For better or worse students choose sports because of the applause. Are we applauding our students? Not in prideful or wrong ways, but do kids come to our youth ministry and feel like they are recognized for accomplishments and when they do something good for God?
Kids choose sports because they belong to a group of people that has unity, connection, an identity and a common goal. Does our youth ministry? We should but do we? Do our kids know it or feel it when they come?
An adult wanting them to be there, caring for them and willing to push them to their limits and beyond. Someone willing to yell occasionally if needed both in encouragement and in instruction. Someone that is respected because of their knowledge and skills.
Kids play sports because there is a dream of a future doing this professionally or at least doing well enough to help them to pay for college. What is the dream or promise of the future that we offer in youth ministry? Are we working hard to talk about an adulthood living for Christ or are we just talking about the student years? Are we working to help students find scholarships to go to ministry schools? Are we talking about colleges and careers connected to faith?
Kids choose sports because it’s something that keeps them physically healthy. There is a sense of knowing that they are in shape physically, but also mentally & emotionally because of playing sports. Do students walk away from a year or “season” of youth group feeling spiritually healthy? How about physically healthy? With “Pizza-Festival” and “Mt. Dew Chug-A-Lug Night” are we missing out on a more health conscious generation?
Deep meaningful friendship and relationships are formed through sports. Through the rough 2-a-day practices, long bus rides, wins and losses, and more kids bond with others through a mutual interest. The reason why camps, retreats and especially mission trip experiences are so important is that they are longer opportunities and more intense times that build deeper connections. Are we providing meaningful opportunities to build deeper relationships with other students or just superficial spiritual cliques?
Kids choose sports over church because parents choose sports over church. Parents choose sports because they have something they can cheer for, be proud of, connect with other parents through and even find a way to connect with their kids through.
Are our ministries a place where parents are invited, welcomed and encouraged? Are they involved in bringing a snack? Are they allowed to come to see their child doing ministry? Are we communicating with them as much as a coach or sports league communicates with them? Are we providing a ministry that parents can be proud of their kids being involved in and even “brag” a bit about?
Everyone likes to be a winner. Everyone likes to win. Even in a changing world of everyone gets a trophy in the younger grades, late elementary through high school a win and a loss are defined. Everyone know clearly what is a win and a loss.
Do our youth ministries provide a clear idea of what is a “win?” Does anyone know what our “goal” is? The biggest question I get asked, all the time by others in youth ministry is- “How do you define success?” If we as leaders have a hard time defining a “win” or “success” our kids probably don’t know either.
Kids choose sports over youth group because of the memories of the past seasons, teams, coaches and excitement. Are we creating memories that make kids want to come back for another “season” with us?
Number One Thought…The Commitment
I hear students say it all the time, “I can’t come because I made a commitment to…” I hear parents say things like, “well we are trying to teach our kids if they commit to something, then they need to stick with it.”
We get frustrated by those statements and bemoan the lack of commitment to church, but have we ever taught or explained “committing your life to Christ” is more than a one-time, at the altar moment, but rather a “seek first His kingdom” lifestyle. Commitment is connected to priorities and what comes in first. Sports, after all, is about a commitment to coming in first place. Are our ministries, churches and even our own personal philosophy about seeking God first or are we just another organization seeking to come in first as we compete against the “other organization” down the road.
Just some passing thoughts from a youth pastor leading a youth ministry while also balancing being a “sports dad” to two athletes of my own!
DAN ISTVANIK is the 5th to 8th-grade pastor at Victory Church in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 20 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting he is also the youth ministry content writer for Parent Ministry.Net, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources like Youthworker Journal, Group Magazine, Download Youth Ministry, and more. Additional he shares daily Jr. high/middle school ministry specific resources, and hints on his own blog “The Middle Years” at: WWW.MIDDLEYEARSMINISTRY.COM