Sick and tired of competing with sports every Sunday? What do you do when kids and families attend sports events instead of coming to church on Sundays?
“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.
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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 were missing…
“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 formation?
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 Participation 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 divisive.
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 Activities 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 agreement.
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.