Aiphone banner

Today’s Sports and Recreation Ministries

June 12, 2023 jill Blog
Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmail


By Kevin Cook

Basketball practice for my church youth basketball team took place in one of two places for us back in the late ‘70s.

The first practice location was the top of a barn. There was a door on the floor that opened so we could enter after climbing a ladder. Finger holes in the floor were used to open the door after practice was over. There were no windows. The barn walls marked the edges of the court. The rims were attached to the walls on each end of the barn.

The other practice location was an Armory. This expansive warehouse of old military equipment had a concrete floor with tape marking the foul line and key. Here, I earned the nickname “The Hawk” for my ability to swoop in and steal the ball from would-be shot takers.

Everything has changed since those days.

According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, there are 60 million participants in the youth sport category in the United States. There are nearly 61,000 registered youth sports clubs.

The fastest-growing youth sport is lacrosse, but basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, and football are the most popular. Of note, bike riding is still a kid’s favorite activity.

Athletics and sports are where the kids are. And, where the kids are is where parents can be found, as well.

Over the recent 20 years, contemporary worship centers of all types have created sports and recreation gathering places to not only cater to the interests and needs of members, but, more importantly, to open the doors and windows through which faith-based messages can be heard.

In many ways, this is not unlike the feeding of loaves and fishes to the hungry 5,000 and then taking the opportunity to deliver messages of grace and timeless lessons to the disciples.

Recently, I visited a worship center on a Saturday. The place was packed with kids, parents, grandparents, friends, and other family members. A local Sherriff’s Deputy was stationed at the main entrance to direct traffic in and out of the parking lot. This happens almost every Saturday.

Inside the facility, a line formed around the concession stand where hot dogs and other stadium-like foods were sold. There were tables for folks to gather, have lunch and chat. There wasn’t a traditional worship service taking place, no Christmas Cantata or Easter play. It wasn’t Mother’s Day. It was Saturday league basketball.

The facility boasted three indoor basketball courts, scoreboards, referees, and grandstand bleachers. It was standing room only.

All three courts went silent for halftime, and a pastor appeared on large monitors facing each court and the bleachers. A pre-recorded faith-based message was delivered, followed by an invitation to adopt the principle of faith shared, join other church activities, and a short prayer.

This was repeated throughout the day as different ages of players and their families flowed through the doors. All in, the “church” served roughly 1,000 people through the course of the day. The next day, Sunday, the traditional day of worship, maybe 250 people were in attendance for Sunday School and the a.m. Worship Service.

Near my home, a new and attractive church building has sprung up on a prime piece of real estate with access from a busy thoroughfare.

Adventure Church has a clean, crisp, contemporary website with images of happy people all wearing comfortable clothing, smiling, and talking with each other. The Adventure Church Mission Statement includes “…to create a relevant environment where they (people) can experience God and encounter His grace…”

Among other things, this church offers Life Groups where interested people can get involved with other people who may share common interests, whether the interest is raising young children or fishing, hiking, and camping. Groups also include Bible study.

Another church near my home, Genoa Baptist, offers similar experiences for the community, including sports programs, a wide variety of support groups and online connection opportunities.

Both are examples of churches finding ways to meet and connect with people at their point of need. Both are showing ways to share the message and to show grace in action wherever and whenever possible.

Another local church, Orange Friends Church, built the classic “Cafegymatorium.” This large room functions as a sanctuary for Sunday worship service, a large dining hall, an auditorium for concerts, and a polling place for the local voting precinct.

This last purpose is how I know this church. As a poll worker, I’ve spent 15-hour days in the facility. Ironically, while there, I’ve read all about the mission and message. I’ve read all the readily available materials about missionaries, food programs and outreach initiatives. (Like the stained glass windows of old broadcasting stories from the Bible, these materials broadcast messages of grace.)

While in the building, I met church members who were living their faith by serving others. I’ve been in the church and have become comfortable being there. I know where the restrooms are.

While not specifically sports related, this is another example of the church becoming a community center so that community members feel comfortable, welcomed, and part of the church community.

The Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19 says, “Therefore go and make disciples….” The scope of this charge includes finding ways to teach, inspire and model discipleship in a changing world.

Sports and recreation activities, church-sponsored leagues, community center-based venues are ways modern churches can use facilities to platform the messages of acceptance, respect, love and grace.

Years ago, I took part in a Work and Witness trip to the Dominican Republic. My one memory of that trip was an impromptu baseball game on a hot dusty field with a group of locals.

Strangers all, language barrier, cultural distance, yet by the time the game was over, a connection was formed, friendships were created, and a door was opened.

I had a theology professor tell me that grace is often caught more than taught. Churches engaged in outreach through sports and recreation are examples of this idea in action.

Kevin Cook is the vice president for business development for Americana Outdoor, Through its brands LA Steelcraft and PW Sport & Site, Americana Outdoors encourages all types of athletic pursuits.