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Play for keeps: Should your church build a sports facility?

Church leaders should evaluate all resources before investing in recreational facilities.

By David Bundrick

Churches seeking to increase their Kingdom impact are in a fierce competition for people’s time and attention. Church leaders who acknowledge this fact are constantly challenged to remain current with today’s culture. Every year, more churches invest a significant amount of resources in sports and recreation ministry facilities. Most often, the intent of this investment is to better attract and serve the nearby communities with the goal of furthering the Great Commission.

There is little argument that sports and recreational pursuits are pervasive in our society. However, there are some important questions that should be considered before a church invests in these facilities.

Should a church build a new sport and recreation ministry facility? Building a new facility or expanding an existing facility to house this type of ministry can be an expensive project. Before making this investment, a church should consider the current resources available. Are there local gymnasiums or athletic fields that could be used? Efforts should be made to use available resources. However, if a church experiences road blocks or outgrows available space, church leaders should consider building a facility.

Function defines form

What should a sports facility look like? Just as each community’s needs are different each church’s facility will be unique; function should define form. The function of the facility should be driven by the audience the church seeks to serve. A study of services offered in the community and needs not being met should be conducted. For example, if a church’s community has a large number of single parent or dual income households, a facility that will support after-school programs and summer day-camps should be considered.

In most communities there is a very real need for positive youth sports leagues. Youth sports leagues can be an effective means of outreach. Facility design will differ for youth sports from adult sports.

Seating during a youth sporting event will be much more of an issue than adult sports. Many people will come to see children play sports. However, not many people show up to watch old men run up and down a basketball court. Therefore, if adult sports are the church’s focus, lockers and showers might be a higher priority.

Maybe a community is lacking in fitness opportunities or offerings for a segment of the population, such as senior adults. An effective sports and recreation facility will help the church be relevant and address the needs of the community it serves.

How can this type of facility contribute to a church’s mission? Most senior pastors want to see people develop a relationship with God and grow in that relationship. Most senior pastors would also like to see this happen at their church. An effective ministry will attract an incredible number of people from the community. But it’s not enough to just involve people in activities and never move them further into the life of the church. There are a number of programming strategies that can be employed to increase the effectiveness of this assimilation.

Some churches will have the ability to locate their facility under the same roof as a worship center. Other facilities will be disconnected from the primary building, across the street or further off-site. Regardless, participants should know that the facility they have just entered is part of a church. Church signage should be obvious and Christian symbols and Bible verses should be woven into the architectural design. A good information center where materials from other ministries in the church and the various worship times can be displayed, is an essential component.

How can a church avoid making mistakes in planning and designing a sports and recreation facility? A good architectural firm will assist a church in designing a facility where function dictates form. Church leaders need to have a good understanding of the function it desires. Input from the congregation should be sought. In addition to being the primary financial supporters, the congregation will also make up most of the volunteer force running this ministry and promoting it in the community.

Better use of resources

However, people tend to want what they know. Churches may have a very prominent, but small, group of people interested in racquetball. Naturally they are going to want racquetball courts. At most, four people will use a court during one hour. At $130 per-square-foot in construction costs, there might be a better use of resources. Chances are that a significant number of resources will be invested in this project. Do not cut corners on research and planning. All of the time and money invested in this phase will pay off.

Church leaders should visit other facilities and take key staff with them. Churches should not be limited to just church facilities. Leaders should visit community centers, YMCAs, Jewish community centers, parks and recreation departments and universities. When church leaders tour these facilities, they should talk to the directors and employees and ask them what they like most about their facilities.

Finally, it’s important for leaders to be patient with this facility and the ministry it houses. If resourced and managed properly, it will take three to five years for this ministry to become established and fruitful. Sport and recreation ministries have the potential to be the most effective outreach tools that a church employs and can be worth every bit of the investment.

David Bundrick is recreation outreach pastor at First Baptist Raytown, Raytown, MO. [fbroc.com]

Christian sports association is a resource for churches

The Association of Church Sports and Recreation Ministers (CSRM) began its ministry to support the local church with an informal beginning in the mid 1980s, this led to a formal incorporation in 1995. Ongoing activity is centered on four basic services: conferences (such as the recent summit in April at Willow Creek Community Church), consulting, certification and connections through local groups.

The vision of CSRM is to equip local churches to change lives through sports. The mission of CSRM is to train, equip and resource local church staff and volunteers, mobilizing them to build bridges in their communities using sport, recreation and leisure activities for the purpose of leading people into a personal relationship with Christ

The guiding principle of CSRM is evangelism through the local church through sport and recreation. There are core values that provide the foundation for CSRM:

  • Pillar 1: Producing reproducing leaders
  • Pillar 2: Establishing strategic partnerships

The purposes of CSRM are carried out through various strategies including the annual summit, along with regional sports outreach training and development (S.O.L.D.). Also, CSRM staff, S.O.L.D. leaders and members of the board of directors all serve as paid and/or volunteer consultants to CSRM member churches and any others that desire to change lives through sports.

CSRM is committed to (1) world evangelism by local churches through sport, recreation or activity-based ministry; (2) organizational integrity; (3) family integrity; (4) prayer; (5) relational integrity; (6) local church involvement; (7) staff integrity; and (8) personal outreach.

CSRM offers ongoing training that leads to a professional certification, coaching certifications and has also been instrumental in the development of accredited college degrees. For more information visit csrm.org.

— Greg Linville, executive director of CSRM

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