Visit one of approximately 2,000 churches across the country on a Saturday during the fall and winter, and you will see just a sample of more than half a million boys and girls who are participating in organized sports. They, along with the family members and friends who are in the stands, will be hearing a Bible message at halftime of their contest.
These young athletes and cheerleaders also will be spiritually mentored by their coach during weekly practices. The result of this Christian influence is experiencing approximately 8,000 decisions for Christ every year. This has happened over a span of 21 years.
Caz McCasland started Upward Sports in 1995 when he was on staff at a church in Spartanburg, S.C. In a recent interview on Messenger Insight, McCasland shared how Upward Sports, the world’s largest Christian youth sports provider, is having an evangelistic impact through the local church.
“How do evangelism and sports go together? It’s something we have been developing since we began,” said McCasland. “Our ministries are based on Luke 2:52, ‘Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.’ That’s all we know about Jesus from the age of 12 to 30. That’s a mouthful right there. It’s really a big deal. When we describe that, we say that we are going to pour into these kids, mentally, athletically, spiritually and socially.”
McCasland also points out how athletics is an essential part of today’s society, making it a popular avenue to use to reach people, especially kids, with the Gospel.
“In the world of sports today, 98 percent of this entire country will be impacted in some way by sports every single day,” he said. “Every single day, something will happen with sports. Whether it’s a newscast, a radio commercial or your favorite team—or even if you don’t like sports—you’re going to hear about sports every single day, and as a result, it’s something that everybody in this country keeps up with. So with children and young people, from Kindergarten through 12th grade, getting involved with sports is part of the culture, not just in this country, but around the world. Everybody loves what is happening in sports.
“What we’ve discovered, over the years, if you can make a difference in a young person’s life athletically, in the moment, before, during and after they are involved in that sport, they will listen to everything you have to say mentally, spiritually and socially. Sports opens the doors for all those other things in such huge ways.”
Upward Sports can be organized through any local church body. McCasland said any church of any size that has access to a field or a gym can operate an Upward Sports league. He said some churches found out that local schools will rent out their gyms for reasonable rates.
“We can’t reach people in Oklahoma from here,” McCasland said on Messenger Insight. “We can only do that through the body of Christ and through the extension of the body of Christ. It’s so exciting to see how the body of Christ works from city to city, state to state and country to country. It’s been really exciting to see what the Lord has done.”
McCasland quoted a famous Christian leader to emphasize how sports can be a great source to reach people for Christ.
“Billy Graham made a couple of different points that I’ve always clung to as a minister of recreation at heart,” said McCasland. “He said every person should coach if they have the opportunity because a coach will have a greater opportunity to have an impact on a child than most other adults in a lifetime of a child. A coach could have a greater impact in a 10-, 12-, 15-week season than most other adults have on a child the rest of their life. That’s a big impact.
“The second thing Billy Graham said about sports is every child should play sports at some point or another because it’s the last thing left where there’s immediate discipline for wrong doing. Sports has rules. Sports has circumstances, and sports has consequences. Through that you can teach life lessons for months and months and years and years.”
Another analogy McCasland made is how sports can lead participants to biblical parallels. Just as players have to follow the rules of the game, McCasland said Upward Sports teaches there are rules of life offered through the guidelines the Lord has given us through His Scripture.
“If we go by the rules, laid out by God, we are going to have the opportunity to have life and live it more abundantly,” he said.
McCasland also mentioned a new program offered by Upward Sports called 360 progression. He said it is a “brand of Luke 2:52,” and has an advancement aspect that goes beyond Upward recreation leagues, offering development of the total athlete mentally, athletically, spiritually, and socially, applied intentionally through all Upward Sports programming.
“Our mission is to promote the discovery of Jesus through sports, and we want that to happen at every level,” said McCasland. “It doesn’t matter if they know a lot about Jesus, but if they don’t know anything about Jesus, we want them to discover who He is. If they do know Him, we want them to discover a deeper walk with Jesus.
“Wouldn’t it be an unbelievable thing to be able to watch a child be introduced to Jesus and be there when they accept Jesus and be there so that we can disciple them about who Jesus is and leave us so they can model Jesus?”
Representatives from Upward will be at the State Evangelism Conference (SEC), Jan. 30-31, at Del City, First Southern, with an Upward Sports exhibit and interaction with those who attend SEC.