Games, especially board games and card games, have long been an effective means of facilitating interaction between family members, friends, and strangers. I have fond childhood memories of playing Sorry, Aggravation, Battleship, Stratego, Monopoly, and Rook with my parents and siblings on weekly game nights in the winter and on family vacations in the summer. In later years, holiday gatherings required competitive games of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.
Games also played, pun intended, a significant role in my local church ministry. One congregation that I served in a small rural community hosted a monthly Pitch Party that attracted a crowd of three to four times the attendance of Sunday morning worship services. I learned to play Pinochle by participating in a social group of older church couples that had been meeting every month for decades to play cards and reconnect with one another. I learned to play Domino’s by playing with three elderly gentlemen in a nursing home against whom I never won a game. Playing games in a congregational setting included youth group meetings and New Year’s Eve watch parties.
Most, if not all, board and card games have made the transition to electronic format so that enthusiasts can play against the operating systems of their smart phones, computers, and tablets, or use these devices to play friends and family members at anytime and anywhere via the Internet. The computer and the Internet has also brought us the MMOG or Massively Multiplayer Online Game in which seemingly unlimited numbers of players cooperate, compete, and interact with others from around the world in games that serve a variety of interests. While I have used electronic devices to play Scrabble with friends and family for several years, I have only recently joined the MMOG world. Although I am playing a game with hundreds of thousands of people, I am also in an “alliance” of about 30 individuals from all over the world with whom I enjoy interacting on a daily basis.
The Pew Research Center reports that 49% of American adults play video games with very nearly even percentages of men (50%) and women (48%). So, needless to say, a significant percentage of your congregations’ members play video games. Perhaps an equally larger or even larger percentage play board and card games. Is there an opportunity here for clergy to better know and interact with congregational members and to connect with non-members in a way that builds community? Certainly.
If your congregation has a Facebook page that is “liked” by any number of congregational and community members, then, hopefully many members have used the congregational page to find and friend each other on Facebook. Encouraging such use of the congregational Facebook page should be a regular activity. Once congregational members have friended each other, it is all that much easier for them to network and connect around common interests such as playing games online. Members can be encouraged to post requests for game partners on the congregational Facebook page for both online and in-person games. Members should also be encouraged to make game playing time with shut-ins and nursing home residents.
A regular survey of members’ Facebook pages can reveal whether there is a critical mass of individuals with a common interest to warrant organizing a group within the congregation. Simply check “Apps and Games” under the “More” drop down menu on a person’s home page on Facebook to see what games the person is playing online. If you notice that a significant number of members are playing, e.g., Scrabble, then consider organizing and hosting a monthly game night or tournament in the fellowship hall using the old fashioned game boards and wooden letter tiles and make it open to the public. A small tournament entry fee could be charged with proceeds going to a different charity each month. In similar fashion, a significant number of members playing the same MMOG might want to consider creating a common alliance that identifies them as members of the congregation.
Consider a monthly all-members game night that features a different game each month with game veterans teaching newbies how to play. Alternate between generations from month to month as well. If your community has enough diversity, perhaps games from other countries could be introduced and taught as well.
In conclusion, I think the following observation is an important one to consider regarding the link between games and ministry: “Games are about everyone showing up. In classrooms full of students who range from brilliant to sullen disaffection, it’s games — and often games alone — that I’ve seen engage every single person in the room. For some, the right kind of play can spell the difference between becoming part of something, and the lifelong feeling that they’re not meant to take part.” Tom Chatfield