Jul 27, 2015


A Case for Icebreakers

Chase Abner, Associate Director of The Salt Company (Iowa State), writes about the priority of building relationships with your group and why icebreakers aren’t all that bad.

Let me just get this out there right away: I really like “Getting to Know You” games. Icebreakers are my friends. Hokey team-building activities? I’m totally into them.

I wasn’t always this way. There was a time that a high value on authenticity and “natural” friendships caused me to see the exchange of banal facts about favorite foods or high school mascots as counterproductive. I wanted to waste no time getting to the real person, whatever that meant. I hate to think about the many ministry opportunities I squandered simply because I didn’t give the other person the chance to trust me with minor details before I dove to the major questions of life.

I was right that ministry is best predicated on relationships. However, I was wrong in thinking that there was no value in artificially jump starting those relationships. Really, that’s what icebreakers are meant to do – intentionally create moments for bonds to start forming that could otherwise take weeks or more. Those of us in college ministry should understand that need as well as anyone.

So regardless of your ministry model or context, let me give you three reasons that you should embrace some type of icebreaker activities for your ministry this fall.

1. Students want to be known.

But more than that, they want to be loved. Jesse Eubanks said, “You can’t feel loved without being known.” When we meet someone new, we subconsciously start releasing bits of information about ourselves to see if the other person will remain friendly towards us. Bit by bit we reveal more of ourselves over time and we find our true friends to be those who stay with us even after they discover the more unsavory parts. That’s when we truly feel loved.

Icebreakers are a way to get students further down the road to being known… and feeling loved.

2. Semesters are short.

There are around sixteen weeks in a semester. If you factor in fall break, holidays, and the like, then that timeframe is even shorter. For schools on the quarter system, students have about ten weeks of class and then finals. It really goes fast. Many of us have weekly responsibilities beyond building relationships with students (i.e. planning worship gatherings, raising support, preaching/teaching, developing staff), so it’s not always easy to to invest enough time in relationships anyway.

Long story short: If you don’t intentionally spur relational connections early in the semester, you and your leaders might not have time to earn the relational capital that is so vital to speaking truth into the lives of students later in the year.

3. Icebreakers are contextual.

You could take this posture: “Our ministry will be the one place on campus where students don’t have to do silly icebreakers.” Fair enough. Or you could say, “Students are already doing icebreakers in class, in residence halls, and virtually everywhere else. Perhaps there is some value in that.” I’ve heard many collegiate leaders say that they embrace the recruitment culture on campus (Greek rush, involvement fairs, etc.) and aggressively flyer, sidewalk chalk, and table on campus to invite people to their events. Just think of icebreakers in the same way.

Icebreakers are a part of campus culture that we can embrace for the cause of Christ.

Hopefully you’ve warmed up to icebreakers. I want to be careful not to overstate their significance. I know that students probably aren’t going to get saved during a game of “Two Truths and a Lie,” but it could provide the first step in a relationship that will bear many opportunities for the Gospel down the line. So this fall, lean into the awkward, embrace the cheesiness, and create opportunities for students to be known and to feel loved.

What is your best tactic for jump starting relationships among students?

Leave us a comment with your best icebreaker ideas.

about the author

Chase Abner

Chase is the Lead Church Planting Catalyst in Iowa with the North American Mission Board and music geek.