I feel like it is the best kept secret that is right in front of everyone. Have you been to a Barnes & Noble bookstore lately? There is an entire section of the store now dedicated to board games. How about Target? Over the past couple of years, Target has really stepped up their board game stock. The secret is why this is happening. Board games now are really, really good. For people not in on the secret the idea of board games brings up thoughts of games like Monopoly, Candyland, and Clue. Games are thought of as something that parents politely play with kids, and the more cynical people might call them “bored games”.
That is not the case anymore. For twenty years now, a modern gaming revolution has been gaining steam and it has blossomed into a full board gaming renaissance. Games now have deep strategies, intuitive rules, sensible play times, and evocative themes. Every year over a thousand new board and card hobby market games are released. The popularity of the hobby is growing. Unless you live in the most remote and rural areas, there is a decent chance that there are some people in your area who have a closet full of these new style of board games.
What many of these gamers want and look for is a place where they can gather with other gamers to play games. To do this they need a space that is available, has plenty of tables, and is relatively quiet. It so happens that most churches tend to be places that have space available, plenty of tables, and are relatively quiet. Churches are perfectly suited to host game nights. This is a wonderful way that the congregation can practice hospitality to a segment of their community. Hosting a game night also provides the perfect environment to foster relationships with people outside of the church. I know that the excitement and growth of hobby board games is not on many people’s radar, but I truly think that churches are missing out on an amazing opportunity to reach out and invite in.
I have been involved with helping a church host a game night on a couple of different occasions, and I think there are some very helpful “Do’s and Don’ts” to follow in having a successful game night.
DO HAVE A POINT PERSON
Perhaps one of the things that keep a lot of churches from hosting a game night is that they do not have this person. There needs to be someone within the church who is connected with the gaming community. This is the person who will be key to making a group like this a success. Scheduling a game night, putting it on the church website, and then waiting for the gamers to flood in will not work. There needs to be a person connected with the community who can build it from the ground up.
DO NOT BE STRICTLY HANDS OFF
One of the churches I was involved with did host a game group, and they did so for three years. The group flourished. It had decent attendance and a big pool of people who were involved with it. However, the church had zero contact with these people. They treated the game night like an outside group. The church very politely opened their doors, but they took zero effort to build bridges or promote the group within the congregation. This is the wrong approach.
DO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
A game night in a church should not be treated like an outside group, but it should be treated like a ministry of the church. This means that the congregation fully embraces the initiative and is involved with it. From a ministry standpoint, a game night serves two great functions. The first is that it provides an exceptional space for building relationships. Games create a space that naturally brings people together in a way that is almost magical. The game brings people together for common purpose, it creates a baseline connection for everyone playing, and playing a game is a shared experience between the players. A regular game night is an ideal way for members of the church to build relationships with people outside of the church. This is important because relationships are the most essential element of making new disciples. Very few people outside the church are going to respond to a mass mailing postcard or an evangelism tract. However, they will be open to having deeper conversations with someone they have become friends with around a gaming table. For a game night to succeed as a ministry it needs to be supported by the congregation, and the congregation needs to see the game night as a venue through which they can get to know people outside of the church.
DO NOT COLLECT CONTACT INFORMATION
Churches love to get contact information, and this is very off-putting to a lot of people outside of the church. It can be really annoying to someone if they come to a game night once, and then they start getting capital campaign fundraising letters from the church. One of the two main functions of a game night for the church is to build relationships so let that happen organically. A lot of game night groups use things like Facebook to keep in contact, so allow space for that to happen. The new people coming to the game night may not be getting the church newsletter, but if done right they will be in regular contact with church members and that is a fantastic start.
DO BE RADICALLY HOSPITABLE
From a ministry standpoint, this is the second major function of a church hosting a game night. It gives us an opportunity to show hospitality and to practice kindness for those people coming through our doors who do not normally do so. Every church in the world has an overworked coffee maker, so turn that thing on for a game night. Every church also has a little old person who makes the best cookies, so ask them to make a couple of dozen. When a hot new game is released it can cost between $30-60 usually. One idea is to buy a copy as a church for people in the game group to play, and then whoever wins the tenth play of the game gets to keep it. The prevailing attitude about church folks in the cultural at large is that we are judgmental and unkind. Hosting a game night and showing true kindness is a way that this perception can be counteracted.