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8 ways to start a sports ministry

Want a fun way to engage seekers of all ages? Sports and recreation ministries expand opportunities for your congregation to connect with each other and the community.  

Living a God-centered life can involve a little sweat, fun and competition. Any church or cluster of congregations can consider starting an exercise class, developing a sports league or serving as a center of recreational activity. Consider these 8 ways to start a sports ministry.

  1. Build it. 
    In Mobile, Ala., Christ United Methodist Church built Christ Center, a community recreational facility, the hub of its sports and recreation ministry. Since more than 90 percent of people surveyed said they participate in or watch some form of sport or recreation weekly, the recreation center seemed a natural opportunity to reach as many people as possible.
  2. Assess interest. 
    A successful sports and recreation ministry should be developed with involvement from the congregation. Survey members to identify what activities interest them. Ask how they would be willing to work in the ministry (teach, coach, play, attend). Analyze results and see how your existing facility could accommodate the ministry's beginnings. Perhaps a nearby school could share its sports field for league play. You could move furniture in your church's community room to accommodate a weekly yoga class. 
  3. Inspire others. 
    Mobile's Christ United Methodist Church wanted to reach and minister to people through sports and recreation "not only entertain, but [also to] strengthen bodies, sharpen minds and introduce people to clean, 'love inspired,' competitive sports, fitness programs, family outings and personal activities that will become a point of contact with the other ministries of the church."

    Open to church members and their guests, the CUMC center offers recreational facilities and sports leagues each season—soccer in fall, basketball in winter, baseball in spring and flag football in summer. Students are divided by grade. All sports except baseball are co-ed. Seasonal fees range from $40 to $75. Its detailed Web site offers sign-up information as well as electronic copies of brochures that could be printed and shared (scroll to bottom of home page for brochures). 
  4. Offer more than athletics. 
    Tap into your congregation's expertise or find other community members interested in sharing their talents by teaching a class. In addition to sports teams in soccer, hockey and basketball, Atlanta's Northside United Methodist Church's Sports and Recreation Ministry has classes that encompasses such areas as art, yoga, ballet, drama, and more.
  5. Further the church mission. 
    Matthews United Methodist Church in North Carolina sees its recreation ministries as a way to further its mission of reaching, teaching and serving. It offers fitness programs. Cardio Dance is offered once a week, Forever Young workouts with weights and stretching three times a week and their Sit N Fit program offers exercise opportunities for those wanting to increase stamina and strenght in a safe way for those unable to do regular programs. Childcare also is provided for all classes. Fun and fellowship for men comes in the form of pick-up basketball in the gym one scheduled evening or afternoon a week. The pick-up games require little administrative effort, just someone to open the doors and welcome the players.
  6. Don't go it alone. 
    Matthews UMC partners with Christ Covenant Church to have seasonal sports leagues through SOAR (Sports Outreach And Recreation) Sports. Since 1990, the Christ Covenant Church national program has touched more than 25,000 youth whose coaches and referees follow Jesus' teachings and see what it means to have good sportsmanship, Christian character and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 
  7. Get into the wider community. 
    Do not limit your sports and recreation ministry to your congregation. Welcome everyone by posting fliers and signs about the activities at community centers such as the YMCA, local park bulletin boards or school gymnasiums.
  8. Involve everyone. 
    Involving the entire church community can happen at least one Sunday each year. Celebrate "Sports and Recreation Sunday." Invite participants in the church's sports and recreation programs to attend a service, wearing their uniforms. Then gather afterward for a dinner. Be sure to include plenty of vegetables for vegetarians. One church uses the celebration meal to raise money for scholarships for the sports ministry.