When Sports Fields Become Mission Fields

This guest post was written by Eddie Becker from Upward Sports.

On March 27, over 16 million people tuned in to watch the Academy Awards. Impressive numbers until you look back to March 1 to see that over 34 million people watched President Biden’s first State of the Union address. But those numbers pale in comparison to what took place the night of February 13.

A Big Game

On that night, Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals to win Super Bowl LVI by a score of 23-20. According to the final numbers, over 110 million people watched the game. More than double the Academy Awards and State of the Union combined.

The Super Bowl has long been an outlier in terms of TV ratings’ popularity, but in just this year alone, 45 of the top 50 highest-watched shows were live sports. During the NCAA basketball tournament held each spring, approximately $13.8 billion are lost by corporations due to workers distracted by March Madness games. 

Those numbers speak to the popularity of sports, and surely the number of eyeballs viewing games on TV or a smartphone is astounding. But how does any of that reality affect the church?

A Big Opportunity

Here’s another larger-than-life number: 60 million.

That’s the number of kids ages 6-18 that participate in organized sports each year in America. Sixty million young people spend evenings practicing and weekends at tournaments playing sports.

Sixty million of anything is an incredible number. But when you have 60 million young people with something in common, the ministry outreach isn’t just a great possibility: it’s a harvest field demanding the church’s attention.

Churches are always seeking avenues to reach families in their community. Events like Vacation Bible School and fall festivals can effectively gather young people with their families to a church campus and allow for connections to take place.

Still, when the demographics show such a large number of people with one thing in common, using sports as a ministry tool makes sense.

We recently had a conversation with a pair of Upward Sports leaders at a church in Louisiana. In 2020, not only did Trinity Baptist Church have to cancel their usual Upward Basketball league due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they also faced damage from two hurricanes. Things in Lake Charles, Louisiana, were looking grim.

But for Darin Worthington and Mary Jordan, the path to healing for the community involved doing something normal at an abnormal time of year. In the middle of winter in 2021, they decided to run a flag football league and a soccer league.

Before that season, the most players they had to sign up for flag football was around 140. For this winter league, 300 signed up. Soccer signups increased from around 150 to 225.

“I cannot even help you understand the amount of people who came to us and expressed such gratitude for stepping out of our norm to offer that for all these kids,” Mary said. Both Darin and Mary refer to that season as “the hurricane season,” one “born from challenges and difficulty. A totally unexpected season. But that’s often how God works, especially in the lives of those who are fully devoted to him.”

A Big Mission

Along with 1500 other churches across the country, Trinity Baptist Church knows just how important sports are for a community. It provides a place for families to have fun, fellowship, and learn more about who Jesus is

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Apostle Paul lays out a framework for evangelism.

“When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Cor. 9:20-22)

Paul was determined to bring both Jews and Greeks to Christ. Willing to do anything short of sin to win people to Jesus, Paul wanted to “find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” Had today’s sports existed back then, one could picture Paul on a soccer field teaching first-graders how to pass the ball back and forth, all in an effort to show children the same grace he was shown.

It’s highly unlikely any Upward soccer, basketball, flag football, or volleyball game will ever attract 110 million viewers. But data shows that every child participating in a league brings an average of three people to games with them. For Trinity Baptist Church, that means their flag football games had over 1,000 people in attendance.

Tell most any church in America about an opportunity to bring 1,000 people to their campus each Saturday, and they’d jump at it. Sports does just that. Since our beginning over 25 years ago at Upward Sports, our mission has been this: Promoting the discovery of Jesus through sports. 

Tell most any church in America about an opportunity to bring 1,000 people to their campus each Saturday, and they’d jump at it. Sports does just that. Since our beginning over 25 years ago at Upward Sports, our mission has been this: Promoting the discovery of Jesus through sports. 

We know the mission works. We’ve seen it time and time again. Hundreds of thousands of children have discovered Jesus over the years. All because churches with a gym or a field have opened their doors to the community and asked a question: Want to play?

Is your church interested in learning more about using sports ministry to reach the community? We know that one size does not fit all. We also know that making the complex simple is important. At Upward Sports, your church will customize your sports experience to fit the community and the player. Whether a camp or league, we will support you each step of the way.

Learn more at Upward.org/Church-Leaders and schedule your call today.


About Eddie

Eddie Becker is a Content Specialist with Upward Sports, writing devotional material and curriculum for young athletes, their parents, and sports leaders around the country. He lives in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and 2 daughters.

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