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Sports evangelism called bridge to reaching 96% of population

HOUSTON (BP)–When Richland Creek Community Church decided to conduct a sports camp a few years ago, many of their own children could not attend. Recognizing a limited capacity, they chose to open it primarily to children who may have no other opportunity to hear the gospel.

The Wake Forest, N.C., church is one of the best examples of using sports ministry to focus on non-Christians rather than members, said Victor Lee, a sports ministry evangelism consultant for the North American Mission Board.

“The first year 17 kids received Christ, and over the course of the next year 17 parents or siblings of those family members came to Christ,” Lee said. “The point is to have a sports camp that intentionally targets lost people. If you just target your kids, that’s not intentionally reaching your audience.”

Lee led a workshop on “Evangelism Bridges to a Sports Crazy World” during “Church on the Cutting Edge,” a Sept. 30-Oct. 2 conference involving more than 3,000 church leaders co-sponsored by the North American Mission Board and Second Baptist Church of Houston.

For churches trying to find ways to connect with the unchurched in their communities, the fact that 96 percent of the population is linked to sports in some way is good reason to seriously consider the evangelism possibilities, said Lee, who also is minister of evangelism and single adults for Concord First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.

Camps like the one in Wake Forest can be as effective as Vacation Bible Schools in reaching unchurched children, Lee said. At Richland, kids in a lower-income neighborhood would be picked up at 8 a.m. and brought home at 4 p.m. They would receive training in four different sports each day — along with Christian teaching.

“They had the gospel shared in most of those classes in some way,” Lee said.

Sports clinics offer a similar, more concentrated focus on just one sport — with participants rotating through different stations receiving pointers and training on particular skills. At the end of the clinic, the gospel is shared and participants are given an opportunity to respond. He said as many as 15-20 percent of participants often make professions of faith.

“You work the two hours and 15 minutes to earn the right to do that 15 minutes,” Lee said.

Sports leagues also can be effective evangelism tools, but they work best when they are designed from the outset with evangelism as a priority. If all of the players on a softball team are Christians, for instance, he suggested joining an industrial or other secular league to allow time for the Christians to build witnessing relationships with other players.

Another way to be intentionally evangelistic is to decide at the outset that if there are five Christians on a softball team, there will also be five “free agents” who aren’t members of any church.

“You’ve got the course of the season to live your faith in front of them,” Lee said, later adding, “We’ve got to open up our mentality. We have too many closed facilities for the God-squad only, and Jesus wouldn’t even play in those places, I’m convinced.”

In any sports evangelism efforts, Lee advised training participants in a relational-based approach to sharing their faith, such as the North American Mission Board’s The NET (see www.namb.net/evangelism/thenet/).

“In a relational environment a rote gospel presentation is probably not that important,” he said. “In a relational environment you might want to share your testimony, which is what The NET teaches you to do.”

Special events such as wild-game dinners featuring the testimonies of well-known sports personalities also can be effective, he said. To ensure there are unchurched people there, he advised telling church members straightforwardly to buy three tickets and “don’t bring any saved people.” He did note there are pitfalls in such events, largely surrounding the choice of speaker.

“Make sure the athlete has the walk [with Christ], make sure you know the athlete can speak, and don’t be afraid to give him guidelines on the invitation,” he said. “The biggest mistake that gets made is putting the wrong guy up there for an event.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SPORTS EVANGELISM.

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  • James Dotson