Three Games for an Honest Conversation

written by Kat Bair
8 · 22 · 22

We’ve all been in a council meeting, team huddle, or quarterly review where it seems like everyone is so afraid of having a real conversation that nothing gets said. Platitudes and polite deference can keep us from making real progress by glossing over points of conflict or friction. The meetings that should be where the big picture gets clarified become avenues to congratulate ourselves and others without much insight.

There is often a real fear of being the first person to mention that actual numbers weren’t that great last quarter, the things that used to work aren’t working anymore, or that it seems we have wandered off mission. 

Here at Ministry Incubators, we are big believers in high accountability and low shame, which means saying the things that need to be said early and clearly so that we can see where God is leading us. So how do we cut through the decades of well-worn social niceties that can prevent those conversations? 

Games! 

Games lower the emotional stakes of a conflict, introduce a tertium quid (third object) to make conversation easier, and help us access a creative, imaginative part of our brains that we frequently keep quiet in a group meeting. One of Ministry Incubators’ secret weapons is that a significant portion of its leaders and staff cut their teeth in youth ministry and retain the twinkle in their eyes that just maybe dodgeball will help. 

While we are unlikely to lead shaving cream wars for our clients (not totally opposed if the context called for it), we often use games to help teams break out of their ruts and have a more honest conversation about where they are. 

Here are three games and activities that can change the conversation for you and your team:

Origin Story

This game helps an organization understand itself better. Have someone run a long piece of butcher paper or a series of oversized sticky notes all over the walls of whatever room you are working in. Label each paper section with a decade of your institution’s history (or year if it’s a younger organization). Give each person a different colored marker and then add details, beginning with when they joined the organization. They can add high and low points, special events, significant changes, or whatever feels relevant. 

Once everyone is done, have them read through the timeline from start to finish and have a time of reflection.

  • Are your team members telling the same story?
  • Are there patterns that repeat themselves?
  • Are there things that are missing?
  • What strengths that you have now as an organization can trace their roots to this timeline?
  • What limitations that you’re currently facing seem to have an origin somewhere else in the timeline?
  • Consider where in the timeline you felt most in line with God’s mission and where you felt the most lost. 

Have your team then construct an origin story for how you got where you are – in all of its mess and beauty, how has your story led you here? Where has God been present? Consider all the grand narratives of our faith tradition – what sounds like one of their stories, and what is unique to you all? 

Where could the story go from here?

Whoopsie!

This board game, offered by Ministry Incubators through a partnership with Discipleship by Design, walks an organization through a hypothetical year of operation. It can be great for start-ups or established organizations to evaluate what assets they bring to the table and where they need to sure up their support. 

Teams will first evaluate their resources in categories like finances, people, community engagement, and more. As they move through the year, they face challenges that they will be able to respond to based on their resources, which can either help them build or deplete those resources. 

This game allows participants to have honest conversations about what they have and lack in a very safe context that, in our experience, can be a fundamental turning point for a team. Realizing that you only have two finance blocks left to play with by August can have a much higher impact than a finance committee graph, no matter how many colors. 

Check out more of the game, and grab a copy, here.

Backpack Exercise

This game is excellent for launching conversations around who your organization is trying to serve and “unpacking” some of the needs, assets, and hurts those people carry around with them. 

This game works best in its most concrete version. If you are an organization that serves teenagers, you’ll want to try to borrow the backpack or bag of an actual teenager. If it serves young families, maybe a mom’s diaper bag. Obviously, this person would need to be comfortable with this exercise, and you’d want to ask them not to clean the backpack or bag. 

If the timing doesn’t work to literally borrow the bag, a great option can be to have someone in your target audience send you a video of them taking everything out of their bag and setting it out in front of them. 

Whether in person or while watching the video, you’ll want to pause after each item is removed and ask:

  • What is this? 
  • What purpose does it serve this person?
  • What do we know about them because they have it? 
  • What strengths might it suggest? 
  • What needs might it suggest? 

As an example of what this can look like, I led this exercise in front of a conference of around 100 youth pastors and had a very brave woman offer up her bag. The first thing I pulled out was a package of wet wipes. Unsure of what the crowd would say, I held up the wet wipes and asked what we knew about this person because of the wipes. Without hesitation, someone yelled from the audience, “She’s a mom of young kids!” I looked over at her, and she said nodded and laughed. As I pulled out two different calendars, sunscreen and band-aids, I asked what she might need based on what I found. There was more hesitation this time, and then someone offered, “She needs to feel safe.” Echoes continued, “she’s afraid of being unprepared,” “she might be afraid.” I looked at her, still standing on stage, and she laughed again, “none of you are wrong.” 

As you finish the bag, go through a general de-brief of what was in the bag.

  • How would you describe this person?
  • What do they need?
  • Where is God present for them?
  • Where is God absent?
  • How might they be hurting, and how could we be good news to them? 

This exercise can be powerful and help orient your team towards those you are most called to serve while also being fun, creative, and deeply engaging. 

We encourage you to try any or all of these games next time it seems like your team is in a rut or feels nervous about having a more honest conversation. And let us know how it goes! If your group wants more support discerning where God is calling you next, give us a call, and we’ll take some time to imagine together what tools and resources your team needs to take on your next chapter. 

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Kat Bair

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