1. Games are good "ice breakers."
No matter how familiar you are with each other or whether or not you have any visitors, we must face the fact that the beginning of each class can be very awkward. Some friends sit together and catch up on things that have occurred during the week while others self-consciously stand there in anticipation of what is to come. They wonder if anyone notices that their socks don't match or that their shirt isn't ironed. They wonder if they have done anything wrong that has upset anyone. They wonder if the day is going to be enjoyable or are they going to embarrass themselves by falling asleep in class again...
Well, some folks (be it a teacher or a student) are gifted at conversation starting and perhaps even putting the class at ease...but most of us aren't gifted in that area at all. Whether or not you as a leader have that gift, I think a bit of planning can go a long way. If you have a game prepared and you can let everyone know that you are going to play a quick little game to get started, you can at least get everyone nervous about the same thing: "What is he going to make us do?"
(Note: I personally try to stay away games that can be overly uncomfortable to any of the class members. Try to take their feelings and uncertainties into consideration, and if anyone is to get laughed at, pranked, or embarrassed during the game, make sure it is you or someone you know very well that can take it.)
2. Games can help the leader establish authority and control over the class. (Control is not a dirty word!)
By definition, if you are the leader of the class, you are to be in control. Now, of course that doesn't mean people aren't allowed to think for themselves (contrarily, as a teacher, your main goal is to get them to think). Nor does it mean that it is wrong to let them ask questions or express their thoughts on a matter, although any of these, if allowed to go too far, can negate your leadership over the class. Being the leader simply means that you have the responsibility of taking a group of people in a particular direction that you are persuaded to go, but before you can effectively accomplish that, you need to have earned the respect of the group and to have gained that place of authority over them.
"How does a game help with that?" you might ask. Well, consider the following. First, you care enough about the class to have prepared a game for them to play (hopefully you have prepared well). Then you allow them to play that game, but they must play according to your rules. You give the instructions, and (hopefully) they decide to follow (even if they are reluctant at first). Whether or not they all enjoyed the game, you have hopefully gained some respect and authority, and hopefully you have established who is going to make the rules and enforce them in the class. If all goes well, they will now listen better when you say it is time to start the lessen.
3. Games can help teach a lesson.
They don't always have to do this, but sometimes the game you play can help teach a lesson. I wouldn't recommend forcing an application of a game to a biblical truth that just doesn't fit. Nor would I recommend building an entire lesson from a cool game you wanted to play. both of these are shallow and, I feel, scream "unprepared!" and "ill equipped!" But if in the preparation of your lesson you can think of a game that helps enforce what you are teaching, I think it is very beneficial to enforcing the lesson as well has helping the class to remember the truth of the lesson in the future.
4. Games can help review a previous lesson.
This has been my favorite way to use games in Sunday School. A simple game like Tic-Tac-Toe can be used to help you find out what the class is retaining, help reiterate some key points, and even help catch people up on some things they have missed in previous classes.
One recommendation here is to have "unit reviews," and use games for the review. I mentioned Tic-Tac-To above (certainly their are tons of other options), so let me give an example using the game Tic-Tac-Toe:
1. Divide the class up into groups (our class is small enough to play this game in two small groups which makes this easy)
2. Use a whiteboard, chalk board, paper, etc. to make your Tic-Tac-Toe lines (another option is to make it on the floor with tape and use actual people to be the X's or O's.
3. Ask one group a review question and give them time to answer (I would typically recommend letting the whole group discuss it together so that no one person is embarrassed for not knowing the answer, but if you know your class well enough it can be more effective to put the pressure on individuals)
4. If the group gets the answer right they get to place their X or O where they choose.
5. Play around with the rules and how you want to play the game, but remember that the main purpose is making sure they know the answers to the questions. Briefly remind the class of the answers whether they get them right or not. (Ex: "Correct. Remember how Rehab put the red scarlet chord in the window? We talked about how that RED chord can represent the blood of Christ. God saves those who have been "covered by the Blood...")
6. Reward the winners. It can be something simple like "you get to have the snack first, " or "You will get to be dismissed first..." (it doesn't have to be a big reward).
I realize this is nothing new. Teachers have used games in these ways for many years. But perhaps this post will inspire some teacher to plan out an appropriate game for their class that will help them be more successful in teaching.
I would caution, however, that you are mindful of the time. Don't allow the game to take over the lesson that God has for you to teach that class day. Make sure your games are brief and move quickly. You may even have to cut it off it continues too long.
Thanks for reading. God bless your ministry!