When I was interviewing with my new senior pastor the associate pastor's position the church was offering, I had just a few things up in the air. Last Spring, in addition to wrapping up a Path1 Residency and having a third child on the way, I was at the midpoint of my 18-month residency period before ordination. It’s kind of a tenuous time to be changing appointments in our system ... And it’s not the preferred way of doing things for anybody.
With my process though, we knew it was coming one way or the other, so our eyes were wide open to the necessary hoops that would be jumped through.
One of those hoops: completing a discipleship project.
The project can be just about anything ... Creating a new worship service. Starting a new small group ministry. Developing missions ministry. Anything that creates disciples.
AND that you can write a 10-15 page paper about later. Success is great, but not required. But, honest, thorough, analysis is expected.
With short time ... About five months to complete a project ... My pastor and I looked at the options, knowing that creative projects will be at the top of my list during my tenure here, we landed on something that most of my friends and family would probably say, ‘really?’
My church sits on about 20 acres in the middle of a residential subdivision in Burleson, Texas. When the church moved to it’s new campus in the early 2000s, having been landlocked for decades, they chose land with plenty of room to expand. And, expand we will. But, right now, there’s a lot of free space.
One of the go-getters at our church reached out to a youth sports league last fall, a league for young kids that teaches the basics of soccer, baseball, and flag football, and invited to host them on our church campus. We mow the fields, provide restrooms, and offer a concessions stand.
All of that is a huge win. Approximately 250 kids are on our campus on Saturdays, 14-or-so weeks out of the year. A big opportunity to reach LOCAL kids and their families.
But, it wasn’t being capitalized upon. Like many places, the harvest was huge, but laborers ... Didn’t know it was happening. Outside of the few that were putting in a lot of hustle, that is.
So, here I am, with three kids under six who like the whole sports thing, in a new place, meeting new people ... Why not take on sports ministry?
Why is that funny? I haven’t played a team sport since I was a sophomore in high school, which I quit so that I could do the high school musical my junior year.
The nice thing about taking it on? Awesome people already had a good thing going. Great people were working the concessions stand, purchasing supplies, putting profits towards our backpack ministry.
But what needed to be done?
We needed to introduce ourselves to the young families walking onto our campus.
That's really it. The people hustling to put the thing together ... They were too busy running a concession stand to go around and say, "Hi!" There were too few volunteers for them to spend time in conversation.
So, in order to get us out of the stand and into people's lives, we implemented just a few things:
- We got a portable awning and moved the concession stand out of the building and closer to the field. Really, we just moved out a few feet, but the big red tent drew a lot more attention.
- We printed a simple information card about the church with a clean design and basic church info (worship times, discipleship ministries), with the church website printed SUPER big on it.
- We simplified the menu so we could spend more time talking to people.
- We had some cheap sunglasses printed with the church website on them to give out to kids for free. We gave them out on week 3 of 6 (walking from field to field to introduce ourselves) and I saw kids and parents wearing them every week thereafter.
- We beefed up our volunteer pool. I took that one on specifically. The volunteers running the thing needed the help, they loved doing what they were doing, but it can be a long day and they were burnt out. We had over 20 volunteers throughout the season, including staff support from the church.
- ALSO, I signed my two oldest kids up to play. Our children, when they let us, are gateways to meeting new people. Not everybody can do that and eventually my children aren't going to want to sign up for these things. City sports are just an amazing opportunity to meet new people in a community and a unique way to let community members know that you're a human being too, and not just a pastor or minister.
And guess what? None of that required me to be athletic. Although, I did hit my step goal by noon everyday.
By the end of the season, many knew better who we were as a church. We saw several families throughout the season try us out in worship. And many more people from the church came to see the value of letting this league play on our church campus.
We sometimes forget the value of the church as a community center. It is an important role for the church to reclaim ... But, if we are going to open our campus up to our neighbors, how are we lovingly inviting our guests to be a part of our faith community? How are we taking part in local organizations in a way that lets people know that our church is open to new people?
How does your faith community capitalize on the gift of outside organizations coming onto your campus?