Our sports ministry across the Focus Areas is called 'The Sports Factory'. We are running holiday clubs, community events, sports coaching sessions, mobile football cages and more to bridge the church and community through sport.Visit the Sports Factory website
Sports ministries form an important part of the Focus Area Programme, taking inspiration from the work of St Thomas Norwich (STN), a City Centre Resource Church, which has been highly successful in running The Sports Factory in Norwich.
Ruth Anderson, Head of Sports Ministry for the Diocese of Norwich, talks about the work:
“Sport has the power to change the world, it has the power to inspire,” Nelson Mandella once said, “It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
Sport isn’t the answer to people’s problems, but Jesus is. Sport is a vehicle by which we are able to share life and the gospel with people. I love the verse in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 that says, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. Sport provides that opportunity and it is also lots of fun.
In 2014, The Sports Factory was born out of St Thomas Church, Norwich (STN). The aim was to connect the church and the community through sport and to share the love of Jesus with the people we do life with. Over the past six years, The Sports Factory has played sport or taken part in fitness activities with thousands of people across Norwich and has told thousands of people about Jesus’ love for them. This has been done through schools work – P.E. and R.E. lessons, lunch clubs, assemblies and after school clubs, ‘Legacy’ holiday club that takes place during each school holiday, adult sports and fitness sessions and loads of family events and activities.
Tim Henery heads up The Sports Factory for STN and has written a course called ‘Active R.E.’ which happens in some of the local primary schools. It combines P.E. and R.E. and Tim has been amazed how much the children remember and retain each week. All the children are invited along to ‘Legacy’.
Legacy holiday club has over 50 children coming along each day. They play loads of sport and explore a Bible passage or parable and then enjoy ‘team challenge’ and ‘slam dunk moment’. Following Legacy, the church has a celebration service to show a video of the highlights of the week and it’s brilliant to see lots of families being welcomed into church.
On a Wednesday morning, in one of the churches, there is live worship music and Pilates followed by a short thought for the day and prayer. Around 25 people attend each week, the majority of whom would not call themselves Christian. On a Thursday, a similar class is held for older people, called Fab and Fit.
During major sporting events, such as the Rugby World Cup, Football World Cup or Olympic Games, STN has opened its doors and put on opening ceremony community festivals that have drawn in hundreds of people from the local area, as well as doing some big screen showings of some of the major matches and events.
Sport is an easy conversation starter; it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can still enjoy watching a sporting event together. On a Saturday morning, Sports Factory runners are found at the local Park Run’s with yellow Sports Factory T-shirts saying ‘We Believe’ on the back. They meet together to pray and then join the run and see if God provides any opportunities to chat to people about Jesus. The thing I love about sports ministry is that it is really simple, it’s really easy, it’s really good for you and it works. The Sports Factory seeks to combine the power of sport with the power of God, the one who created it.
In 2019, the Diocese of Norwich employed four Sports Ministers to roll out The Sports Factory across Norfolk: Tom Woods, Vicky Allen, Susie Bratby and myself. The aim is exactly the same as the story that has happened at STN – to love people so much that we are delighted to share not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Across Norfolk, the Sports Factory team and volunteers will seek to get to know people through sport and then provide opportunities to share Jesus’ love with them.
This will mean looking outside the four walls of the church and spending time at parks, multi-use games areas (MUGA’s), in sports halls and gyms. You may think that you are too old to get involved in sports ministry. That’s a myth!
When I did sports ministry in Gloucestershire, my main volunteer was an 84-year-old man who each week would turn up to a basketball club and help pump up balls and get to know the children’s names and eventually had opportunities to tell them about Jesus too. He was an amazing grandfather figure to so many of the children. He wasn’t particularly sporty, but he did have a passion to see children and young people come to know Jesus. The town voted him ‘Sports Personality of The Year’ one year because of all his contributions to sport. He told me that when his wife died, when he was in his seventies, he prayed and asked God to use him. God definitely did that.
The Diocese of Norwich is looking to partner with local churches who are looking for growth and revitalisation, to think about how to engage with people in a language that they understand.
Sport is the biggest it has ever been. How do I know? Because sport is everywhere, and people seem to love it. For example, the top two most googled topics in 2019 were sports related, 900 million people viewed the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in 2012, 44.7 percent of 11-16-year-olds play football at least once per month.
These statistics really challenge me. I imagine what it would be like if 44.7 percent of 11-16- year-olds have started attending my church at least once per month? It would be incredible! Sport and fitness are not the answer, but they do provide a whole lot of opportunities to tell people about Jesus.
I wonder if your average week involves any sporting or fitness activities? Could you start seeing this as a mission field? Could you start praying for the people you meet and looking for opportunities to tell them about Jesus or invite them to church or an event the church runs?
I wonder how fit your church is and whether you have ever thought about engaging with your local community through sport and fitness? In an Olympic year, this is a great time to get involved in sports ministry and to share the love of Jesus with the people you do life with.