake’s new album are EXPLICIT. There’s a good chance your kids have streamed it!

Negativity in our world is nothing new, we used to have to run from the lions just to survive (see the early church), but I have to believe that when the darkness comes in, the light shines brighter.

Don’t give up and don’t give in! Keep doing what you do day in and day out. GOD BLESSES FAITHFULNESS.

We hip hop artists with a different purpose appreciate you!


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My Thoughts On The Death Of Xxxtentacion

By Jonah Sorrentino – a.k.a.  KJ-52

We asked KJ-52, Team interlinc Artist and aficionado on all things Hip Hop, to give us his take on the recent death of rapper Xxxtentacion and the phenomenon it caused – the most streams of any song in a 24 hour period EVER on Spotify. That is huge… EVER means its 10.4 million streams supplanted the previous record holder Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.” Here’s what he had to say:

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Mission Recipients Get Way More Than Those Who Serve

By Eric Iverson / Youth Leadership / Minneapolis, Minnesota

Let the Truth Be Told: I have been involved in U.S. Short-Term Missions (STM) all my life and been a part of every aspect of missions during that time. I grew up and currently live in a Host Community, have participated and led STM experiences as a Goer-Guest, and serve at a Sending Organization. The two most overheard statements coming from guests are, “They were so happy with so little” and “I got way more than I gave.” The truth is, hosts are the recipients of the majority of the benefits and positive impact that come from STM efforts within the North American context.

Because of the selfless service of thousands of short-term missionaries (Guests) in economically challenged communities each summer, the people in those communities (Hosts), especially the local churches, benefit most in four ways: through a tremendous amount of encouragement, a healthy portion of joy, a renewed sense of hope, and an increased amount of appreciation of the Cross-centered Gospel. Those outcomes would not be available to us, in the ways I describe, without the annual ministry of STM in our communities.


To teach others – As Hosts partner with Guests, they spend a lot of time teaching others about their cultural context, history, values, and how they live out their faith in their own community every day. Hosts use a voice they have not been allowed to use before, and it encourages them in developing and using their voice. I know of one community where a Host has taught so much that he has started an STM organization bringing students into his community each year to serve alongside him, learn from him, and live out the Gospel with his local church.

To be proud of their identity in Christ – There is satisfaction in being a part of a community where people come to build relationships, grow in their faith, and leave with a deeper and closer relationship with Christ than when they came.

To share the Gospel in their own Jerusalem – Each summer, as Host communities see hundreds of members of the “great cloud of witnesses” come into their community, they feel supported and encouraged to preach the Good News after the Guests have left.


When they see Guests impacted – Hosts receive joy in knowing they played a part in equipping Guests each year to live out the Gospel, not just talk about it. Hosts take joy in knowing that Guests gained a better understanding of how to live the Gospel so that they can live it out where it really matters; back at home.


In being “Christ” to Guests – Hosts in the “Church That Stays” love to express Christ’s love to the Guest from “The Church That Pays.” There is joy in helping a Guest discover that the same Jesus who is loved, worshiped, and glorified in the Guest’s community is living and transforming lives in the Host’s community as well.


That people can change – With more Guests returning to the same community, Hosts have the opportunity to see the same people each year and observe the changes in them. Some have learned to prepare for their trips by doing research about the community, or by committing to growing together as a group before they come. Hosts see people who were too focused on “doing” come back with a heart that has changed and is now focused on learning and on building relationships.

That the Hosts are considered as a part of the Body too – Hosts are gaining hope that Guests are reading the same verses in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 as they are. There is hope that Guests are beginning to see that “those parts of the Body that seem weaker are indispensable…” (v.22). This hope comes as spiritually thirsty Guests come back to a well far from home, are meeting Jesus there, and being satisfied.

Appreciation of the Cross-Centered Gospel

Host too often can view the harm, embarrassment, and shame that have been brought by a few self-righteous and prideful short-term missionaries to communities as an argument against salvation for some. These ideas set limits on God’s grace when it applies to those who do harm in Jesus’ name, and can be found just below the surface for many Hosts. This type of thinking takes the Cross out of the center of the Gospel and places it elsewhere, but not in the center of the good news of Christ’s atonement for all our sins on the Cross.

Short-Term Mission trips build relationships that allow Hosts to see the Guests as sisters and brothers who are washed clean by the same blood that Christ shed. Those relationships help Hosts to see Guests as included in the group of believers Paul describes in Romans 3:22 when he said, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

So, keep serving in the STM field of North America. We are giving a lot more than we think!


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Inflatable Fun!

By Rick Bundschuh • Kauai Christian Fellowship • Kauai, Hawaii

Like most youth guys, my antenna is always up and searching for some new or different angle of an activity that will attract kids.

During the summer months, taking a load of kids to the beach, lakefront, or river usually draws a crowd – unless of course you actually live near the beach, lakefront, or river. In that case there’s nothing novel or attractional about that event – nothing, that is, unless you take what is normal and mutate it into weird fun.

One day I saw a tourist foolishly bring a large dolphin pool toy to the beach and watched as he was quickly washed up on the rocks. It was then that the light bulb went off in my head and the summer kickoff event in our sleepy beach town known as Inflatable Day was born.

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The idea was simple. Go to the store and buy a bunch of giant inflatable pool toys and a half dozen camping air mattresses, and then take over a local beach area with mobs of kids trying to ride these bizarre contraptions successfully to the beach. Oh, and for added fun, they also create havoc on the tourists who may find themselves in the way of a flotilla of whales, dolphins, turtles, and air mattresses.

It’s goofy fun, but it turns into a lot more fun if the surf comes up. Then the scene is a slapstick movie of tumbling bodies, mass wipeouts, and rider-less vehicles.

Naturally, we make sure to have cameras rolling and drones in the air so that everyone can relive the adventure.

The only thing that can get in the way of a goofy event like this are kids who think they are too cool to demean themselves by tumbling down the face of a wave on an inflatable turtle. To counter that, I initially made sure some of the best watermen we had joined the circus which help turn the event into “goofy/cool”.

Now, after a number of years doing this event, all we have to do is mention “Inflatable Day” and the crowd of regulars and their friends show up.

Of course, we schedule a showing of the videos shot and a hot dog feed shortly after the event that always results in a great turnout.

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Custom versions of this kind of goofy event can be done on lakes behind speedboats, down rivers, or any place where there is water.

Just make sure to inflate your zoo before you get to the beach!


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Yo-Yos And Youth Ministry

By Scott Lenning, Executive Festival Director/Crusade Ministries, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Today is National Yo-yo Day! I’m reminded how ministry has its ups and downs but you just have to remain patient, obedient and faithful to what you are doing.

A few years ago, when I had the opportunity to direct a major Christian Music Festival, we blended volunteers from the past and present into the same team. I gave Yo-yos to all 250 volunteers. I told them it would take some time to get to know each other and each of our responsibilities. I asked them when they had questions about or frustrations with the new procedures to pull out their Yo-yo and remember that the festival would have its ups and downs. I encouraged them to keep working and that together we would see the Lord bless our efforts… and He did!!

Learning new tricks takes someone to teach us and then lots of practice to get it right. In youth ministry we too need to have individuals in our lives who teach us new tricks and then work with us to make it happen. But it’s not for the tricks… it is to impact lives for Christ.  I think the Lord likes it when we work hard and play hard for Him.

Happy National Yo-yo Day!


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Imagine the Possibilities!

By Ken McCoy • JumpStart Ministries • Charlotte, North Carolina

I normally watch Apple’s Keynote presentations with great anticipation. But, ever since Steve Jobs left us, I haven’t had that “WOW!” sense when watching. However, I still watch them, because what Apple announces will have an impact on how I do youth ministry. Yesterday’s Keynote address got my mind going on some of the possibilities! I’ll pick three announcements that will influence my work with teenagers and youth leaders.

Foremost among the announcements is the multi-person FaceTime update. I’ve missed the 4-way videochat feature of the long-defunct iChat. What will I do with multi-person FaceTime? For starters, I can get several volunteers on FaceTime at the same time to have a pow-wow about an upcoming program or event, a problem that needs to be solved, or just a quick prayer together. The same holds true for small groups, parents, and others. I’ll also put it to use with my consulting/training of rookie youth pastors. I’ll be able to get a few of them together at the same time to cover some common material.

I have to admit, “Memoji” initially struck me as a gimmick – something I’d never really use. But then I started to think of all those SnapChat filters that the kids are using, and I began to see some possibilities. In case you haven’t seen it yet, think of “Bitmoji” on steroids – you create an animated emoji of your face, and can have as many “alter egos” as you want. Middle schoolers are going to be all over this!

Finally, straight out of Dick Tracy lore, is the “Walkie-Talkie” function coming to Apple Watch. It kind of reminds me of those old Nextel “Direct Connect” phones where you could push a button and immediately get through to someone who also had a Nextel – short burst communications. That functionality was lost when the original iPhone changed the personal communications landscape. Now’s it’s back – on your wrist!

Notice that these three features all have to do with communication. The more methods we have to get in touch with each other, the better off we will be. However, nothing yet can beat be WITH others, “in reals” instead through an electronic device.

I’ve already had three kids contact me, asking if I’d seen the Apple Keynote address and what I thought about it. Teenagers are totally tied to their technologies – they push the boundaries of what their devices can do, and eagerly eat up any new feature and function. I think, as youth leaders, we need to stay informed about those changes. Maybe this little article will encourage you to watch the Keynote too – and be able to talk with your enthusiastic young friends about what’s just around the corner.

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The Effects of Constant Exposure to Mass Tragedy

By Doug Ranck • Free Methodist Church • Santa Barbara, California

I am blessed to live in a small coastal town just outside Santa Barbara. Weekly I pick up the little newspaper and scan to keep up with the latest news in the community. With all the recent events of fires, potential debris flows, and evacuations there has been no lack of information to be shared.

Somewhere in the middle of the paper, I encountered the headline “Childhood Adversity: A Heart Attack in the Making.” As a man now in my late 50’s, I am now a little more attuned to illnesses I naively thought only associated with older people. The words “heart attack” carry a little more weight and impact than in years past.

Couple this with a life-long career of working with children and youth and quickly this article became a compelling piece. The environment of one’s childhood and adolescence brings quality or challenge to one’s health for years to come.

In this article Maria Chesley, who is the director of the Carpinteria Children’s project in California points to the experience of her dad suffering a heart attack at the age of 39. As she connected stories of the family system suddenly this event was not such a surprise.

Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that “the repeated stress of abuse, neglect, and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.” (source). Her study showed that most people have at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) and twelve percent of the population now has an ACE score of four. With this score one’s risk of heart disease and cancer is doubled, the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic is increased by 700 percent and the risk of attempted suicide by 1200 percent!

Ms. Chesley adds, “Children who experience significant adversity but have a loving adult who serves as a buffer are less likely to develop an exaggerated stress response and have their future health impacted.”

Those who are younger can easily feel indestructible. There is so much of life ahead; their bones are healthy, they are physically flexible and more. Whatever beating their bodies or spirit take seems to have no relevance to the future, until they get there.

Childhood adversity does indeed have an impact on the health and well-being of an adult. Where families are broken, leaders in the church, schools, and community can fill in many of the gaps. It is no small task, but it must be a priority. Given the cultural landscape of heightened fear, wars and loss the percentage of ACE scores, it seems, will only increase.

We can be the loving adult who may not only offer a child needed safety but also help our health, through giving, in the process.

Doug has written dozens of music-based youth group sessions that are available 24/7 to Youth Leaders Only Members. Get a free sample of Doug’s Leader Guide and Student Guide (theme: “Eternal vs Temporal”) based on the RED song, “Gone.” If this doesn’t make you want to become a YLO Member, nothing will!

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Tobymac Visited My Group Last Night

By Ken McCoy • JumpStart Ministries • Charlotte, North Carolina

I’ve been helping out with the youth ministry at a small country church near where I live. They’re a fairly-typical “church youth group” bunch – have been around each other since they were babies. Most of them go to the same school. You know the drill.

Last night, the youth meeting occurred in the middle of a raging thunderstorm – and yet we still had a bunch of kids show up, including a couple of newbies!

The meetings start off in the gym, with the guys (and some girls) shooting hoops while other kids hang out on the couches in the lobby. Then we have a gym game or two – last night we didn’t have power in the gym (because of the storm), so we played Blob Tag in the semi-darkness. Fun!

From there, the kids headed up to the youth room on the second story. They all “hit their face” to check in on the MinHub Youth app we use, and then scrambled for the few coveted couch seats available. We did some announcements, and then came time for the Bible lesson.

That’s when Tobymac showed up.

I wrote a Youth Leaders Only youth meeting guide for Toby’s very cool “I Just Need U” music video, so I wanted to field test it with this group of teenagers. I went through the “Transition” section (which does indeed follow the “Warm Up” of playing Blog Tag) and introduced the video. I encouraged the kids to pay attention for any symbolism they might notice. Then, I started the video.

And the kids talked all the way through it.

That’s not unusual behavior. Teenagers see SO many videos – probably several every day – that a music video is no big deal. Even one as engaging and excellent as this one is.

Join Youth Leaders Only and get tons of awesome youth meeting guides built around great videos like Tobymac’s “I Just Need U”!

When the video ended, we had a rousing discussion about the different scenes and characters in the video and what they might represent. The group wasn’t all that experienced in finding meaning in what they watch, so I had to do some prodding to get them to think. Once they got the idea, though, they got into “reading between the lines” of the images and lyrics of the song and video.

I worked them through the three points of the Bible Study, and they really started to put two-and-two together. They could see more clearly what Toby was trying to communicate through his song and video. When I finished with the Bible study, they asked, “Can we watch it again? Now we know what to look for!” So, we showed the video again.

This time, they watched intently. They weren’t talking, laughing, or trying to crack jokes about what was on the screen – they were absorbing the images… and the message.

We finished with one question: “So what do you think Toby was trying to communicate when he lit his luggage and car on fire?” The kids caught the message – and spent a couple of minutes filling in the “My Baggage” section of the Student Guide.

Then, we went downstairs to the kitchen, where some older adults from the church had volunteered to provide food for the kids. While I was hanging out in the kitchen watching the kids get their meal, I overheard one of the adults ask a teenager, “What happened in youth group tonight?”

“Tobymac visited our group tonight!” was the response.

Yep, he did!

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What Worked With Me – From a Guy’s Perspective

By Jon Brockman, Snohomish Washington

High school is a fun and exciting time in life. I loved my high school experience—but that’s not to say that there weren’t times along the way that were difficult.

I didn’t experience any family death, family divorce, or other major event like so many kids my age do; but there were still issues that made this special time a hard and stressful one for me.

Many factors went into keeping my faith through my high school experience. Basketball was a major part of all my high school years, and the time with friends made memories that will last forever. My relationship with God, and with the people that helped me along my way, was most important.

The people who were there for me and who cared about me helped keep my faith strong while I was going through this fun yet scary time. The only thing they wanted was for me to be successful and happy.

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They showed me that only God gives happiness, and that all the material things in the world can’t give me what God offers. They let me know that being involved in ministry is very important—whether in youth group, small group, leading younger kids, or anything that involves growing spiritually.

We are all different and have other things going on in our lives, so what is right for me may not be right for everyone else. I was never pressured into being involved and leading in every single thing possible. The people in my life never made me feel that I was less of a Christian if I wasn’t at every single church event. They understood my involvement

in basketball and other activities meant that maybe youth group wasn’t the thing for me. That was why

some of my friends and I started a small group every Thursday before school. In a way, my mentors let me choose what worked for me.

Everyone needs to find his or her personal way to be connected in ministry. This is not to say that my leaders didn’t challenge me. There were many times they pointed out to me a personal issue that they saw could change or would work better. In a way, the people in my life were just looking out for me and watching what I did—making sure I was doing the right thing. I believe this was the most important thing that helped make my high school experience and life an enjoyable one.

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