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Are You Sick and Tired of Competing With Sports?

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?


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?”

Good question.

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 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 passage.

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 Sports

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 environment?

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 the 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 Jesus?

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 that?'”

Home Run 3: Make Children’s Ministry the Best of Families’ Week

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.” Ask yourself:

  • Do children experience the same positive relationships in our ministry as they do with their team?
  • When children walk into our ministry, do they feel the same excitement as when they’re walking onto the playing field?
  • Do children and parents understand the purpose of church as clearly as they understand the purpose of the sport they play?
  • 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 “yes”?

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 and MEGA Sports Camp.

Author Greg Baird is a 20-year veteran of children’s ministry. 


6 thoughts on “Are You Sick and Tired of Competing With Sports?

  1. Avatar

    I certainly value the article and I believe it is a good starting point. However, I am not sure that I agree with this statement, “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.”

    There is much to say for honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy. Most Christians do honor the Sabbath on Sundays. A “negative attitude” might be a general disheartening that our families (and overall many in the church as a whole) fail to honor the Sabbath.

    • Avatar

      Thank you for that reply. I was wondering if I was the only one that did not agree with that statement. Yes, family is important, but the way I was reading into the article, it seemed like it was family first and Jesus second. I appreciate the writer and the article. It did get us to thinking.

  2. Avatar

    I agree with Robin. This article is good and I do believe we have to be creative with how we handle these ongoing situations, however I feel the parents are showing the children that sports is more important than God and their faith life if they continuously pick sports and other events over their church life. I do believe outside activities are good and involve family time and I would hope that like the article states that the parents would incorporate God in their discussions however sadly if the children aren’t at church growing their faith life the parents aren’t there either.

  3. Avatar

    Good article! I agree we need to be in the community being intentional ambassadors for Christ. And I hope that the many parents who are missing church on Sunday with their kids are doing this! In some cases, I believe this is true, in others, I’m not so sure this is happening.

    I agree that spiritual development is the responsibility of parents, but attending church goes far beyond just being discipled. Church is a vital part of the believer’s life. When families choose not to go to church, they miss Christian community and corporate worship.

    We need to be on mission to the lost, and doubly so, we need our faith to be built up. We need to be strengthened by other believers. Whether we gather at church on Sunday, Sunday night, Wednesday or in a Life Group, families need to give this gathering every week as much importance as they do sports. It’s imperative to their spiritual strength.

    The writer of Hebrews tells us, “let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

    Being a Children’s Minister full time for 16 plus years and a leader for yet another 15, I have seen the faith of children who attend regularly remain strong. They grow up serving, being encouraged by Christian friends and sharpened by other believers and eventually most lead in some capacity. On the other hand, I have seen children who sporadically attend not have the same faith, support or desire to be involved. Obviously, there are unique situations in both, but the majority is what I described.

    If we really care about the family, we will encourage them to make the church a priority. I went to Turkey recently to teach the persecuted church on marriage and family. The unique view they had on the church is one we need to adopt in America. They saw the church as a person – the bride of Christ, whom Christ died for; they made every effort to gather with their church family up to four times or more a week; their kids were very much included. Many of the children were coming to faith in Christ! Nothing interrupted this time. And these people worked 12-hour days seven days a week to support their families. These people suffer greatly but their strength is found in the corporate worship with other believers, the reading, and studying of scripture (together) and the prayers they pray for one another.

    I have worked with many families and most struggle with misappropriating their priorities. One of them is making church optional; without realizing it, they are teaching their kids that the church, God’s bride, is optional too. It’s hurting their kids and ultimately their faith.

    There is nothing wrong with sports, drama, arts, etc., unless it replaces our faith and the gathering with God’s bride. It matters to God that we gather, so it should matter to us.

  4. Avatar
    Susan Edgerton

    I appreciate the perspective presented in this article. Having ministered to kids for over 40 years, I have seen many changes and that is just life. It used to be people rarely worked or even shopped on Sundays, now it is common. A variety of options for church can meet the needs of many. Online services services, home groups, multiple weekend and midweek options are all good. Churches that refuse to change will struggle to remain relevant to young families.

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