Take a moment and imagine the following scenario . . .
You find yourself in a game of Catan. The game has been going for several rounds now, and many of the players are within striking distance of getting their final victory point. You are confident that the player on your right is looking for a few more ore cards to seal victory. Likewise, the player on your left keeps looking at her development cards. You’re sure that if one of those is a soldier, she’ll grab largest army and win on her turn.
The player on your right grabs the dice and rolls a four. Bad luck for him. He doesn’t have anything on four, but it gave you everything you needed. With the eight cards you have in your hand, you can take victory away from your opponent. If you roll a seven – the robber will snatch away four of your cards, leaving you helpless as the glory passes you by. You pick up the dice, juggling them nervously in your hand. A couple of the other players realize the importance of this roll and stand up beside the table to get a better view. They hold their breath as the dice twirl and bounce in your hand. You are about to let them fly when suddenly —
“Hey guys? Sorry, I know you’re enjoying your games right now, but can you put that down for a minute? We’ve got a speaker here who wants to share something important with you.”
That feeling you probably have right now after merely reading through that scenario? That is why we put a moratorium on any form of message, break out session, or any other buzz-word label that’s been associated with formally presenting the gospel from any sort of pulpit or stage at events we run. We want churches to be involved in gaming as a hobby and be part of the community, but the moment gaming becomes nothing more than a strategy to push message, it will fail. Gamers know when they’re being played. If a person comes to game, that’s what they should be doing. We promise everyone that walks through the door that conversations will be about life, games, and anything they want to talk about other than that. We may be an unabashedly Christian organization – but we are also gamers ourselves, and we have no desire to pull the Bible bait & switch.
To function at its best, the gaming environment has to have an uninterrupted flow. Players need to be able to interact, talk trash, and generally be together without feeling like they are going to be ripped away from it. We believe that if God is important to you, if He has really transformed your life from the inside, then you don’t have to manufacture a moment to talk about Him. He’s already in the way you speak and the way you interact with others. You don’t have to manufacture that. If you try and bring the game to a sharp stop in the middle of the action, you become an interloper. You are trespassing on their game, and you will not be welcome.
The relationships being crafted during that game are delicate things. They need time before they can fully come together. That “this is why I really wanted to ask you here” is actually a betrayal of sorts. You are selling Jesus like some people sell time-shares. “It’s easy and fun. You get this amazing prize for coming in today, but only if you endure this high-pressure sales pitch about our houses in Tahiti.” Even if a speaker is dynamic and the message is on point – that game is over. The players will walk away from the table. Anyone left will just pack up, feeling deflated. Folks may not have anything bad to say about the experience – tolerating or maybe even enjoying the speaker’s efforts – but the moment they had been caught up in together has passed, and in a few days they won’t even remember your names.
Our hope is that churches want to start a regular gaming group or run a game night with their Bible study. However, the table needs to be a place where everyone is welcome and able to feel safe if it’s going to be a worthwhile experience. It needs to be a place where people feel they can be open without hearing a lecture. They need to know that you came to play – not trap them.
This isn’t cut and dry. Church folks that feel like they want to try this need to know that it isn’t a one-and-done sort of calling. This sort of ministry is not about getting people to hear. It’s serving them in order that you earn the opportunity to speak. It’s about being somebody they know they can count on, somebody they can trust, and somebody who will show up with a truck and some pizzas when they need to move across town. We hope that you’ll find that when you come to an InnRoads Ministries event, whether you’ve been brought up in the church, never had any interest in God or religion, or were even hurt by church folks in the past. There is always a spot at our table, and somebody’s always looking to game.