What if we made discipleship a game?

I want this blog to focus on helping church leaders execute with excellence.  I try to focus on practical ideastips and tools to make the life of church leadership easier.  This week I’m diverting from my normal approach and talking about three ideas that I don’t think any church is doing . . . yet.

“Status quo, you know, that is Latin for ”the mess we’re in.”” – Ronald Reagan

This week I’m attempting to ask questions that might be really stupid . . . but I do think that somewhere inside the craziest idea can be a nugget of helpful insight that could possibly help the local church jump the curve and break through to increased effectiveness.

Today’s idea might be high on the crazy scale.

There are a 100 million people in the US and UK who play social games. They farm their virtual farms . . . build their online mafias . . . and even build mouse traps to catch virtual mice.  A bit of a profile of the people who play these online games:

  • The vast majority (95%) of social gamers play multiple times per week; nearly two-thirds (64%) play at least once a day.
  • When asked to choose as many reasons as they wanted for playing social games from a lengthy list, social gamers cited “fun and excitement” as the most popular motivation (53%). Stress relief (45%) and “competitive spirit” (43%) were next most popular respectively, followed by “mental workout” (32%) and “connect with others” (24%).
  • Word-of-mouth is the most common way that social gamers hear about new social games; 57% of social gamers rely on a recommendation or in-game alert from a friend while 38% said they learn about new games from ads on social networking sites and 27% cited standard Web searches as a source of information on new social games.

What if we transformed our websites into “social games” rather than “media players”?

Church websites often follow media brands in the design and display of content online.  Come and watch our stuff.  Take it in . . . consume it.

What if took our cues from the social game space and rewarded people for interacting with us online?  What if we built up social goods for them as they participated with us?

  • Watched 15 messages online? You get the “Message Guru” badge in your status stream on facebook.
  • Signed up for a Life Group? You’ll get an extra 100 points!
  • Register for the parenting seminar? You get an exclusive coupon for the family restaurant down the street from the church.
  • Volunteered this weekend? You can check and see how many credits that added towards your progress bar! Only 50 more hours needed and the teaching pastor will come over to your house and make dinner!

Here some links for further fermentation on this whole area.  [Harvard Press on Social Games] [Great blog post from Joel Auge – an industry leader in social gaming about what’s happening at his company] [Virtual worlds are making real money]

What do you think?  A nutso idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts! [Comment now.]

Drop back on Friday . . . where we’ll talk about an idea that could help multisite churches reach more people.  Or could just a really bad idea.


  1. Someone came up with a similar idea to get people to do chores and housework that needs to be done. It actually works some days with my kids… :p

    I think this would definitely motivate some people to do more at church, but the rub is that their motivation is no longer “love”, but rewards… and I think in the long run would make the church less effective? From what I’ve learned, motivation seems to be a big deal with God.

  2. My husband and I oversee the Middle School Ministry at our church, and we LOVE this approach to discipleship with our Small Group Leaders. We love games… and we embrace the idea that service and discipleship (especially in a middle school environment) should be fun and rewarding for our volunteers. Plus, they do such a great job that we love rewarding them for what they do.

    At the beginning of this school year, we gave our volunteers a list of monthly goals that we wanted them to accomplish (like sending postcards to students, connecting with parents, or hosting parties for their small groups). Some of our volunteers were doing a great job accomplishing those goals, but we realized that if we wanted MORE of our volunteers to be performing at a higher level, we needed to give them more incentive. So we turned it into a game.

    We simplified the goals to a list of 6 things we want them to accomplish before the end of March. If they accomplish them, they send us an e-mail with descriptions + photos of what they accomplished. If they do it, they earn prizes and we share their good ideas + achievements with the rest of our volunteers.

    This is a test for us. We’ll see how it goes – if it’s successful, we’ll put together a plan to make it work throughout an entire school year.

    There are 3 TEDtalks that have really inspired us to experiment with this “gaming/discipleship” strategy, if anyone’s interested…

    “When Games Invade Real Life,” Jesse Schell (

    “7 Ways Games Reward the Brain,” Tom Chatfield (

    “Gaming Can Make a Better World,” Jane McGonigal (

  3. hmmm. A seductive idea…but to my way of thinking utterly in conflict with the values we are surely trying to model to the world? Grace wins. Game playing, fun – of course could and should be part of what we do – but earning status, coupons, points etc looks a lot like a form of legalism. On the basis that Jesus gave his life for us, to appeal to people to pony up their commitment because they’ll earn status or some points would be a terrible indictment.

    But, here’s a twist…what about… do all you say except that you can’t ever earn points, credits, coupons or status for yourself? You always have to nominate someone else to earn the benefits…completely counter cultural, and completely grace driven.

  4. fun! i like the idea of earning points for someone else. or maybe people could earn points that gets translated into compassion or benevolence dollars spent. they get to decide from a collection “causes” what the finances go towards.

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