"Strike one!" the umpire bellowed as Eric,
a 10-year-old Little Leaguer, swung and missed.
"Strike two!" after he swung once again.
"Strike three-you're out!" the ump yelled as Eric
turned, head down, to walk back to the dugout.
At the same time down the road, Pastor Brad's frustration mounted.
As he walked from room to room doing his weekly check-in with each
class, he couldn't ignore the obvious truth: Kids from every class
"Down again!" he muttered. He paused between rooms to stare out
the window at the green field with a game going in the distance.
Inside he seethed, wondering, "What in the world are those parents
thinking? Why can't they understand that church is infinitely more
important than some stupid baseball game? And why do all the sports
leagues in town schedule their games on Sunday mornings these days?
Why can't they leave that time for us?"
And so it goes. Sunday after Sunday, children's ministry leaders
everywhere bemoan how sports have taken over the weekend-the
entire weekend. After all the practices, games,
tournaments, and other activities related to sports, there seems to
be little time left over for church. And typically mild-mannered
kidmin leaders admit they feel frustrated, disappointed-even
soured-by the situation.
But should they? Is kids' involvement in outside activities really
an enemy of the church? of children's ministry? of spiritual
I'm not sure the same answer to those questions applies to every
child. But I do know this: A child's involvement in sports doesn't
have to be a hindrance to his or her spiritual growth and, in fact,
can greatly enhance it.
But rather than embracing sports functions as opportunities to
engage with and invest in children and families for spiritual
formation, we tend to strike out by taking offense to families
participating in youth sports. Here's the play-by-play.
STRIKE 1: Negative Attitudes Toward Sports
Whether your feelings are public or private, a negative attitude
will only impede your leadership when it comes to dealing with this
particular challenge. And the reality is, a negative attitude also
exhibits your inward focus-one that clearly communicates that you
believe what you and your church do is more important than what the
family chooses to do. This attitude can be disrespectful and
STRIKE 2: Lack of Awareness of the Community
When kidmin leaders schedule programs that conflict with community
events or when we over-program in general, we do a great disservice
to our families and put them in a difficult predicament. We also
risk alienating the very community we want to reach.
Keith Tusing, a children's pastor at Gulf to Lake Church in Crystal
River, Florida, and creator of CMBuzz.com, said this in a recent
blog post: "When missionaries go into a foreign country, one of the
things they invest a great deal of time in is discovering how the
community functions. Why would we attempt to reach our community
without the same mindset?"
Now does that mean we cancel children's ministry across the board?
Of course not. But perhaps we can feel challenged to get creative
as to when we offer our programs. Perhaps we can provide more than
one or two options for families. Perhaps we always check the
community calendar before we schedule the next big event.
STRIKE 3: Refusal to See Value in Children's Outside
It's ridiculous to think that kids won't want to participate in
activities other than ours-or that they can't benefit equally from
that participation. It's arrogant for us to believe that spiritual
formation happens only within the walls of our church, and
negligent to not embrace opportunities for spiritual growth beyond
the walls of our church.
As Eric's dad drives him home from the Little League game, he
takes the opportunity to talk to his son about failure: It's not
only an important lesson in baseball (in which great hitters fail
seven out of 10 times), but in life, too. Dad talks about how to
deal with failure from God's perspective, and the experience ends
up being a great life lesson for Eric.
Meanwhile, Pastor Brad is still fuming after church, talking with a
group of parents about how much it irritates him when sports win
out over church. The parents don't mention the soccer tournament
their daughter is playing in the next weekend. Instead, seeing how
upset he is, they offer reserved smiles and nod in
As ministry leaders, we don't want to strike out with anyone-not
kids, not parents, and not the community. Our goal is to hit a home
run with each group. But how? This situation won't go away. So how
do we adapt and offer programs at church but engage with those who
choose sports over church?
Every church has different demographics and different challenges.
Creativity within your own church environment will be essential to
stepping up to this challenge. Here are a few ideas to help you
step up to the plate and smash a homerun.
HOME RUN 1: Change Your Perspective
We often view the church as The Place where spiritual formation
occurs. While it should be a primary place of spiritual influence,
it's not the only place it happens. Deuteronomy 6:7-9 suggests
spiritual formation happens all over the place-on the road and at
home. Interestingly, church isn't even mentioned in that
What we do in church is important, but it's not the only important
avenue where spiritual formation happens. Being out and about in
the community presents tremendous opportunities for kids to engage
in the spiritual formation process. Rather than seeing this
challenge in a negative light, view it as a positive. Kids are
getting real-life, real-time exposure to experiences that can help
them grow in their faith.
HOME RUN 2: Partner With Parents Concerning
Our top goal shouldn't be church attendance numbers. Our top goal
must be spiritual growth-whether kids are in the church building or
on the sports field. What if our positive perspective led to a
genuine partnership with parents? What if, when families choose
sports, we equip them to be ambassadors for Jesus in that
Dave Truitt, a children's pastor at Mechanicsburg Brethren in
Christ Church, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, puts it this way: "What
if we took the church to the people? What if we saw the people who
go to sports instead of our programs as missionaries instead of
'skippers'? What if we talked to them about their decision and
acknowledged their struggle…and asked them to be missionaries on
those days they miss? Then they'd miss with purpose. I'm not saying
that we eliminate the gathering of believers for teaching,
equipping, prayer, worship, and more. But can we acknowledge the
decisions that families make and help equip them?"
I think equipping parents means two things in this area.
1. Help parents make good decisions about their child's
involvement in sports. One of the reasons families
choose sports over church, according to Sam Luce, a children's
pastor at Redeemer Church, Utica, New York, is because of the
"perceived benefit" kids gain from sports involvement. In Luce's
experience, parents see the value in sports to be relationships
(community) that the entire family experiences, as well as the
specific skill kids gain through participation (being a better
baseball player, for example). Do these same parents understand the
very real benefits of being in church? Are they experiencing valued
relationships? Have you invested the time to cast vision for what's
really happening in children's ministry-the real benefits and
eternal impact of their child being there?
As parents understand what's really taking place when their kids
are in church, they can effectively compare "apples to apples" and
make a better decision about whether their child is in church or on
the playing field. And at times, even with an adequate
understanding of church, they'll still choose sports. When this is
the case, here's your next play.
2. Help families serve as ambassadors for Jesus in the
community. The ball field offers an almost
unprecedented opportunity to engage your community outside of
church. Sports provide natural connectors, easy conversation
starters, and instant bonding agents. Why not help parents (and
kids!) take advantage of this opportunity to make an impact for
Craig Wilson, a children's pastor at Lifebridge Christian Church,
Longmont, Colorado, says "the challenge would be to get the 'sports
crazed' families to begin to think of that particular community as
a mission field, building relationships and engaging these other
families. To say, 'Hey, we realize [sports] is a value for your
family, but would you consider being intentional about your time
with these people [in the community]? How can you steer the
conversations to deeper things? How can we help you do
HOME RUN 3: Make Children's Ministry the Best of Families'
Okay, let's get real for a second: As children's ministry leaders,
we want kids in our ministries, right? We want parents engaged in
the spiritual formation process that we're trying to offer at
church. I get it, and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I'd
be a little worried if this wasn't the case.
But our approach is often one of entitlement, something along the
lines of: "They ought to be here just because it's church." Maybe
that's how it was decades ago, but that's not the case today.
Rather, our approach has to be: "We're going to make this a place
that families absolutely want to be part of."
• When children walk into our ministry, do they feel the same
excitement as when they're walking onto the playing field?
• Do children experience the same positive relationships in our
ministry as they do with their team?
• Do children and parents understand the purpose of church as
clearly as they understand the purpose of the sport they
• Do parents feel as comfortable in our environment as they do in
their child's sports environment?
• Are parents as equipped to "practice" spiritual formation in
meaningful ways at home as they are to help their child "practice"
their chosen sport?
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, then ask yourself
one more: What do I need to do to get closer to a
Eric showed up at church the following week with a couple of
his teammates, much to Pastor Brad's delight. Ironically, the
lesson Pastor Brad was teaching in children's worship was about how
Peter failed Jesus by denying him three times. On hearing this, the
boy blurted out, "That's okay, because God never gives up on us no
matter how many times we swing and miss. That's what my dad told me
when I struck out at my game last week!" Pastor Brad could only
smile as he realized that maybe church isn't the only place where
kids can learn about God. cm
Greg Baird is a 20-year veteran of
children's ministry. He now equips and connects kidmin leaders
through KidMin360 and KidMinJobs (KidMin360.com).
CONNECT THROUGH SPORTS
Use these ideas to engage your community through sports.
Become a coach. What if the local community Little
League could count on local children's pastors to be coaches? I
did, and I was soon asked to lead the prayer at the season opening
ceremonies, giving me instant rapport with kids, parents, other
coaches, and league organizers.
Serve on a league-organizing committee. It's not
necessarily a case of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em"-but what
better way to gain influence than to serve alongside the very
people you "compete" with on Sunday morning?
Start a sports program in your church. Whether it's a full
league, a weekly program, or a summer sports camp, bringing sports
to church is often a great way to engage the community and
communicate that you recognize their value in kids' lives. Here are
a few ministries that can help you: Upward Sports (upward.org), High Power Soccer (kidzmatter.com), and MEGA Sports