Sports – Not the Enemy We’ve Made Them Out to Be
by Amy Diller
I was a children’s ministry leader for over ten years, and I’m going to be fully transparent with you. I remember numerous times being annoyed by kids’ sports. Sports meant families missed church regularly, and the parents who served as volunteers weren’t available during the season. Special activities seemed underwhelming, with lower attendance. It was so easy to be frustrated and discouraged because sports seemed to be more important than church. I imagine that some of you have felt this way, too.
So, how do we shift our mindset if sports feel like the enemy to church involvement?
Let Go of Assumptions
One of the most common things we assume about families whose kids participate in sports is that church is not a priority. When we focus on how sports can negatively impact church attendance, we mistakenly believe that those parents don’t view gathering with the body as a vital aspect of their faith. Parents make decisions about extracurricular activities for their kids, and sometimes, a sport means practices or games during Sunday and midweek services. But remember, these activities are only for a season. Families come back to church and re-engage. And if we truly view parents as the primary spiritual leaders for their kids, shouldn’t we trust that they are discipling them even when they are away from attending church in person for a time?
Leave Behind the Need to Compete
Sometimes, we feel like we need to compete with sports. We put ourselves under pressure to make things bigger and better to entice families to choose church over sports. That approach can backfire on us by causing us to feel deflated if attendance is low. It’s a good thing to plan events that are appealing to kids and families, but it’s another thing to do it to fight against sports. One of the ways you can work with sports schedules is to plan special events during off-season times when possible. Kids will enjoy the connection at church, and parents will appreciate your understanding. And always remember, attendance is not the best measure to gauge the effectiveness of the things we do. By releasing ourselves from the stress this creates, we can more easily see the positives of sports. Kids gaining the chance to learn lessons about teamwork, practicing to improve skills, and, most importantly, shining the light of Jesus on and off the field are wonderful things for them to learn.
Look for Opportunities to Connect
When we see sports as a positive thing for kids and don’t feel the need to compete, we are able to embrace the connections we can make with families. One of the ways we can connect is to provide at-home lesson materials parents can utilize as they spiritually lead their kids. Another thing to do is have someone record your lessons to watch online (or email to families if the curriculum you use is not your own and you need to avoid copyright issues.) The helpful thing is that the video quality of smartphones is really good, so it’s easy to have another volunteer film you. Doing this not only provides for kids who play sports but also for families who need to miss church for other reasons.
Another way to connect with kids is to attend some of their games. It’s okay if you can’t personally attend a game for every child; you can enlist some of your children’s ministry volunteers to go to games as well. Not only will kids and parents think it’s really special that someone from church came to see them play, it also gives you an opportunity to get to know parents better and build the trust relationship that’s so important.
If you can’t attend games, follow parents on social media sites. Many of them post about their kids’ sports. Paying attention to who is playing what and how their teams are doing puts you in the position to have conversations with kids when you see them – celebrating wins and commiserating over losses. When you connect with kids about things outside of church, it’s a unique type of bonding in relationships.
Sports don’t have to be viewed as an enemy of church attendance or spiritual growth and development as a disciple of Jesus. If we make sure parents have the resources to spiritually lead their families at home, we can trust that kids are learning and growing. When we choose to plan some events around sports seasons, we make it easier for families who would otherwise have game or practice conflicts. Looking for ways to use sports as an opportunity to make connections with kids and parents, helps ensure that everyone benefits.