For families involved in sports, Oklahoma summertime can often be associated with one sports camp after another, late nights at the ball fields and loads upon loads of laundry, washing the dirt off children’s sports uniforms.
Churches across the state have taken notice to the importance of sports and now offer summer sports camps to children of all ages.
At Ardmore, First; Marlow, First; Midwest City, First and Oklahoma City, Trinity, children have gathered in the hundreds to learn more about sports and, most importantly, Jesus.
“Athletics are important to people,” said Joe Ligon, pastor at Marlow, First. “You have kids big and small involved in sports, so it’s an easy transition for us as a church to use that as an opportunity to build relationships with kiddos and their moms and dads.”
Whether it’s basketball or football, baseball or soccer, golf or even cheerleading, all sports have been featured in the church camps.
At Ardmore, First, students were selected to be leaders of the camp by their youth pastor, Jake Anson.
“It was a really cool opportunity for my youth to invest their skills and talents into the younger generations,” Anson said. “Many of our kids who are athletic and talented in basketball and football got to coach kids in their sports. So our youth got to invest in these younger kids and share with them the joy of Christ while teaching them fundamentals and rules of their sports.”
Midwest City, First hosts a four-day sports camp, utilizing every water break to share the Good News of the Gospel to children participating in sports camp. Jim Tribble, minister of students and church recreation, also selected members of the youth group to lead small groups at sports camp.
“We like to use the youth to share their testimonies, to be the small group leaders and to be role models,” explained Tribble.
The sports camps feature an array of activities, but the key with each is the focus on outreach to families who may not attend church normally.
“The church canvased neighborhoods ahead of camp, then gathered kids from their homes in parts of town that we aren’t usually in, and walked them back to the church,” Anson said. “It was neat to hear parents say ‘Thank you for coming over here. Our kids are having a blast at your camp.’”
Many families that participated in Marlow, First’s sports camps have started attending the church once camp was over.
“We saw some of the kiddos that had come to sports camps come to Vacation Bible School,” Ligon said, “and we’re seeing some come to church and participate in Sunday School. I believe that if we are good stewards of the families God has put us in contact with, we’ll continue to see the great things that come out of that.”
While a sports camp might not appeal to everyone, as Anson, Ligon and Tribble all acknowledged, they agreed that it helps meeting families where they are comfortable.
Anson explained that the door to discipleship is opened, “The kids see it as ‘Hey this person has value; they’re teaching me how to become something better.’ And the idea is ‘I’m going to be a better athlete,’ but really what we are getting to teach is that this is what it looks like to follow Christ, and the kids really soaked it in.”