When I was in youth group (a very long time ago), I remember my youth pastor doing a contest called L.I.F.E.. He broke down the youth group into four teams and we would have weekly contests between team members, etc. and at the end the winning team received X. This is still a viable tool to use today to get more kids to show up or get involved but I wonder how certain aspects of social media have changed this game dynamic or changed this medium of game play.

I use several social media apps that use something called Phunware, to keep me coming back.  Phunware is a software that offers points, badges, etc. to get us to keep coming back to the app or webpage. Frequent flyer miles are an example of the earliest Funware used. If you earn enough points you get a free flight. I remember an episode of the Brady Bunch where they collected green trading stamps and they had to decide what they were going to buy. Hijinks ensue.

Back in the day I used apps like Get Glue and Foursquare for fun. Get Glue offered special digital stickers I could post on my Get Glue page and would even send you the real stickers once I had accumulated enough digital stickers. I got stickers for watching movies on opening weekend or watching  new t.v shows several times in row.

Foursquare is an app that allows you to “check in” to places. If you check in enough times you can become mayor of that location.

If you use an app that rewards you for buying, watching or clicking, you are using a gamified app. If you use a punch cards that says, “Punch 4 get the 5th one free” you are using a tool designed to be game and will reward you if you stay in engaged or continue to purchase items.

There are many more kinds of apps like this available and more coming out every year. Old companies are trying to revamp their model by using Phunware. According to a 2021 Yahoo Finance article,

15 billion Phunware IDs have been created and over 5,000 mobile apps are supported. The technology of bringing hardware, software and firmware together has helped scale companies such as:

  • Disney (NYSE: DIS)
  • Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG)
  • Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL)
  • Facebook (NASDAQ: FB)

So, is youth ministry a game? Do you use contests, scarcity, earned titles, loyalty programs or privileges to get kids to come back to your group? If you don’t, why not?

Here is a link to a great video on the topic of Gamification by Gabe Zichermann author of Game Based Mechanics. I should warn you, he does use some salty language in the video.

As the world of social media and apps becomes more game centric, I am wondering if this has impacted the way we engage students and build loyalty to our students. Is it possible that the under use of games, in the broadest sense, is a missing link?

I don’t believe games are bad and I don’t even think game-ifying your youth ministry for short periods of time is a bad thing. Gamification becomes bad when discipleship is ignored or it demeans people.

I think team games with points and prizes still work. I have students asking me if I am going to do some sort of summer competition. If you don’t play games or don’t believe in doing contests that reward student, that’s ok too. You do you. Do what works for you

I have put together a fully formed, multi-week outreach that encourages students to bring their friends called TRIBES. TRIBES is packed with point sheets, games, team building ideas, slide and more. You can purchase it here.

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