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Are Church Sports Ministries Committed?
By: Dr. Greg Linville

Organizing local church sports and recreation leagues is easy. What's difficult is implementing a local church sports outreach that truly transforms lives.

This article focuses on the commitment local churches need to make to effectively use the tool of sport to transform the lives of those who participate in their leagues. 

Some churches are considering eliminating their sports outreach ministries. As church revenues decrease during a current national economic depression, church leaders begin to question the effectiveness of many of their ministries. 

They are particularly struck by huge sports-related budgets and wonder if that money could be more effectively spent on other church ministries.

Are they right?  Perhaps, but a couple of considerations need to be entertained before "the plug is pulled."

Question Has the church ever really committed itself to fully maximize its sports outreach and incorporate it into the overall vision of the church?

Commitment is different than involvement. Athletes are involved when they "play around" recreationally with many sports but must be committed if they wish to participate in varsity sports. You can date many people but you only commit to one spouse. 

Most local church "involvement" with sports consists of entering a team into a softball, golf or bowling league or even running a few leagues but never go beyond offering a few prayers or devotionals at the end of a game. Some will host an event in which an elite athlete shares a testimony and call that sports outreach.  

All of these are examples of being involved in a sports ministry, but none should be considered models of effective sports outreach. 

It's not that celebrity-based events or a few guys playing softball together are bad activities, it's more that they have very limited returns, and it is these limited returns that cause some churches to contemplate dropping their sports ministry.

Conversely, a number of churches have truly committed themselves to systematically envision and implement a relevant, evangelistic sports outreach ministry. These endeavors are year-round, involve both genders, and encompass many ages and sports. 

The good news is that the churches that do commit to such endeavors reap huge rewards, but, by all evaluations, these benefits don't come easily or cheaply. 

The best news, however, is, while costly, well-thought-out and well-executed sports outreach ministry is extremely efficient and cost-effective.

The following are the basic criteria for becoming a church "committed" to reaching those far from God:

Senior Pastor
A senior or lead pastor who is committed to sports outreach is the single most important determining factor as to whether or not evangelism and discipleship will actually be maximized in the local church. 

Pastors need not be an athlete, nor do they necessarily need to coach a team or direct a league (although this is extremely effective). They do, however, need to be committed to systematically incorporate sports outreach into the overall mission and strategy of the church.

Other Church Leadership
Staff, elders and lay leaders of a local church also need to be committed to understand and embrace the goal of reaching those far from Christ through a sports outreach ministry. 

They need not believe sport to be the only strategy, but certainly must enthusiastically support it and synchronize it with other church ministries whenever and wherever possible. It is assumed that leaders and staff of the sports outreach ministry should be striving to cooperate with other church ministries, as well.

Church Finance Board
The bad news is that sports outreach is expensive.  The good news is that sports outreach is one of the few local church ministries that can actually generate financial revenues. 

Most church ministries (Sunday Schools, Bible Studies, Small Groups, Children's, Youth, Men's, Women's and Young Adult Ministries, etc.) carry a high financial overhead with little if any possibility of producing revenue. 

In contrast, sports outreach actually does produce revenue through participation fees, sponsorships, and other means.

Even if there are financial costs associated with sports outreach, church finance boards are wise to remain committed to fully fund their sports outreach ministry in the same way and in the same spirit as they fund all other church ministries. 

Furthermore, even if sports outreach didn't produce any revenues, and church finance boards had to fully fund their sports ministry, they can take heart in knowing they are committed to funding a most strategic, relevant, cost-effective, and successful local mission!

Church Organization
A church that is committed to organize according to a mutually agreed upon vision will be best positioned to effectively and efficiently accomplish the Great Commission and fulfill the Great Commandment. 

Sports Outreach Staff and Volunteers
Sports outreach staff and volunteers must also be committed to doing the hard work of staying on focus.  In the midst of organizing leagues, scheduling officials, preparing facility and equipment, recruiting coaches, restocking the concession stand, and settling disputes, it's easy to forget to prepare for the post-game team huddle or to forgo one's prayer time. 

Game strategies and team lineups are urgent and demand immediate attention, but staff and volunteers must stay committed to focus on the important tasks. They must "major on the majors," never neglecting the most important part of their ministry: reaching people for Christ.

Churches that are committed to pray will reap a harvest. The very best plans and implementation of a vision will be crippled if there is not a significant undergirding of prayer. 

Churches that recognize they "need not pray for the work, but realize prayer is the work" will see God move in mighty ways through their sports outreach ministry. 

It is not recommended for churches to restrict prayer to a prayer team, but rather incorporate regular personal and corporate prayers for all members.

Unless evangelism is intentional, it is accidental at best! 

Churches will only be successful in fulfilling the Great Commission if they commit themselves to intentionally envisioning and executing a plan for evangelism through their sports outreach. 

A church sports outreach will only be "involved" in "recreation" unless it is "committed" to make it evangelistic.

Dr. Greg Linville is the executive director of The Association of Church Sports and Recreation Ministers (CSRM), www.csrm.org.

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