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Evangelism in Sports and Recreation Ministry
By: Cindy Bledsoe

For sports and recreation ministers who seek to change lives through sports, it is of great value to have specific information on how and when people actually come to a relationship with Jesus Christ. This information can serve as a strategic guide for sports and recreation ministers as we seek to design programming that will effectively facilitate evangelism.

The Barna Group, which is considered to be one of the leading research organizations regarding faith and culture, gives us valuable information on the topic.

Based on their research, I have proposed some key points in designing an effective evangelism strategy for sports and recreation ministries. I hope you will find this helpful.

Key Point 1
Sport and recreation ministries should have a broad program offering incorporating all ages but with a special focus on children and teens up to age 18. According to the Barna Group, “A substantial majority of the people who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching their 18th birthday.”

The Barna study further indicates that “nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their 21st birthday.

Taking into account that a substantial majority of people accept Christ before their 18th birthday, tied with the fact that many sports and recreation ministry participants fall within this age group, provides a unique opportunity for evangelism in the sports and recreation ministry field. It is absolutely vital for ministries to see not only the opportunity for evangelism, but to make it a priority in their ministries.

Key Point 2
Sports and recreation ministries should actively seek to work with and equip parents in the spiritual development of their children. Ministries should also make it a priority to minister specifically to parents and their own spiritual development in addition to a family focus.

According to the Barna Group, “Among Christians who embraced Christ before their teen years, half were led to Christ by their parents, with another one in five led by some other friend or relative.”

Relational evangelism emerges as the most important avenue for evangelism to the pre-teen age group. Coaches, instructors and peers will also have a significant role to play in the evangelism process alongside parents and sports and recreation ministries should seek to equip these individuals in evangelism methods.

A great resource for this is the book "The Game Plan" by Tim Conrad. Parents and their children can read and discuss this at home, and it is a great resource for church leagues.

Key Point 3
Relational evangelism is a key strategy for effective evangelism to people between ages 13 and 21.

The Barna Group research shows that, “Among people who accepted Christ when they were between age 13 through 21, one out of five credited a friend with bringing them to Christ, and a similar proportion said their parents were responsible for their decision. One-fifth also recalled an event as the trigger for their commitment. One-sixth of the people saved as teens (16%) listed a relative other than their parent as the primary influencer. Ministers were cited by one out of every 10n Christians who accepted Christ during the 13-to-21-age bracket, while media and special personal situations were listed by only 1%.”

Some sports ministries still rely on "big event" style evangelism as a key strategy in their ministries. This entails inviting a pro athlete as a speaker, handing out tracts, etc. Although this can have a positive impact, the research clearly shows this is hardly the most effective strategy to follow.

Rather, sports ministries should focus on developing year-round ongoing missional leagues that are led and coached by youth advisors/ministers and general parishioners who can naturally invite youth to participate in youth groups, etc. It is interesting to note that relationships with friends have become just as important as relationships with parents as a force in the decision-making process regarding belief in Christ with this age group.

Sports and recreation ministries should enable believing peers and parents in evangelism as well as coaches, instructors, etc. Events also have the opportunity for great impact with this particular age group. Therefore, events designed specifically to reach this group should be incorporated by sports and recreation ministries.

Key Point 4
Sports and recreation ministries should focus on team sports as a way of reaching the adult age group within their ministries. Team sports provide the perfect avenue for relationships/friendships to be build within which the gospel can be shared.

According to the Barna Group, “Adults who accepted Christ as their savior generally responded to different stimuli than did younger people. The most common precipitant was a friend (19%), followed by mass media experiences (14%), a live event (14%) or a relative (13%). Ministers were responsible for leading one out of every 0 adult converts to Christ while parents of adults were named as the evangelistic influence by one in 12 (8%) of these believers.”

Relational evangelism again features as a mainline strategy and should be supplemented by events that will draw and engage this age group.

Key Point 5
Sports and recreation ministries should be positioned as one of the primary evangelistic avenues of the church.

According to George Barna, "The weekend church service is no longer the primary mechanism for salvation decisions; only one out of every 10 believers who makes a decision to follow Christ does so in a church setting or service. On the other hand, personal relationships have become even more important in evangelism, with a majority of salvation decisions coming in direct response to an invitation given by a family member or friend.”

The relationships that naturally form within the sporting context provides unique and numerous opportunities for people to come to Christ. Sports and recreation ministries should feature as a key part of the overall evangelism efforts of the church.

Cindy Bledsoe is the Southeast regional director for Church Sports Outreach, www.csosports.org.

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