kip gingrich - Northside Church, New York

Beyond the Building: Reaching the Community Through Intentional Relationships

Before he heard the Gospel of Jesus, Kip thought he knew what it meant to be a good person. As a medical field professional, he made a career out of helping people. But it wasn’t until he began volunteering as a basketball coach for a local Upward Sports league that Kip learned what it truly meant to ultimately help people. “Sports was a great way to disarm my preconceived ideas of church and bring me in through a less threatening way.” said Kip.

Driven to coach in an Upward sports league by his love for his kids and the game of basketball, Kip suddenly found himself surrounded by families, coaches, and kids who had a different outlook: a passion for following Jesus Christ and a relationship with Him. One year after he served as a basketball coach in his local Upward league, Kip surrendered his life to Jesus, and everything changed.
Now, answering the call, Kip serves as the Pastor of Student Ministry at Northside Church in Liverpool, NY. Upward Sports has a special place in his heart. By simply coaching a sport he already loved, Kip found the God who loved him. “The Lord uses ministries, like Upward Sports to reach the community and offer a life-giving message of hope in Jesus,” stated Kip. For him, student ministry and sports outreach will always go hand-in-hand.

That’s why Kip remains committed to bringing sports ministry into his work as a student minister today. As a New Yorker, Kip knows what it means to love sports; passion for sports practically fills the air in the Empire State. For someone like Kip, sports ministry serves as a great way to connect people of all backgrounds and unite disparate communities. Sports can introduce people to the church and bring Christ to people who have not heard of him before.

“What I’ve seen growing up is that a lot of people want to be fans of something. Almost all of us want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Kip. “But tragically, many people don’t know that only Jesus can truly satisfy our desire for belonging. By taking people’s passion for sports and connecting it to the Gospel, we can use sports to lead people to the life changing experience that Christ wants to give all of us. That is where discipleship begins.”

As the Upward league director of his church, Kip relies on his own testimony of conversion through sports to help guide him in his approach to discipling the next generation of coaches. “It comes down to relationships. You must live the Gospel out and invest in each coach to truly develop them physically and spiritually,” stated Kip. When recruiting coaches, Kip looks for either a passion for sports, a passion for kids, or a passion for Christ; any one of these passions can be the launching pad for becoming a great coach.
Even if someone does not know the Lord personally but wants to coach, Kip sees this as an opportunity to share the Gospel with them and disciple them, just as he was discipled years ago. Every team in Kip’s league has a head coach, an assistant coach, and a spiritual coach – three unique roles that different people with different passions can each fill. “If I can get them to commit to serve, I can introduce Christ and begin to walk with them in their spiritual journey,” said Kip.

Kip knows that his coaches are the crucial element in his sports ministry, since it is the coaches who are on the front lines ministering directly to families. Kip has structured his Upward Sports league to reach beyond only discipling the kids on each team. For Kip, an intentional sports ministry also disciples, loves and embraces all the kids’ families as well. Kip makes sure there is always someone present at practices and games that pour into the lives of his families while helping them pursue Christ. The result of this intentional reach is a sports league unlike any other around.

“No matter what, our mission always stayed the same: preach the Gospel of Christ and expand the kingdom of Heaven,'' said Kip. “This is not a church-centric league and we do not want to just serve the families already in the church. We want to welcome all people and reach everyone in our community who might not be a part of a church or know about the love of God.”

Due to the restrictions on his state from the pandemic, Kip and his staff had to make the difficult decision to not offer a basketball league this past winter. However, they did not want to lose a year of ministering to their coaches and league families. They had to get creative, but they were able to continue supporting families and kids through these difficult times. When physical meetings were impossible, Kip had to think outside-the-box to find ways to keep pouring into his staff, coaches, and volunteers – who themselves had their own challenges to go through with the pandemic. Kip remembers organizing text messages, video calls, and phone calls to pray for, listen to, and encourage as many people as possible. He also encouraged each of his staff to think of ten people they could engage with to create meaningful ministry touchpoints. As a result, Kip and team maintained continuous discipleship and ministry work despite the pandemic’s restrictions on in-person meetings.

Looking forward to restarting after a season off, Kip and his team know things will look different. “We will be wise in our restart. We know things may be smaller this year, but outreach will take place, and we know families will need a place to feel loved, after such a difficult year.” said Kip. By offering a summer basketball camp in August, Kip and his coaches will step back in slowly. When the winter season rolls around, Kip and his team will have plans in place for their winter basketball league and will be ready for ministry. “Through our Upward Sports league, we will not be known as the church centered league. We will always strive to be a gateway ministry for outside families. This is our calling,” stated Kip.

Kip often reflects on his own life and how meeting Jesus through an Upward Sports league has changed his heart permanently. As a Christ follower, Kip believes in doing whatever it takes to reach that one extra person. This fervent faith and Kip’s passion for sports ministry has spread throughout his staff at Northside Church and continues to allow his Upward Sports league to shine as a light in the life of the local community.

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