The Church has utilized many ministry strategies throughout history: hospitals, schools, arts, music, dance etc., but sport has a few distinctive advantages over other worthy endeavors…
A. Its Relevance
1. Sport attracts the two missing groups of most churches. Men and youth. What’s the common denominator? Both are hormonally challenged!
2. Any one with teens will tell you they are often “bouncing off the walls” because they have so much energy. In addition, it’s well documented the male hormone drives men towards activity. Most youth stop attending church shortly after the church stops providing refreshments, recreation and activity-based learning – usually about grade 3 or 4. Men get and stay involved in churches providing manly “roles and rolls.” It is important to feed men and provide them with roles based on activity rather than communication but it is vital to “challenge” men with the adventure of following Christ. Churches engaging in dynamic activities for youth and men will grow.
3. Sports activities and sports facilities attract people. There’s something about seeing: families enjoying a parking lot of “inflatable games;” men kicking up the dust on a softball field; young adults running and jumping as they play ultimate Frisbee; or women digging and spiking volleyballs. Far more people are attracted to athletic pitches, fields and courts than ever think to attend a church service because the church has beautiful architecture.
4. Sports activities provide continual marketing opportunities. Local papers keep league standings and will often advertise your upcoming leagues and activities for free. The print and other news media are always looking for innovative activities to feature and sports, tournaments and events all provide great stories for media in need of continuing story lines.
B. It fulfills church growth principles
1. It focuses on outreach. Most churches know they will not grow if they don’t evangelize. Yet they are often unaware of a very dangerous principle called “maintenance creep.” The shift from “outreach,” to “pastoral care” is often so subtle most churches aren’t even aware it is occurring until it is too late and their evangelistic efforts are no longer receiving the priority needed for continued success. Sports oriented activities are naturally attractive to the unchurched in ways unparalleled by any other ministry.
2. It provides a role for everyone. Traditional churches are based upon verbal skills. Preaching, teaching, fellowshipping and even singing are all based upon verbal exercises. These activities are perfect for those who are gifted communicators. Not so much for those who are more inclined to activity. Many people are excluded from being able to serve or lead within the church. A sports outreach opens up roles for many non-involved parishioners.
3. It provides a natural “back door” activity that church members can invite friends, families and co-workers to.” Whereas, most un-churched people are not receptive to invitations to a church service, they are very open to playing on a softball or football team. Furthermore, it provides a continual opportunity for relationships to deepen and develop because sports leagues occur at least once a week for months at a time. This becomes even more relevant by the fact it normally takes 6-7 years for a totally non-churched, secularized, non-believer to come to a personal faith in Christ! Most church outreaches last one hour, one day or perhaps in the rare occasion, one week. Sports keeps people involved for years, greatly enhancing outreach success.
C. It has built in accelerators
1. The accelerator of relevance is primary. The statistics of how many people participate and are interested in sport fluctuate each year but regardless of the year or the study the results are always the same: vast majorities of people are involved in sport, thus making it the most relevant connection to a secular world the church has.
2. The accelerator of relationships is crucial to the overall goal of reaching and discipling those far from God. Men who met each other for the first time just prior to the game physically embrace one another after a teammate “puts one in the net.” Sports bring disparate people together quicker than any other ministry.
3. The accelerator of communicating faith is unparalleled. Sporting analogies, metaphors and experiences provide unique, insightful and relevant ways to communicate a personal and growing relationship with Christ.
D. It is cost effective
Would those who attend your Christian Education classes pay money to attend? Do you charge those attending your youth group or small groups? Yet, millions of people pay churches up to $150 per person to participate in leagues or other sporting activities. In addition, local businesses are willing to sponsor teams or otherwise advertise at your sports facilities and events. Concessions, sports gear and fundraisers such as marathons and tournaments are all “economic engines.” Sports ministries are far more cost effective and have a far greater potential for raising funds than any other ministry in the local church.
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.