Sports Evangelism at Church: Does It Work?

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Our church is wrapping up it’s fifth season of Upward Soccer. It’s become a fixture on our calendar and I can’t imagine not doing it. But like any outreach program, it needs annual evaluation.
We broke all the rules when we first launched our first season. I was still in my first year at the church and we were without a pastor. The congregation was reeling from rapid shifts in leadership and division generations. At that point we only had about 30 kids attending during our main worship service.

I pitched the program to the church on a Sunday night, then paused for questions. One timid older lady raised her hand, “So, we’re going to play soccer against other churches?”
I had a lot of explaining to do.
That first year we registered nearly 80 players. The second year it rose to 120. Then a year at 150 and another at 180. This year down to 130 because we moved the program from Fall to Summer.
All this raises the obvious question of fruit. Has this ministry met it’s goals? Does it reflect excellence? Have we added new families to the church? Have members been empowered to serve? Have we introduced children to Jesus?
The answers are not as clear as I wish.

Overall using Upward has made our soccer league a model of excellence in our community. Every year kids come to our program for a family and kid friendly approach to sports. They love the positive experience we provide. The training, materials, and support from Upward has made this possible – especially since I knew nothing about the sport five years ago.
Each year we’ve added at least one new family to our church, sometimes more. These are usually estranged church members from other congregations. Our sports outreach has helped us connect with them and move them back toward active discipleship.
I credit the program will bringing our church together in difficult times. Our younger parents coach the teams while the older group work concessions or maintain the fields. We followed the Upward prayer guide and had hundreds of people lifting up the program to God.
The kids who came to Jesus are a different story. The short devotions during practice just didn’t lead to many spiritual breakthroughs. Yes, there have been kids who built on what they knew and took steps of faith. But overall I can not point to any specific conversions on the Soccer field. That’s not to discount the real impact on some kids who first connected with our church through sports later came to Christ in other programs.
Moving forwards, Upward Soccer has been a positive and healthy activity for our church. While I wouldn’t recommend it strictly for evangelism, it was very helpful for outreach and making new connections with un-churched families.

What Do You Think?

How about you? Does your church run a sports outreach? I’d love to hear about your experience. Simply leave a comment below to respond.

The top and middle photo from this post are use with permission from Tim Brister’s photo stream on Flickr.

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