Connecting Churches to Their Communities Through Sports
by Gabe Norris
There are approximately 156 million unchurched people in the US today. And while that number continues to rise, the body of Christ possesses the gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of hope for the entire world.
I work with Connect Ministries Inc.™ a nonprofit that exists to help churches connect with their communities by bringing the gospel to basketball tournaments, starting lines, run groups, and summer camps. The growing number of people not connected with a local church burdens our hearts. Through sports and camps, we work alongside willing churches to provide opportunities for kingdom intersections.
Connect's first resource to help churches reach outside their walls was basketball tournaments. Held in movie theater parking lots and downtown city streets, these tournaments provide all-day play and entertainment as teams competed by age divisions for first place and cash prizes. Church volunteers greet teams and families, replenish water, keep score on courts, and run the Family Fun Zone's inflatables, face painting stand, and snow-cone machines.
At our very first tournament a player, unaware of the church's role in the event, simply asked a volunteer, "Who are you guys? I want my wife to meet people like you." The local church, intentional about this relationship, continued to connect with this family throughout the year. The player's wife was baptized the following spring in the very parking lot where the church first encountered her family.
Since then, Connect 3ON3 Basketball™ has produced dozens more tournaments for churches seeking intentional relationships with others in their city.
Races and Run Clubs
Running is one of the fastest growing sports with participation increasing 70% in the last 10 years. Connect Race™ allows churches to extend beyond their church walls to registration tents, encouraging runners and handing refreshments at the finish line, all the while raising money for local charities and organizations.
Last year, local churches provided more than 2,000 volunteers to serve at a race in their communities, where meaningful conversations developed new relationships.
Our newest resource for churches, Connect Run Club™ provides churches a weekly ministry for runners in their city to train together. More than 80% of Connect Race™ runners train for at least one hour a week. Run Clubs give churches 52 hours of ministry each year, nurturing leadership and community, and providing incentives to all participants.
Connect joined forces with the WinShape Foundation to provide local churches with WinShape Camps for Communities. These day camps provide all-day, week-long interaction with church member families throughout the area. Staffed with college students and young adults, our team travels across the country providing a 5-day camp for the entire community. One or several churches come together to host the camp, providing volunteers and engaging children in worship, sports, recreational games, drama, arts, and many more activities.
Nearly 19,000 campers attended a WinShape Camps for Communities in 72 cities in 2014. More than 900 of those campers dedicated their life to Christ for the first time and more than 3,000 wanted to continue the discussion of the gospel with the local church. Countless families continue to be impacted through the relationships built during camp.
Local churches across the country impacted more than 64,000 people at Connect Ministries events in 2014 alone. Visualize a few of those interactions:
- the runner who's called by name rather than a number as she crossed the finish line;
- the mom who's handed an unexpected bottle of water on a hot summer day;
- the divorced parent who found a place to belong;
- the hurting neighbor who found community.
These intersections between the church and its community, both small and life-changing, are where the gospel is not only shared but also lived out. These moments at recreation fields, parking lots, along race courses and finish lines are where the person of Jesus Christ is encountered in the faces, hands, and voices of his followers.
Let our hearts be burdened together to spread the gospel to our neighbors across our streets and cities. Be encouraged at the opportunities to reach outside of your church walls and further into your community!
Gabe Norris, co-founder and Vice President of Connect Ministries and Director of WinShape Camps for Communities, is a graduate of the University of Georgia and Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. Gabe, his wife Allyson, and their four daughters reside in Bishop, Georgia. To learn more, visit Connect Ministries or email firstname.lastname@example.org.