Last week’s blog related the sad fact some churches are considering eliminating their Sports Outreach due to financial pressures and because they haven’t seen the results hoped for.
This week’s blog will articulate one of the key underlying causes for ineffective Sports Outreach: the “Disconnect” between the gym and sanctuary. It will discuss how churches can understand and eliminate this “Disconnect.” Ensuing weeks will analyze the commitment needed to do the hard work of evangelism and also discuss how to maximize a church’s Sports Outreach opportunities for church growth and evangelism
Understanding the Sports Outreach Ministry Disconnect Syndrome
Research done by CSRM has revealed a common dilemma faced by most churches engaged in Sports Outreach: The Sports Outreach Ministry Disconnect Syndrome. Most local church Sports Outreach Ministries do a good or even a great job of making connections with the unchurched of their communities. These Sports Outreaches are also often effective in relationally and verbally sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who participate in their leagues and activities. Unfortunately, few churches effectively assimilate new converts into the larger church family and into full spiritual maturity. Why? The Sports Outreach Ministry Disconnect Syndrome.
Simply stated, the Sports Ministry Disconnect Syndrome describes the chasm that exists between the gym and sanctuary of most churches. Here’s an anecdotal example…
He was desperate. “Everything we’ve tried has failed. I’m the Senior Pastor. I’m supposed to know how to do this, but I can’t figure out how to reach my community.”
Our Saturday morning discussion included a number of relevant issues. First, how did his church define the community they were called to reach: by geography, by demographics or both? Second, what was the population of that community? Third, what cultures or ethnic groups were present in that community? Fourth…I continued to pepper him with diagnostic questions as he gave me a tour of his facility and campus.
Classrooms? Commonplace and dark. Sanctuary? Beautiful but empty. Gymnasium? Far from being state of the art and a little undersized, but bursting with life.
Next we viewed a well groomed and spacious parking lot, filled with minivans and SUV’s. Beyond the sea of cars a three field soccer complex was brimming with excited adults cheering on energetic grade-schoolers who kicked black and white balls down the field.
I asked “how many people in these leagues are your parishioners?
He scanned the crowd. “I see about a dozen families.” This was perhaps 25% of the total.
“And how many in the gym are your folks?”
He paused, drew a mental picture of what we’d just visited and said: “probably 5 or 10 families.” Again, a low percentage.
I said nothing and continued to watch the soccer games. He looked at me, his frustration apparent and building. Beginning to wonder if he was wasting time and money on this consultant, he blurted out, “well can you help me or not? Can you tell me how to reach my community?”
My reply stunned him. “I can’t teach you anything my friend. Indeed, it is I need who need to learn from you!”
His puzzled look told me he still didn’t get it. I motioned to the cars in the lot and asked:
“How many of these cars will be here tomorrow morning?”
Unabashedly, he quickly pointed out “oh we don’t let them park here overnight, because we need the room for our….” His voiced faded as his face turned crimson. Bull’s-eye. The realization hit hard and yet the embarrassment quickly gave way to a relieved excitement as he haltingly stated the obvious.
“How did I miss it? I don’t need to go to the community, they’re already here! They’re coming to me!”
“Bingo! So, now are you ready to teach a seminar at the next Sports Outreach Summit on how to reach your community?”
That church, like many others, was sitting on a gold mine and didn’t even realize it. There was still much to do to help soccer and basketball families experience a personal relationship with Christ and assimilate them into the larger church body, but this church had already overcome a major obstacle – connecting with the “un-churched” community. They, like most churches engaging in Sports Outreach Ministry, were connected but still had much to learn about The Sports Outreach Disconnect.
To eliminate the Sports Outreach Disconnect Syndrome church leaders must make a commitment to work with the Sports Outreach Ministry of their church to build bridges from the “Gym to the “Sanctuary.”
The key concept of a bridge is it runs in both directions. People from the “Sanctuary” (church members and regular attenders) cross the bridge leading to the church’s local mission field (the church gym, ball field or fitness center) and when the Holy Spirit leads, they invite their new made friends and teammates to join them in the return trip to the “Sanctuary.”
These local church sports missionaries are greatly aided by church leadership who have strategically created the necessary conduit programs and processes which enable and empower their parishioners with activities which are attractive and relevant to their unchurched friends and teammates. These conduits bridge the chasm. The following outlines one church’s strategic “bridge” plan…
1. Organize a local sports mission softball team and commission them to play in the summer community open league to establish relationships with players on other teams. The first step goal it to invite unchurched athletes to play in the church’s “in house” fall softball league.
2. Organize 4-6 Lord’s Day evening “vesper picnics” to be held in local parks in the late summer and early fall.
3. Encourage all unchurched fall league players to come and “hang out” at the park and attend the vespers.
4. Invite all unchurched softball players to join in the late fall church basketball and volleyball leagues and/or fitness programs.
5. At the end of these indoor leagues in early December church members invite unchurched participants to attend special Christmas events which include Christmas musicals, pageants, plays and Candle light Christmas Eve services.
6. At the special Holiday services unchurched people are invited to come to a special dinner designed to meet the church pastoral team in mid January. This gathering would include an overview of the church and various programs available to church members and non church members alike. Invite all in attendance to a six week course held at the church on Sunday morning to learn more about what the church believes and does.
7. Every few months the church offers a special activity such as a couple’s retreat; financial seminars; recovery ministries; and/or a trip to a pro sports event which ends with one of the players sharing a post game testimony and youth retreats. They also encourage the unchurched to continue playing in upcoming leagues, but this time with another unchurched friend they would invite.
8. The church hosts a “Friend Sunday” in which everyone involved in the church Sports Outreach Ministry is encouraged to invite one of their teammates to the services. Often this is done in conjunction with “Super Bowl” post service dinner where videos featuring Christian testimonies of players are shown. These special “friend days” coincide with the beginning of the first week of the six week series on what the church believes and does. These services are planned so as to be extremely winsome and relevant to first time visitors.
9. These activities are repeated twice a year. Once in conjunction with Christmas and the other around Easter which are the two most likely times an unchurched person would attend a church service.
10. This process continues throughout the year in different sports. Summer softball outreach teams, are joined by winter basketball and volleyball teams which play in community open leagues in the mid winter and flow into Easter activities.
It should be obvious this church has conceived of a string of activities which systematically provide opportunities for their members who are regular “sanctuary” participants to reach out and bring their unchurched friends into the body life of the church.
Has your church created a similar strategic plan? If not, CSRM can help. Contact us at www.csrm.org.
For a deeper look at Local Church Evangelism Through Sport go to the following link where you’ll find a series of articles on this topic. http://www.csrm.org/article_redeeming_1.html
The next blogs will continue this discussion with the following topics.
1. Analyzing the depth of commitment needed to do the hard work of “evangelism”
2. Maximizing your church’s Sports Outreach Opportunities
Dr. Greg Linville was one of the founding members of CSRM and has served as the Executive Director since 2000. He served for 15 years as a local church sports and recreation minister and coached over 30 years at the junior high, high school and collegiate levels as well as 30 years in rec. leagues. Dr. Linville has consulted with churches from Australia, Africa, Asia, Australia, Caribbean, Europe, New Zealand and North America. He was awarded the world's first honorary Doctorate in Sports Ministry and holds an earned Doctorate as well. He is the author of Christmanship: The Theology of Competition & Sport. Dr. Greg has been married for over 35 years, is the father of two married children and the grandfather of a growing number of grandchildren.