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Gamification and Your Ministry

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Thanks for checking out Gamification and Your Ministry — this special sneak peek of a feature article from a recent issue of Children’s Ministry Magazine.

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We’re all driven by 8 core game principles that’ll transform our ministries—and engage kids like never before.

I’m an unabashed gamer. I’m 40 years old, and I’ve been playing games for nearly all of those years. I played Pong. I played an Atari 2600. I played on our family’s computer—where I had to load games from a cassette player. And, of course, I played on all of the consoles—from Nintendo to Xbox.

But you might be surprised to know you’re probably a gamer, too—a gamer at heart.

Far-ranging industries have examined the immense popularity of games and started implementing game techniques into their business models. But they introduce the techniques in a way that people don’t think about the game aspects of what they’re doing. Consider these examples.

  • The Nike+ Running app lets you track how far and how fast you’ve run. It also lets you see how you’re doing compared with friends. This creates competition, and it makes you want to run more often to get faster and stronger. (And it puts the Nike brand in front of your eyes more often, creating possible future sales.)
  • Some electric cars come with a game that tracks how efficient your driving is and compares your energy consumed with drivers in your area. This can prompt you to drive more efficiently.
  • Your Starbucks Rewards card gives you a free drink after only 12 purchases. Somehow we convince ourselves that spending $48 in order to get a $4 drink is a great idea.
  • A street in Sweden has a photo speed tracker that sends tickets to people who speed. But people who obey the speed limit also get their pictures taken, and they’re all entered into a lottery to win a portion of the money from the people who got tickets. That stretch of road saw a nearly 25 percent
    drop in speeds. Watch video.

What’s the point of all of these efforts? Companies want to make their products fun, because fun fuels engagement. The process goes by many different names, but one that’s often used is gamification.

Gamification expert Yu-kai Chou defines it as “the craft of deriving all the fun and addicting elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities.”

Chou, who is a Christian, has come up with a gamification framework he calls Octalysis: eight core drives within us that motivate us toward certain activities. As you can imagine, many of these bleed over into other drives. For example: Accomplishment, Scarcity, and Ownership are all linked, so even though we’ll talk about these individually, there’s crossover. So what might happen if we take these core drives and look at them through the lens of children’s ministry?

CORE DRIVE 1:
Epic Meaning and Calling
In this first drive, a player believes she’s doing something important—and usually something that only
she can do. This is a key component of many video games: You’re the Chosen One who can rid this land of the Bad Guy and free everyone. Players develop a sense of responsibility and want to become that person. One of the ways video games increase this drive is by using “onboarding.” It used to be you’d play a tutorial level to learn the basics of how to play the game. Now most games don’t have a tutorial level—as soon as you begin playing the game, there are natural ways for you to learn controls as you go. It’s total immersion.

Ministry Takeaway
Your kids are on the most exciting mission ever with God! Look closely at your ministry’s onboarding technique. How do kids experience your ministry for the first time? Are there terms/habits/rituals they might be unfamiliar with—but that you assume they know? That can be a barrier. Kids really are part of an epic and important mission—God’s mission. So ensure they want to be a part of the mission and that they can be fully immersed quickly.
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Thanks for checking out this special sneak peek of a featured article in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Children’s Ministry Magazine.

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About Author

Scott Firestone

Scott (@firestone on Twitter) is the Associate Editor of Children's Ministry Magazine. He lives with his wife and two sons in the foothills of Colorado. When he's not busy with family activities or helping with his youth group, he blogs about God and board games at Theology of Games.

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