News Articles

RecLab combines physical & spiritual

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (BP)–Playtime could change your life.

In sports and recreation ministry, the activity is secondary, said John Garner, host of LifeWay’s annual RecLab. “Sharing the Gospel in an intentional way is the primary purpose. If you’re just there to play games, you can do that at the city park. Life is too short and the Gospel is too important.”

LifeWay has been hosting RecLab conferences since the mid-1960s to provide training, tips, insight into trends and networking opportunities to individuals who work in sports and recreation ministry.

Because it encompasses everything from church softball leagues and sports camps to family festivals and father-son game nights, some 200 RecLab participants arrived in San Antonio -– from as far away as Albany, N.Y. — with a variety of needs and hopes for the Jan. 25-29 sessions.

“The face of my church is older,” said Stacey Smith, a first-time RecLab attendee and minister of recreation at First Baptist Church in Madison, Miss. “I’m really looking for activities that I could offer to senior adults.”

Before he had even attended the “Senior adult 65+” breakout session, Smith began learning about the In His Grip golf ministry founded by RecLab speaker Scott Lehman. After listening to Lehman’s presentation, Smith said golfing seemed like an activity that could show promise for fellowship and as an outreach opportunity at his church.

“I realize recreation ministry is probably one of the biggest front doors we have,” Smith said. “The nature of the ministry means we can provide things the music minister can’t. We’re able to get out of the building and onto the field.”

Organized into sports, outdoor and adventure recreation, men’s ministry and other tracks, RecLab enabled attendees to follow a particular subject throughout the 10 track times or learn a little something about everything.

Eddie Robertson, minister of recreation at First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., said he has lost count of how many RecLab conferences he has attended — perhaps “eight or so.”

“When I first came to RecLab, I felt kind of isolated and like I was out there on my own trying to make recreation ministry happen,” Robertson said. “But I came and found other people who were turning sports into ministry. It was encouraging.”

While Robertson was among this year’s RecLab veterans, Garner said first-time attendees make up a growing percentage of each year’s conference participants.

“We live in a leisure-driven culture,” Garner said, “and pastors are looking for a way to tap into that mentality. They see other churches having success with a recreation ministry and they send people [to RecLab] and tell them, ‘Go find out what this is all about.'”

During his “What is this work and how do I get started?” session, Garner told attendees that recreation ministry requires leaders who can work with anyone from preschoolers to senior adults.

And it requires leaders who recognize the possibilities and potential importance of what they do, Garner said.

“Recreation ministry provides a natural, non-threatening way to introduce God’s Word to the community,” he said. “People may not know the church, and they may not know Jesus, but everyone knows sports. There’s nothing religious about a basketball; it’s what you do with it that matters.”

But sometimes it’s a place, and not a piece of sports equipment, that opens the door. Derrick Blaylock, for example, came to RecLab in preparation for organizing a recreation ministry at a park that Fallbrook Church in Houston is building on donated land.

“Coming here has helped me a lot,” said Blaylock, who is new to the world of recreation ministry. “Just taking on the responsibility is overwhelming, and it’s good to learn from others who have done this work.”

And learn they did, from juggling and games for children to hosting wild game suppers for men.

“We can be the ball player, the teacher or the guy on the golf course,” Robertson said of opportunities for evangelism through sports and recreation ministry, through which “[we] become all things to all people with the intention of sharing Christ with them.”

As one RecLab speaker put it, “[Recreation ministry] is about putting the physical and spiritual together.”
Brooklyn Noel Lowery is a media relations specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information about RecLab sports and recreation ministry conferences, visit LifeWay.com/RecLab.

    About the Author

  • Brooklyn Noel Lowery