Is Sports Outreach Effective?
This is a reprint of a blog from February 2015....
This series of blogs addressing the question: Is Sports Outreach Effective continues the conversation on the third Sports Outreach Ministry Continuum. What follows is intended to begin a conversation based upon the hard questions asked within. It is not written so as to be intentionally offensive or hurtful. All truth seekers are invited to continue.
Sports Outreach Continuum of Tension #3:
Local Church Sports Outreach – Para-Sports Ministry
Earlier in this series (see February 2015) I stated there was an insidious dilemma facing the Sport Outreach Movement in regards to a Level #1 Theological Truth concerning evangelism that often pits local church Sports Outreach Ministries at odds with sports-based Para-ministries. Previous blogs in this series provided a brief history of local church sports outreach and an overview of its theological, philosophical and subsequent methodological approach to “evangelistic-disiplemaking. This blog shares a brief historical perspective of sports-related Para-ministries and also looks at their philosophical and methodological foundations…
A Brief Historical Overview of Sports Based Para-Ministries
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) was founded in 1954 by professional athletes such as Bob Feller and Otto Graham. Campus Crusade followed suit about ten years later with its Athletes in Action Sports Ministry. Since then, hundreds of sports related Para-Ministries have been instituted; most were established since 1980. Of course some might suggest the YMCA was the first Sports Ministry. Indeed, it began in 1844 and was an excellent Para-ministry but, the Y did not begin as a sports-based ministry. It did eventually add a “physical” department but sadly, while it wisely added sports and fitness methodologies, for the most part it Capitulated its Christian distinctive and the YMCA no longer has Evangelism or Discipleship as its purpose for existence. (See my other writings for a much broader history of the Y and all things Sports Ministry).
Sports-Related Para-Ministry Philosophy and Methodology
Philosophically, the vast majority of sports related Para-Ministries focus on athletes and coaches. Two main Methodologies are: a) Chaplaincy work which includes team Bible Studies and outreaches with some being campus based and others team or club based; and b) Mega-event and/or multi-media outreaches which focus on providing a “platform” for athletes to “proclaim” their faith via a speaking opportunity or through various media outlets.
All such Para-ministries claim to have great success when it comes to the twin Evangelical endeavors of Evangelism and Discipleship. But do they? If all the numbers of “decisions for Christ” reported by these ministries were combined, the entire world would be Christian today! The statistic that most accurately communicates success however, is not how many "decisions for Christ" were made, but rather is, how many of the athletes and coaches associated with the Para-ministries become life-long disciples of Christ including regular and significant involvement with a local congregation.
What’s the Problem?
You might be asking “what’s the big deal as long as everyone is focused on Evangelism?” That question can be answered by asking a different question. If Para-Ministries are so successful, then why hasn’t this success resulted in the growth of the Church? If the philosophy of Para-ministries is so significant and the methodologies of Sports Chaplaincies, Mega-Sports-Outreach-Events, Platform Evangelism and Mass Media communication of the gospel are so fruitful, then why has church attendance continued to dwindle in the very countries in which sports related Para-ministries have flourished and claimed such great success? It could be argued church attendance would have fallen even lower had it not been for the efforts of Para-ministries, yet this is refuted by the fact that other than a few notable exceptions, elite athletes and coaches are not intimately involved with local churches. Of course, the local church must also “look in the mirror” to see if their philosophies and methodologies are working but the bottom line is, the numbers simply haven’t matched the expectations claimed by Para-ministries fundraising appeals.
The relevant question for both local congregations and the sports related Para-ministries is: “how many Disciples of Christ have been added to the ranks, rather than how many decisions were recorded.” Evangelistic-disciplemaking should be judged by how many new Disciples of Christ are produced, not by how many prayed a prayer with a counselor, filled out a card at an event, raised their hand at a meeting or “went forward” at service.
Relevance of the 3rd Sports Outreach Continuum
Future blogs will address the relevance of the Local Church – Para-ministry continuum and work towards a proposal for a synthesized Philosophical Principle to produce a truly effective and efficient Methodological Model.
Other blogs and articles on Local Church Sports written by Dr. Greg Linville are archived at: www.csrm.org and http://www.csrm.org/blog201112-2.html This blog is an excerpt from Dr. Linville's yet to be released book. All rights reserved. For any reproduction right, including copying, computer reproduction, etc. contact:
Dr. Greg Linville at CSRM International C/O The World Outreach Center 5350 Broadmoor Circle N. w. Canton, Ohio – USA 44709 or firstname.lastname@example.org
My Experience in Sport & Rec Ministry
I serve as an administrator of sports and recreation at a local church and as an adjunct professor for sport management and ministry. In addition, I have been an athlete, coach, spectator, and a parent. This means I have spent many hours watching games, observing practices, researching, and sitting in the stands. My roles and experiences have helped me come to understand the struggle of integrating the Christian faith within the sporting context.
Through my own personal growth and struggles, as well as research in the areas of integration of faith within sports, I have found this to be an area in which transformation and discipline are needed. Yet, for the Christian athlete, parent, or coach, there seems to be a struggle or a wrestling to integrate faith and sports. This struggle has led them to respond in a “compartmentalized” manner that adheres more towards our secular and global sports culture than that of Christian response and play.
Recently I have found myself in a number of gyms in which I witnessed contradicting behavior. While I don’t know every detail, and only God can truly know, it strikes me odd that coaches, parents, and leaders of recreation ministries and athletic teams believe they are developing and living out Christian principles of faith and honoring God, while at the same time, dehumanizing the referees, gossiping with others about the integrity of the other coach, and verbally abusing players for their performance. Why has this become the norm? How can someone speak of sports as an opportunity to teach character while behaving in a way contradictory to the gospel? How can one confess Christianity, but bear such un-Godly fruit within sixty minutes of athletic competition? This answer is compartmentalization.
Compartmentalization can be defined as the space in which an area is subdivided. Imagine a house diagram where each room is a “compartment” within the entire space of the house. Certain rooms hold certain belongings that are not integrated within the rest of the rooms or house.
Compartmentalization allows for putting the areas in which we are unsure of how to live in room, while behaving in the culturally expected actions of the activity. Compartmentalization allows for separation of actions while still believing we are living within Christian principles.
Compartmentalization is not a new concept. Ancient Greek philosophers spoke of compartmentalizing life into five realities: physical, mental, social, financial, and spiritual. Today’s psychologists refer to compartmentalizing as consciously separating life into compartments as a way of avoiding negative emotions. Business leaders suggest we even compartmentalize our work so that we are able to separate work issues from real life. While compartmentalization can be beneficial in certain areas, it is not a biblical concept.