The following is a super geeky and yet solidly missional guest post about one couples’ Christian outreach into the tabletop gaming culture for the past six years–and how to start your own outreach in your community.
As an occasional tabletop gamer and an avid fan of GeekDad’s tabletop gaming coverage, I found this to be awesome work. Take a read:
The Gospel According to Game Night
Let me tell you of the Gospel according to Game Night.
Please understand, I’m not talking about ye olde family game night where you break out your dusty copy of Monopoly and create new family traumas that your kids can talk about at therapy 20 years from now. I’m talking about the new board game renaissance that has exploded over the last ten years and turned tabletop gaming into a nearly 900 million dollar industry.
No longer is game night confined to families with easily gullible children or pockmarked teenagers playing their Level 13 Chaotic Good Half-Elf Wizard through the Abyssal Dungeons of the Demon Lord Asmodeus. Tabletop gaming is now a Thing, even for those who are socially allergic to to elves, trolls, and magic swords. It is referenced in television shows, draws hundreds of thousands of people to conventions every year, and even has dedicated youtube channels with millions of views. (Full confession: I am one of these unabashed tabletop converts.)
Six Years of Game Nights
In 2008, my wife, Melissa, and I faced a unique problem when we planted a church in Haverhill, MA. We had intentionally decided to start a community without a building and without weekly worship. However, if we didn’t have a building or weekly worship, how would we find people, especially since we were located in the least religious region of the country? For us, a large part of the answer was Game Night.
We started a board game night at a local cafe. We hung a few posters up around town, invited a few of our friends, and waited to see what happened. Much to our surprise, people showed up, quite a few of them in fact, an average of fifteen to twenty five every week for six straight years.
Game Night Spirituality
Over time, we learned the contours of Game Night spirituality. First, we discovered that people who go to game nights crave community. The best tabletop games can’t be played with one or two people. Gamers will drive for hours to play with strangers, even those who otherwise struggle with social anxiety. The connections rarely end when the last game is packed up; inevitably a game of Settlers of Catan will lead to drinks afterward at the local pub, which will lead to exchanging phone numbers, and long-lasting friendships.
Second, we learned that game night spirituality is cooperative. I watched tabletop gaming erase divisions. Many of the best tabletop gamers are cooperative , requiring gamers to set aside their individual agendas for the good of the group goal. Moreover, game nighters want converts. They will patiently explain the same game week after week to new people, they’ll give strategic advice to first time players, and they’re sympathetic when people make mistakes.
Third, we learned that Game Nighters are spiritually marginalized. The geek culture, like many sub-cultures in our country, bears the scars of the church’s sins. Almost every tabletop geek under the age of 45 remembers the religiously-fueled, utterly groundless paranoia about Dungeons and Dragons in the 80’s and 90’s. Game Nighters, many of whom are part of the “nones”, still assume that the big “You’re not welcome” sign from that era is still up.
Transformation beyond the Tabletop
As the months passed, we were surprised to discover that without talking much about Jesus, we had formed spiritual community. A dozen regular attendees became active members of our church once they were convinced, after many rounds of Apples to Apples, that we weren’t the crazy, judgmental nut jobs that they had assumed we might be. Others became our friends and looked at us as their pastors, even if they never joined our church. They showed up for our community service events, invited us to parties, and asked us to lead funerals and weddings. For many, it was the first positive relationship that they’d had with a Christian in a very long time, sometimes in their entire life.
We met Kate at our game night. She was a local librarian and an avid geek, with a penchant for bringing ridiculously outrageous games with her. Over time, we also learned that she was passionate about her city, born to create community, and a dyed-in-the-wool atheist. She ended up joining our church for weekly service projects, hanging out with us at parties, and talking with us about our vision. She took us out for drinks once and said, “You need to know: I’m never changing teams. However, I think you represent everything that can be right with religion and if you ever need a recommendation for a grant or anything else, I’d love to write you one.”
Game Night. People gather and form friendships across lines that would otherwise divide. They unite in common purposes that teach them to put each other’s needs first. They collect the outcasts, scarred by the institutions around them, and through something very simple, find community and healing.
You know what this sounds like? The kingdom of God.
Ministry is Simple
My six years playing board game reminded me that God’s goodness is not limited to church activities. It springs up in surprising ways, calling forth generosity and hospitality that would put many of us church people to shame. When I led game night, I was not bringing God to the people I worked with, God was already at work among them. All I had to was recognize it.
We often make ministry complicated. We think it needs credentialing agencies, seminary educations, board meetings, big budgets, and paid professionals. Truth be told, the Gospel, at least the Gospel According to Game Night, is pretty simple. Go out, play some games, make new friends. It’s that simple.
After all, the kingdom of God is only a dice roll away.
Interested in starting a community game night? Click here for a few tips.
- By the way, Monopoly is a genuinely terrible game. Don’t believe me? Check out this. After you’re done burning your copy, buy Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, or Forbidden Island. Your future self will thank me.
- Don’t believe me? Check out Forbidden Island or Pandemic.
Ben Yosua-Davis is a former UMC church planter. He now helps churches connect with their communities and shares about his experiences at www.benyd.com.
Excellent. Be sure to check out the tips for practical suggestions of how to start a game night in your community.