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N.Y. churches prepare to minister during Winter World University Games

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (BP) – As the areas around Upstate New York prepare to host the Winter World University Games in January, Southern Baptist churches are preparing to serve.

Scheduled for Jan. 12-22, 2023, the World University Games is an international sports competition for collegiate athletes from across the world taking place every two years in a different location.

More than 1,600 athletes will compete in events such as skating, skiing, hockey, snowboarding and curling, and more than 40,000 people are estimated to be in the region for the games. Attendance is expected to rival that of the 1980 Olympics held in Lake Placid.

Ryan Schneider is pastor of Saranac Lake Baptist Church and lead chaplain for the University Games. He said the event will be a great evangelistic opportunity for those in the area, including his own congregation.

“If our population is jumping by so much, we have a responsibility to share and reach people with the Gospel,” Schneider said. “My challenge that I laid down is I would love to see all our church members at Saranac Lake to serve at least three of the 10 days of the games in some capacity.”

Much like the Olympics, competing athletes will be housed in four villages across the four geographical areas across the Upstate region where events will be held – Potsdam-Canton, Saranac Lake, Queensbury and Lake Placid.

At each of the four sites, Schneider explained, there will be an evangelical chaplain there to minister to the athletes. All of the chaplains have either competed in high-level athletic competition themselves or ministered as a chaplain during an Olympic games.

Though the chaplains are important, Schneider said it will take more than their work to minister at such a big event. For this reason, the chaplains will also be highlighting and promoting the work of local churches.

Schneider said there is one Southern Baptist church near each of the four areas where events will be held, and supporting them will be a high priority.

“We realize that each community is unique and so the ways that they will reach their communities will be different, and so we’re just empowering the local SBC church and that pastor to really drive the train in their community for the ministry,” Schneider said.

Several other churches in the local Baptist associations – Adirondack and Hudson – will be sending volunteers to help the four churches in their ministry at the games.

Additionally, some mission teams will be traveling from out of state to volunteer with the churches during the games.

Many volunteers helping with the games will be trained to use the 3 Circles evangelism method by representatives from the Baptist Convention of New York.

Ministry plans among the four churches leading the way will include holding worship and evangelistic sermons at off-campus sites around the games, as well as volunteering in an official capacity at the games themselves. Volunteering at the games will include anything from ticketing, ushering, security and hospitality.

One of the four churches located near a site of the games is Lake Placid Baptist Church.

Jim Koenig is the senior pastor of Lake Placid Baptist Church, which is one of the four Southern Baptist churches located near the sites for the games.

Lake Placid members will be serving as official volunteers for the games, Koenig said, and the church will be renting out a local theater downtown to have daily afternoon worship services where they Gospel will be shared.

Koenig said he believes there is always value is simply being present with people.

“We have been praying for the Gospel opportunities God will create for us just because we showed up,” he said.

“Evangelism is no longer an event or an activity that we do quickly, it is a process and serving at the games creates relationships and evangelistic opportunities for us. I think there is great value in showing up and being invested in a community that will reap a harvest.”

Showing up and ministering during athletic competition has always been a part of the DNA of Lake Placid since the 1980 Winter Olympics were held there. The church actually traces its origins to that time, when Southern Baptists began to gather in the area to prepare for the upcoming Olympics.

In addition to smaller athletic events happening regularly, the Upstate New York area is home to the second-oldest Ironman Triathlon events in the North America.

“Serving at these events has given the church a good standing in the community, because we’re seen as good neighbors that are involved in the activities that make our community thrive, and that’s really celebrated,” Koenig said.

Schneider said the games will be an important evangelistic moment for New York churches.

“Through all of these great plans, it all comes down to being Spirit-led and available for God to use us during the games,” Schneider said. “We’re asking people to pray and fast before the games and during the games for us. I would people to pray for boldness in sharing the Gospel.

“In Matthew 28 we are sent out to go to all nations with the Gospel, but this event brings all nations to us, so our responsibility is to share the Gospel and be available to do that. When I look at what God is bringing here, we have a responsibility to share.”