"Why use icebreakers?" you may be thinking. "All my youth know each other already." Yet you might be surprised to discover that, even in small youth ministry groups, there are often youth who don't know each other's names or have any idea where the others go to school or whose parents are divorced, and on and on. Not unlike many adults at church, youth tend to gravitate to a few friends they know well and often don't take time to really get to know the others in the group. These cliques can serve their purpose -- they provide young people with a core circle of friends and a "place" to belong in the group -- but they can also limit the relationships within your group if you don't create intentional ways to build community. This is where icebreakers can be a big help, particularly if they are of the "low threat" variety (no one is asked to reveal deep dark secrets or get out of their physical "comfort zone") and if they invite the participants to share a little about themselves. Listed below are just a few examples of the type of icebreakers that I use on a weekly basis to open our youth group meetings:
Circle Sharing Time - This one is as simple as they get yet so effective. Choose a question and open each youth group meeting by inviting each person in the circle to share their name and their answer to the question. Sometimes I pick the question and sometimes we invite a youth to come up with the question. It could be something as simple as "What is your favorite food to eat?" or something wacky like, "If you could take a bath in any substance besides water, what would you choose?" Other great sources for questions include books like What if...? and Unfinished Sentences.
Magic Box - Pass a small decorated box around the circle. Invite each person to, symbolically, contribute something to the box they have a lot of, and to take out something they need. For example "I am putting in homework, and I'm taking out rest" or "I'm putting in humor and I'm taking out patience with my parents."
Back to the Future - Invite each person to write a brief statement on an index card describing what they want to be or what they will be doing 5 or 10 years from now. Collect the cards and read them aloud and challenge the group to guess the author of each card.
Four Corners - Designate each corner of the room to represent one of four answers to a question. For example, "If you had to choose one class at school and you had to attend it for an entire day, which would it be?" You then designate the four corners of the room to represent the various choices: gym, science, history, study hall. Each person then goes and stands in the corner of the room that best fits their personal choice. Repeat this over and over with different questions and choices. Occasionally invite a student to explain his or her choice.
Prized Possession - Prior to the meeting, ask each participant to bring one object from home that represents themselves uniquely. This object might be a favorite book, a toy, shirt, CD of a favorite band -- you get the idea. Just caution them not to bring an item that would easily give away their identity (such as a photo). As youth arrive, sneakily gather all the items ina bag. When you are ready to start, spread the items in the middle of the group. Select one item at a time and give the group three guesses to figure out who brought the item and then give the owner a chance to explain why that item represents who they are. (If you have visitors or others in attendance who did not bring an object, invite them to write on an index card a description of the object they would have brought and include it with the pile of items).
I Want to Meet - Here is an icebreaker with a higher energy quotient. Sit in a circle of chairs with one "it" person in the middle who says "I want to meet..." and then describes some quality or descriptor such as "...all the people who have been to another country" or ". . .everyone who likes Star Trek." Anyone fitting the description must jump up and race to find a different chair in the circle (but not the chair to their immediate left or right) while the "it" person also scrambles to find an empty seat. The one person left without a seat gets to be "it" and the game starts over. Take time between each round to let some participants share details about themselves (e.g. "What country have you visited?" or "What is your favorite Star Trek series?")
Need more? Check out our other Community Builders ideas here. And see more great icebreaker ideas at the Insight Blog.