MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (BP) – Glenn LaRue isn’t an engineer and is horrible at mini-golf. By his own admission, even his 8-year-old is better.
And yet, for the eight years LaRue has been pastor at University Baptist Church, he and others have eagerly looked forward to the church’s annual Christmas Mini-Golf outreach event. Typically bringing in at least 150 visitors, this year’s version, held Dec. 2-4, saw a record 240 guests walk through the church that averages 175 in Sunday attendance.
“We had a great weekend of meeting new people and sharing the Gospel with them,” LaRue said. “We told them about Jesus and had a fun time being together as a church family.”
The outreach takes place the first weekend of December. Initially held on Thursday and Friday, Saturdays were added four years ago at the free event that includes snacks, hot chocolate and prizes.
Despite the fun it brings, LaRue emphasized it would be a non-starter if not for the evangelistic opportunities baked in.
“We give out puzzles to everyone who attends so that when they’re put together it explains the Gospel,” he said. Furthermore, the most important part of the night is a 30-minute “game show” for everyone where LaRue shares the Gospel.
The layout of the course gives visitors the chance to tour the church. The 18-hole course begins with two holes in the foyer next to registration. From there, participants go to nine holes located in the gym. The final section winds through the church’s children’s ministry area.
“The cool thing about mini-golf is that it’s multigenerational,” LaRue said. “Everyone plays and it has such a broad appeal that when you match it with Christmas it produces a really fun atmosphere. We have Christmas music playing throughout the building and it really becomes kind of magical.”
Some magical ingenuity takes part in the course’s signature hole. LaRue and his student pastor, Ray Jarrett, upped the ante this year with the largest “roller coaster” hole yet. LaRue gave his own demonstration of the hole that includes the ball being sent through an air-lift system, beginning a race between the ball and golfer to the hole itself.
Approximately 100 church members volunteer for Christmas Mini-Golf, helping in a variety of ways including construction, registration and providing food and prizes. Families “adopt” a hole to decorate in a Christmas theme.
Word of mouth serves as the best advertiser, but local daycares readily hand out fliers to parents leading up to the event. LaRue’s neighborhood is an area trick-or-treating favorite at Halloween, so he cooks hot dogs at the end of his driveway and hands out information on Christmas Mini-Golf.
It’s an outreach that can be undertaken by any church as a way to bring in visitors, he said, and more important, talk about Christ.
“You need to have a vision for it and see it through, plus to organize others to help out,” he said. “But it’s tremendous to see your church family pull together and connect with others. Our setup night the previous Sunday is really fun. We order pizza and our kids run around having a great time.”
It’s also important to learn from your mistakes. Early on, LaRue realized that PVC pipe needs to be at least an inch-and-a-half for the ball to go through cleanly. Interlocking carpet squares like you would find in a children’s play area make for great putting greens. Also, you’re limited only by your own creativity.
And being a pastor, of course there are spiritual applications.
“At our planning event, I held up a PVC coupling piece to everyone,” he said. “I talked about how these kinds of events connect us like the coupling piece. I also get a piece of flexible piping and explain that we need to be flexible with each other.”
Flexibility and working together, he said, are two components to creating a fun mini-golf course, but also essential for sharing the Gospel.