Many of us in ministry have love-hate relationship with sports! We have students that haven’t attended midweek programming in months or years due to sports. We have volunteers that can’t commit to leading small groups because they have to be chauffeurs to their kids in sports. We have youth volunteers in children’s ministry that take 4 months off from serving due to sports. How do you compete with sports in today’s culture?
I used to think that we had to do better job convicting parents and students on the importance of committing to church on Sundays or midweek youth programs. I thought we had to do better job in helping them understand that investing in spiritual lives is way more important than sports. I thought working harder to change the thinking of the families to go against the societal pressures would do the trick. After all, I grew up knowing that church activities were non-negotiable in my family. Unless I was deathly ill or had extenuating circumstances, it was expected of me to go to church on Sundays and midweek youth group gatherings.
However, after over 20 years in ministry, reality hit. While we can continue to encourage families to put faith at the forefront of their weekly schedules, we are just not going to change the culture. We can continue to swim against the current stream of culture, and few families may make decisions to make church their priority, but we aren’t going to get everyone to swim upstream. Besides, if the mission of the church is to share the gospel to the unchurched… how will we ever get unchurched students out to midweek programming when their priority and commitment is already to sports. So instead of just working on changing the culture… my line of thinking turned to “how can we leverage our culture?” I have three starting point suggestions:
- At our church campus, we formed a “reimagine team” consisting of student ministry directors, parents, volunteers, and students. They met for 6 months to “reimagine” what student ministries could look like. One of the priorities was figuring out the best time for student ministries to meet with minimal conflict with sports and other extracurricular activities. What we have learned is that we can’t compete with sports… and it would be foolish to try to. Therefore, when it was all said and done, we have decided to move midweek gatherings to Sunday evenings from 4-6pm. We happen to have Sunday service at 5pm for adults, so it helped align some service times. We knew this was a bold move since many families are trying to get ready for the upcoming week on Sunday evenings… but this was one evening where there weren’t very many sport or other extracurricular activities happening. Therefore, we took a chance, and the result was something we never had imagined. Our midweek gathering averaging 45 students more than doubled on our first Sunday meeting – total attendance of 119! We couldn’t believe our eyes! Now that it’s been 4 months, our average attendance continues to be around 90-95. This is still double what we used to average on Wednesday evenings.
- Bring youth gatherings to where sports are happening! We’ve been commissioned to “go out” and yet we spend most of our time trying to bring students into our church buildings, and fret over the fact that our number are low. What if you were to take your group and cheer for your students on their local football, soccer, basketball, and baseball games? Pray for the players ahead of time and display what it means to love on your students as well as the whole community. Bring goodies (hot cocoa/coffee, team colored beads, hats, signs, etc) to share with other attendees (make sure you’re not competing with school or other community fundraising efforts). Invite players and attendees to an upcoming event happening at your church. Be a church that loves and serves the community! We used to ask the question at my old church, “would the community miss us if we ever left this area?” Bring the church to the sports community in such a way that the answer would be a quick “Yes!”
- Partner with a local sports ministry outreach. I had no idea just how effective sports ministries could be until I started volunteering with global sports outreach ministries 6 years ago. I’ve been able to connect with incredible sports ministries around the globe. We all agree that most churches still struggle with launching effective sports ministry, but below are few organizations and resources that I’ve come across that are already doing something phenomenal and/or can help launch share the gospel through sports. Below links are just few places you can go to get started, but please contact me if you’re interested in finding out more or if you have any specific questions.
- North Coast Calvary Chapel now has a full-on sports ministry and reaching out to their community in incredible ways: (http://northcoastcalvary.org/ministries/outreach/whole-life-sports/)
- Christian Skaters International Ministry (http://www.christianskaters.com/)
- Sports & Ministry from Lausanne Report: https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2014-05/sports-ministry-and-evangelism-how-an-incarnational-and-service-emphasis-underpins-effective-evangelism
- United Methodist Communications: http://www.umcom.org/learn/8-ways-to-start-a-sports-ministry
As we all know, youth sports have become part of our culture that is probably not going to go away any time soon. Instead of seeing sports as an obstacle… why not build bridges into our culture through sports so we can reach more with the good news of the gospel.
Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.