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Why You Should Change the Way You Think About Sports and Youth Ministry

If you’re a youth worker, you’ve struggled with how your students’ participation in sports impacts your ministry. (I wrote about this here and the response was overwhelming.) In conversations with youth workers, both real and virtual, I’ve noticed what seems to be a growing frustration with this issue.

While this frustration is understandable, I want to challenge us all to take a step back and reconsider how we think about this.

Frustration, while not an unexpected response, won’t help anything. Here are a few thoughts on how we can be a little more healthy in how we address this issue in our ministries. 

It’s not personal.

It’s not a vote. While it can feel like it at times, teenagers aren’t choosing sports over you personally. We have to step back and consider what sports does in the lives of teenagers. It satisfies their need for competition. It puts them in a spotlight that is fun and exciting, one they really can’t get anywhere else. When done in a healthy way, athletics provides a unique family bonding experience. Sports provide a lot of positives in the lives of our students. And while it stinks at times, we can’t take it personally when they choose to attend practice over youth group.

It’s not ALWAYS their choice.

Keep in mind that there are quite a few parents who drive their child’s participation in sports. For some of our students, being at the ball field every night of the week isn’t their choice. We should feel empathy for these students. It’s a recipe for burnout, and it does more to harm their relationship with their parents than it does build it up.

If it’s not working, try something new.

If you have a large number of athletes who can’t make it to, say, your Wednesday night service, consider creating new opportunities for them to plug into your ministry. The guys in my small group can’t often come to Wednesday nights. But Sunday nights are open. We meet for an hour to an hour and a half on Sunday nights and we get full participation most of the time. Remember, your programs aren’t sacred. You don’t serve them. They serve you. Change it up if you need to. 

Tweet This: If your ministry is hurting because your athletes won’t or can’t come to you, figure out how to go to them. http://ow.ly/C4wVr

What if youth group were so compelling they wouldn’t want to miss?

Even as I say this, I want to be careful. I don’t know that it’s healthy to view youth group attendance in competition with sports. So, there’s my disclaimer. BUT I can say from experience that if you’re intentional about building a ministry of substance (and not all style), your athletes will attend when they can. I am in my fifth year of a weekly small group meeting with a group of guys, the majority of whom are super-active in multiple sports. They don’t attend every meeting. But they show up to almost all of them. And it’s because it means something to them. It’s a thought I think is worth considering.

Shift your paradigm.

If your ministry is hurting because your athletes won’t or can’t come to you, figure out how to go to them. Make your ministry one that is flexible enough to go where students are. If you can do this, you may even find that you reach a group of students that you previously weren’t reaching.

For most youth ministers, this is a very real issue. And there’s no easy fix.

But it’s not going away anytime soon.

I’d like to challenge us all to be creative in how we adapt our approaches, and more than anything, to be understanding and patient with our students. Getting frustrated won’t help. Our emotions are better spent coming up with a way to adapt moving forward.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.