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Sports ministries reach church, community

Tiresa Po'e of Belmont United Methodist Church (center) plays in a church league game in Nashville, Tenn. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Barbara Dunlap-Berg*
2:00 P.M. EST, Feb. 3, 2010

This Sunday the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts compete for the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. Centuries before the first Super Bowl, however, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.”

Churches, big and small, take Paul’s words to heart through sports and recreation ministries for persons of all ages. The prizes are physical fitness and healthy competition. Exercise classes, sports leagues and recreational centers expand opportunities for congregations to connect with each other and with seekers in the community.  

Year-round possibilities

When Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, Ala., wanted to start a sports ministry, leaders conducted research to assess interest and needs. More than 90 percent of people surveyed said they participate in or watch some form of sports or recreation weekly. The result was Christ Center, the hub of the church’s sports and recreation ministry. The goals are to “strengthen bodies, sharpen minds and introduce people to … competitive sports, fitness programs, family outings and personal activities that will become a point of contact with the other ministries of the church.”

Open to church members and their guests, the center offers recreational facilities and seasonal sports leagues —autumn soccer, winter basketball, spring baseball and summer flag football. School-age students are divided by grade, and all sports except baseball are co-ed. The church’s detailed Web site offers sign-up information as well as electronic copies of brochures to print and share.

Keller Hawkins of Belmont United Methodist Church (34) drives toward the basket during a game in Nashville, Tenn.

In addition to sports teams, Atlanta’s Northside United Methodist Church’s Sports and Recreation Ministry encompasses such areas as art, ballet and Chinese-language classes.

Reaching, teaching, serving

In North Carolina, Matthews United Methodist Church sees its sports and recreation ministries as a way to further its mission of reaching, teaching and serving. Students choose from a range of aerobics-class time slots to accommodate diverse schedules. Childcare is provided for all classes. Fun and fellowship for men comes in the form of a weekly pick-up basketball in the gym. The pick-up games require little administrative effort, just someone to open the doors and welcome the players. The congregation partners with Christ Covenant Church to offer seasonal sports leagues through SOAR (Sports Outreach And Recreation) Sports.

Across the United States, congregations with strong sports and recreation programs encourage community involvement by posting fliers and signs at community centers such as the YMCA, local park bulletin boards or school gymnasiums. Some celebrate an annual “Sports and Recreation Sunday.” They invite participants in the church’s sports and recreation programs to attend a worship service, wearing their uniforms. One church hosts a celebration meal after worship to raise money for sports ministry scholarships.

“My kids aren’t top athletes, but they learn much more than how to play basketball or exercise. They learn to have fun, play fair and stay fit in a healthy, nurturing environment,” one parent said. “That’s all that matters to me.”

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Matthews United Methodist Church recreation ministries

Christ United Methodist Church recreation ministries

Northside UMC Sports and Recreation Ministries

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