Are you a sports fanatic? I know I am! I love playing, coaching, talking, and watching sports, especially the Georgia Bulldogs!
Have you ever wondered how an avid sports fan can be as passionate about being a follower of Christ as he can about his favorite football team? As a follower of Christ, my heart's desire is to share Jesus with those searching for the truth. These two passions led to me using sports to do ministry. I truly believe as Paul said "We are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to do." Upward Sports is something God planned a long time ago. I am thankful to be one of many who are a part of seeing His plan become a reality in using sports as a ministry tool.
While serving on staff at a local church, our first year of Upward in 1986, we had 150 players sign up. In the years following, we saw that number grow to 250, 350, 450, then 520! It got to the point where we couldn’t fit any more kids into our gym – we were full. We had a waiting list of 27 kids, and I was thrilled. I couldn't wait to tell my wife that we had 27 kids on the waiting list. I'll never forget the way she looked at me and said with her compassionate voice, "Really? Is that why we are doing this? To put 27 kids on the waiting list? I thought the reason that we got into this was to reach kids, not to turn them away?"
It was evident God’s plan was way bigger than mine.
It wasn’t until a well-known pastor spoke to our church that my eyes were truly opened; he said, “If you so much as have a gym in this church and you’re turning kids away from playing basketball, you may as well put up a yellow-flashing sign that says, ‘Go to hell. We’re full.’” He knew nothing about our church and wasn’t speaking about Upward Sports, but I knew God was trying to get my attention.
So I looked all around the church, desperately searching for ways to expand, and one of my mentors wrote us a check for the exact amount we needed to renovate an old youth room and turn it into an extension of our existing gym. We were able to put another 200 kids in that gym, but it too, quickly filled up. I went looking for the money to expand once again - this time to accommodate an additional 520 kids. My friend and mentor who so generously wrote the check to fund the expansion said, “Caz, you don’t need another gym. You need a thousand gyms!” It was evident God’s plan was way bigger than mine, and He had a plan for Upward Sports to go beyond the local church.
Now, nineteen years later at Upward Sports, God has allowed us to partner with over 2,000 churches and reach more than 500,000 young athletes each year. The growing success of Upward Sports is directly related to pastors, leaders, coaches, and volunteers who have followed their calling to use sports as an intentional ministry tool.
Have you ever considered using sports to promote the discovery of Jesus? I have seen firsthand the effectiveness sports have in connecting people within communities across the country. Take these facts into consideration:
- 90% of Americans are influenced by sports each week.
- 60% of Americans associate with a sports team more than a church.
- 35 million youth play organized sports each year.
- 8 million people are leaving the Christian church each year – resulting in a decline in church attendance for the first time ever.
If you have a desire to share your faith with those who are searching for the truth, I would encourage you to consider these 5 steps:
Awareness – Be open to new experiences. Allow new opportunities that come into your life to be potential outlets for ministry.
Passion – Be sensitive to God's prompting of your heart to those new things you have become aware of.
Vision – Vision is God's answer to a prior problem. Be willing to be obedient to whatever it is that God asks you to do. When God reveals His vision, it is always "BIGGER THAN ME."
Get Ready – This always requires an act of FAITH. Stepping out into the unknown is an act of obedience to what God has called you to do.
Be Intentional – The vast majority of incredible opportunities usually "stall out" at this phase because everybody is waiting on someone else to do something when it is OUR turn to be intentional about what God has asked us to do. At this point, it is time to "get out of the boat."
God gives us all different passions in life, but when He collides needs in our community with our passion, it’s time to decide whether we will simply React or Act upon his calling.
If you would like to dig deeper into how to act on your passion, Caz just released a new book Act or React?: The Decision is Ours. View more information on Act or React?: The Decision is Ours.