This week, to give you a taster before our workshop day, Sport For All on 20th October at St Andrew’s Church in Leyland, we spoke with some of the sports ministry team there to find out about the fantastic work their church is doing in the community and some tips from them to help grow a successful sports ministry. Many thanks to Calvin, Deborah and Keith for sharing with us about what they do.
St Andrew’s church has a thriving sports ministry, with running, badminton and football groups among the activities they offer as well as walking, rambling and table tennis for those who prefer a slower pace and a specialist over 55s programme.
The church sports groups provide lots of opportunities for people to invite friends and family to join them at events and activities, to build strong relationships with the community over time and to witness to people just by sharing life with them. Calvin told us about an especially popular event when Bill Bygroves (Liverpool FC club chaplain) came to speak at a football tournament which was a brilliant opportunity to invite many people to come and hear the good news of Jesus.
Keith told us how the sports ministry at St Andrew’s began in 1985 through contact with Bishop Tony Porter and Christians in Sport. Over the years the church has partnered with Christians in Sport, Ambassadors Football, Sports Chaplaincy UK and Scripture Union who have supported the church in community mission. They have been involved with the Church of England Sports initiative – now the National Sports and Wellbeing project. Keith said, ’When it comes to leadership, encouragement, support to have members of the clergy who have an interest in sport and outreach, it makes a massive difference’ and having had that support from their clergy the St Andrew’s sport ministry is still going strong after nearly forty years.
Calvin explained how the ministry has grown and developed, ‘A really good thing that we did was we surveyed the church family and asked them what they were interested in, what would you invite friends to? We got a real sense of what people wanted and how people could help us.’ The team was overwhelmed by the amount of support that was offered, even people who weren’t particularly sporty offered to help with refreshments or first aid and really came together wanting to support the sports ministry. The survey helped the team find out what skills the church family had available to be able to put on different groups themselves and which sports might be popular but would need some specialist help from outside. A challenge moving forward is training up people to do other activities like exercise classes. Calvin advises ‘Engage the church family to use people’s skills and gifts, it starts there with consulting and figuring out what you can and can’t do.’
Deborah shared about how they had seen God at work in unexpected ways at the new badminton group, ‘we were hoping 10 or 12 would turn up and bring a friend and we had almost 30 through the doors in the first few weeks.’ The group was attend the first week by a large number of refugees who had been placed in a local hotel. The refugees were pleased to find the church so welcoming and have kept coming back. As relationships grew, the sports ministry team identified other interests and needs and were able to support this group in other ways – a young lad has been invited to practice drums with the church band and the church has responded to the need to put on English classes.
Another aspect of the sport ministry at St Andrew’s is the seniors sports programme ‘Sports Life’ which has expanded to include table tennis therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease or dementia, providing valuable specialist support for the people who attend. Keith told us that people often join the groups initially for company and friendship and how social prescribing teams can now refer people suffering through isolation or depression to the church’s groups. St Andrew’s provides the activities that improve people’s wellbeing and works in partnership with the community health centres to make sure those who are vulnerable are able to access these activities to improve their wellbeing.
As we chatted there was a definite focus in the conversation on the time the team and the rest of their volunteers put into growing relationships with people, coming alongside them to demonstrate faith in action and meet people’s needs. Keith gave the example of a lady who attend the seniors programme, who over time had got to know people through the table tennis group, had later visited the church and given her life to Christ and now volunteers helping the groups whilst being a wonderful witness herself.
On a practical note the team say there is a lot you can do with very little equipment or cost but recommend applying to Sport England who have funding to support projects tackling inequalities and bringing the community together with a priority to support projects working with people in disadvantaged communities. They say grants from local organisations might also be available for specialist projects for example to support seniors with dementia or Parkinson’s disease.
We asked the team for their advice to other churches thinking about how they can use sport to share Christ. Here’s what they said:
Start with prayer, call people to prayer. At St Andrew’s public prayers underpin the sport and wellbeing ministry.Keith
Just have a go, get a group of people that fancy a game of football that maybe starts in the park and they invite their mates, because you don’t know where it’s going to lead to. Find a group of people at church who are likeminded, wanting to pursue it and just put something on and see how it develops.Deborah
If you love Jesus and you love sport it’s a great way to serve, it’s a joy and a privilege.Calvin
You can find more details about our upcoming conference where we will be learning how to use sport to share Jesus and build relationships within our communities: