There was a moment in the history of student ministry where churches and extra-curricular sports could live in perfect harmony. Wednesday nights were a place of joy and prosperity (not a prosperity gospel push), and all students were in attendance. Unfortunately for most, this is not the story for your current student ministry. Mid-week programming seems to be just another option on a student’s schedule, and it leaves the youth worker wondering how to reach these students.
If we aren’t careful, we can send a message of students choosing sports over Jesus. We know this isn’t the heart of youth workers, and so we want to help you embrace these students and their extra-curricular activities by using the Sports Pause.
What is the Sports Pause?
We want to use public knowledge for Kingdom impact. School schedules and fall sports schedules are all general knowledge. Post playoffs, most schools will hit a small lull before the next sport kicks off. Tryouts may happen during this time, but post tryout workouts will still be in a pause. This little pocket, which is out there in the schedules, is the perfect 5-hour energy boost your student ministry needs. This pocket is what we are calling the Sports Pause.
The Sports Pause is an opportunity to re-engage your students who find themselves with a little more free time than they have had all semester. Workouts extend earlier into the summer, and varsity sports are running two-a-days to make sure their athletes are in top shape. It’s not a surprise your student is not showing up to church; the miracle is they are staying awake long enough to do homework!
The Sports Pause is a natural, school-supported period where your student ministry isn't AN option; instead, it becomes THE option. The question is, how do we embrace this pause?
What if we hit November with the same energy, we hit August
Promotion Sunday, Wednesday night kick-off, and small group kick-off are all significant events within the fall semester. Most of these even have a budget line on your overall budget, for those blessed with a budget. We are willing to invest resources here because we know this is when students are the most willing. It's hard to explain it, but the switch is all too familiar for those experienced in student ministry. School is back on, which means Jesus is also. We embrace routine to get the most out of our resources.
What comes next, though? Do we then decide the next opportunity to put some significant hooks in the water is January? A few weeks before the event? We often wonder why registration comes in so slowly. Here's the proposal. What if you used the Sports Pause the same way you use August? Your focus is going to be more specific, but these students don't deserve less than students who aren't doing a fall extra-curricular. Your student's willingness to dedicate to a sport only shows their maturity and passion towards things they value. What if we showed them something else valuable, such as how Jesus is going to show up for your January Disciple Now?
Sports no longer take off the holidays, and we shouldn’t either as youth workers. The Sports Pause highlights a familiar group of students who carry needed value for the health of your student ministry.
Athletes Missed August
Your Athletes started summer workouts in June. Maybe you had students who were not able to come to camp because they weren't allowed to miss sports-related activities. The illusion of student summer is gone because only the best get to win. To be the best takes sacrifice, according to sports teams. Your athletes likely weren't there for Wednesday Night Kick off, so what if you gave them something special in the middle of November?
We’ve alluded to this throughout the article thus far, but the truth is you don’t care about your athletes any less, right? You want these students to be involved, but it's time to show them you care rather than say it. Here is an easy thing to help bridge this gap. Don't assume they know what you're talking about. You've been pumping Disciple Now dates for the last two months, but this isn't a prize drawing. We have to stop making our students feel like they had to be present to win. Try something along these lines, "Hey, insert student name, glad to see you, man. We love having you here tonight, and we'd love to see you at this awesome event coming up on such and such weekend. Can I tell you why it's going to be a life-changing weekend?"
Names and Games Make an Impact
You hopefully have been going to games all fall. If not…you should. If your fall seasons have already finished, I can't recommend it enough for winter sports. You've not seen joy until a 9th grader sees you on the bleachers of their Freshman game. Games accomplish three important things:
- You know what happened at the game, so you have talking points.
- You get to show a student their time is worth your time, even on non-church days.
- You learn the names of students who aren’t yours.
When students make big plays at the game, or even when the game is close. You not only know what happened, but you have a shared experience with them. You know what the atmosphere was like, and the relational currency you earn is unmatched. It also leads to some funny jokes when students make an error if you have that relationship. "I saw you dropped the ball last week versus Smith High School, are you going to drop this pizza too?" You're not trying to roast the student and destroy self-esteem, but it does show you saw the student how you came to the game for them.
Not only do you show students that you want to spend outside of church time investing in them, but you also get to know the parents. I've had more meaningful and impactful conversations with parents on the bleachers than some discussions within the walls of the church. Your choice to sit with a dance team dad, watching the routine he's already seen six times this season, opens the door to ask how you can best minister to his family. If you show up to games ready to build relationships rather than push programming, opportunities for the latter will happen naturally.
NAMES. Can you imagine walking into a new place and being greeted by name? For the introverts out there, that can feel a bit like a horror film. When you welcome your students by name, you show them how they are more than a warm body who has the blessing of hearing your sermons. The real power of games and learning names is not just with your students. It's with their friends. What happens when those friends visit alongside your student, and you greet them by name? It's hard to imagine a clearer picture of love than arriving in God’s house and being greeted by name no matter where I came from.
Also, think about what this means for your future events. “Hey Sarah, I was thinking about our Winter Retreat and wondered if Leslie might be interested in coming? Maybe you could invite her?” This shows your people that you know their people. That’s student ministry. You aren't wasting time when you go to games if you use the time while your there. Now could you sneak in, take the Instagram picture, and sneak out? Absolutely, and students might know you were there. If you're intentional about using these moments for current and future ministry, though, the Sports Pause becomes a significant opportunity to reach athletes.
Broad Sweeps Only Catch Crowds
You've announced things to your regular crowds for multiple weeks. You pump it in small groups. Yet athletes aren't signing up. We need not make them feel like prodigal children returning home, preferably just a treasured student who was a little busy. What could it mean to a student…or parent to receive a handwritten letter congratulating them on their season and inviting them to your Disciple Now?
What if you wrote students who made a deep run in the playoff a card, and included a small notecard about upcoming events? Your athletic students know they missed the first part of the semester, and the last thing they want to experience is shame for it. Make your invitations and ministry opportunities personal to this returning group of actual all-stars.
You have a heart for your students, and you know your January holds events and opportunities they need to be part of. You wouldn’t spend a whole semester advertising these moments if you didn’t see value in them. What the Sports Pause gives us is a clear window to engage with an often-overlooked group.
Thank you for your investment in students, and thank you for caring. What you do matters. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, what are you doing to reach athletes?
Andy and Robbie Are Here to Explain the Sports Pause and Why It Is Crucial to Take Advantage of It. Click Below to Watch or Listen Now
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