|Looking for an outreach tool that connects with 90 percent of Americans in a language most of the world understands? A recreation and sports ministry could be it. In a leisure-oriented, sports-obsessed culture, churches are offering diverse ministries that tap into this widespread interest.
“Leisure hours have become the most important time in a person’s life. And sports accounts for a large part of that leisure,” said John Garner of LifeWay Christian Resources.
He cited a study indicating 90 percent of Americans watch, read about or participate in sports once a month and 70 percent have a weekly connection to sports.
As recreation and sports ministry specialist at LifeWay, Garner noted several advantages to ministry-based recreation and sporting events.
They are gathering places for people.
They can bridge cultural and ethnic barriers.
They provide an opportunity for church members to use their gifts and talents for the sake of the kingdom.
They increase a church’s visibility.
“We can offer activities to win the skateboarder, aerobics and nutrition classes to reach the fitness minded and basketball in a participatory way to reach every player, young and old,” Garner asserted.
Some church members have difficulty believing such unorthodox methods can be used for the gospel’s sake. But Garner contends Southern Baptists must use every tool available to capture a “leisure-oriented, unseeded and sports-crazy culture.” Traditional approaches such as revivals, crusades and Bible studies don’t work for everyone, he cautioned, while a sports and recreation ministry often hooks them.
Garner is quick to insist that a church-based sports and recreation ministry must be deliberate with a calculated plan to win people to Christ.
Otherwise, he warned, “We become like any other recreation and sports activity supplier.” Unchurched people may be more willing to attend a recreation event at a church than walk into a worship service.
“We have taken the position that the more hooks we have in the water, the more opportunities we have to lead people to Christ,” said Gregg Simmons, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Grapevine. “Each year we plan specific events that will offer a person a hearing of the gospel or at least build a relationship with them that will give us a later opportunity to share the gospel.”
Last spring the church hosted a Team Impact Crusade featuring committed Christian athletes doing feats of strength. “They were constantly sharing their testimonies and preaching the gospel,” Simmons recalled. Aimed at children and youth, Simmons said the event drew more people than would have ever attended a worship service. By following up on those new contacts, the church baptized a dozen people who heard the gospel presented at the event.
The Grapevine church has utilized other opportunities to reach the non-churched, including distribution of tickets to 200 guests who attended “The Passion” movie and hosting a classic car show and family carnival at their campus, drawing 800 people.
“Last Sunday night we bought out a water park in Bedford and encouraged members to bring their friends free of charge.”
Such events and ongoing programs draw participants from many cultures and races. At Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington, a predominantly Anglo church, recreation events such as the annual “Festival 31” held on Oct. 31 provide such opportunity.
“We have people of different races and cultures stand