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Basketball camp opens new Gospel opportunities for Massachusetts church

A young camper at basketball camp at First Baptist Church, Sudbury, Mass.

SUDBURY, Mass. (BP) – When First Baptist Church of Sudbury started its own summer basketball camp four years ago, members had no idea the Gospel opportunities that would arise from it.

Jay Ridenour

Lead Pastor Jay Ridenour said the church would typically host one week of “Vacation Bible Adventure” for about 100 kids each summer. But since many families in the area are looking for summer activities for their kids, the church was looking for more opportunities to minister to kids beyond one week.

Because the community really values sports, Ridenour said adding a sports camp “just made sense.”

“It broadened our opportunity to tell different people about Jesus,” he said.

The church purchased six basketball hoops to place in its large parking lot and held two week-long basketball camps, one for elementary ages and one for middle school kids.

Church staff, volunteers, out of state ministry teams and interns partnered together to host the camp for three hours each day. Campers did drills, played games and heard the Gospel during a lunchtime devotional.

Middle school campers do a warm-up stretch during FBC Sudbury’s summer camp.

Ridenour, who also serves on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said he noticed immediately how the camps were bringing in a new audience of children to the church.

“There are countless families and kids that are doing nothing, and we’ve had a big group of boys that would never come to a Vacation Bible Adventure, but came to play basketball at camp,” Ridenour said.

After adding another week of Vacation Bible Adventure during the summer, the church now hosts four total weeks of kids’ summer programming, mostly taking place in July.

Ridenour challenged the idea that the summer months are times when churches can slow down their ministries or relax their efforts.

“I don’t think there’s time to slow down,” Ridenour said. “We can slow down in heaven. Not that I don’t rest or have vacations, I’m simply saying to think we’re going to take two-and-half or three months off from ministry is pretty silly according to what the Gospel has to offer people.”

Things were going well as the camps grew every year and the church was hitting the maximum number of kids it was able to handle many weeks.

A church volunteer helps a young girl during a drill at FBC Sudbury’s summer camp.

Yet like many churches, COVID-19 forced FBC Sudbury to halt all of its summer programming in 2020.

This unforeseen setback opened an unexpected opportunity for Gospel ministry. The church decided to keep its basketball hoops up as many other places in the community took their hoops down. As lockdowns in the area ended, teenagers and college students came to use the church’s hoops while other hoops in the community remained stored away.

Edgardo Rosa, the church’s minister of missions, said this was an unintended but welcome consequence of the pandemic. Community members continued to use the hoops into this year and even as the kids’ camps began again. Rosa said he often joins in with the older students that come to play, a practice that has led to conversations about Jesus and the Bible.

Because of a general mistrust of Christianity and institutions in New England, Rosa said ministry and discipleship often move at a different pace than in other contexts.

“There’s not a cultural norm of being Christian,” Rosa said. “It’s a long-haul trajectory of building relationships and friendships, rather than just planting a church and a lot of people just coming.”

Edgardo Rosa

Regardless of the pace of ministry, Rosa said he is simply thankful for new opportunities to present the Gospel to new members of the community.

“These hoops are a gift from the Lord and we’re just trying to steward them well in how we use them,” he said.

Another avenue of ministry for FBC Sudbury is its summer internship program. The church hosts college interns from out of state during the summer months, often partnering with the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Send Me Now initiative.

Although helping teach the Bible during the camp is one method of ministry training the interns go through, Ridenour said trying to pass along a lifestyle of ministry is more important than practical training.

“We’re convicted to train up the next generation of leaders, and we’re convicted that the training up is not just giving them a process to follow but to give them a Jesus to follow in their life and in their ministry,” Ridenour said. “We want to teach them how to serve and how to work hard in the context of the local church, whether or not they’re going to be vocational ministers or not is inconsequential to us.”

Ridenour said he is thankful for the variety of Gospel opportunities that came from starting a basketball camp, and he encourages other churches to look for creative ways to reach out.

“Think about what the need is in your community, and then be ready to sacrifice for that need,” he said.

“No church in America has a problem with finding the needs to get accomplished in their community, but if we’re not going to sacrifice then we’re just going to turn into ‘holy huddles’ and just be in ourselves, and that’s never been the Gospel.”