It's a familiar Norman Rockwell-type scene: A one-high-school town on game day with the school colors displayed proudly on flags, sweatshirts, bumper stickers and pep rally posters. The team gets pumped, school-age fans flock to the game, parents, and other townsfolk gather for the heart of the community's social life: Sports.
But who washes the team's towels after the game? Who provides Gatorade for the two-a-day practices before the season ever begins? Who greets the visiting team? Who videotapes the events? Who gives attention to the nearly fanatical, non-athletic fan? Who hosts the officials for a snack supper?
"The bottom line is: churches today need new avenues to reach people," said Sharon Baach, associate professor of recreation at Southwest Missouri State University, and member of First Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo.
"Because there is such an interest in sports in our country there is a natural avenue to reach people. That's what Jesus taught us — to meet people where they are."
Bobby Shows, the Missouri Baptist Convention consultant for sports evangelism, noted recent Gallup poll findings that 90 percent of all Americans watch, read about, or participate in sports at least once a month 70 percent more than once a month.
"If Jesus were walking on the earth today, believe He would be involved where people are involved," Shows said. "Yes; I believe He would be at a Cardinals baseball game or a Chiefs football game. He would attend the athletic functions of your school: He was a people person.
"The number of people directly involved in a sport — actually on the roster — how many is that? Ten, twelve?" he asked. "But when you add the parents, the kids in the school who aren't on the team but still are interested and support it, you broaden the avenue. You go where the people are. It's another way to build contacts."
Hal Rhea, a member of First Baptist Church, St. James, Mo., became involved in sports as a tennis player at Southwest Baptist University His three children have excelled in different sports, so as parents he and his wife have attended many sporting activities. An active Christian, he began to wonder what his church could do to minister to athletes, coaches, or both.
The church started experimenting with ideas such as a coaches' appreciation day and a banquet for the local high school girls' basketball team. This year, during National Athletic Week, the church placed an advertisement in the local newspaper in which it thanked the coaches for working with the children in the school. The church also invited the coaches to the teachers' lounge for coffee, donuts, and rolls to express appreciation.