Bringing communities together through sports.

What is a Community Hero?

An individual who brings their community together with an innovative approach to sports ministry while serving selflessly and inspiring life long change on and off the court. We want to celebrate these difference makers who labor in the Gospel work of making Jesus known through the power of sports.

The first Sunday in April was a day of celebration for Valley Christian Fellowship. The non-denominational church in Redding, CA, announced the mortgage on their building was officially paid off.

Achieving the goal of becoming debt-free is worth celebrating for any church. But if you were to ask senior pastor Travis Osborne, he’d quickly tell you Valley Christian’s ministry extends well beyond the walls of the sanctuary.

The grass fields outside the church building are used to minister to thousands of people each weekend in the spring and fall. That’s when you’ll find young people and their families flock to these fields to play soccer, flag football, and soon, volleyball.

Intentional Lawn Care

In 2021, California was mired in its worst drought in a century. The state experienced less rainfall in 2020-21 than even the 1976-77 season, considered by many to be one of the worst droughts in state history.

Still, the vision early on at Valley Christian was to use the grass fields for sports as a way to minister to the community. Matt Carter, worship pastor and one of the leaders for Upward Sports at Valley Christian, talked about the vision and intentionality behind it all.

“It started with our last lead pastor, Eric Hult. He saw this whole facility indoor and outdoor being used for the Kingdom. They had plans for the fields in the past. This is California. So unless you water something intentionally, it doesn’t grow. So, it was dead and desolate, but we had a heart to see the property stewarded well for the Kingdom.” Matt’s wife Candice mentioned using the fields to start an Upward soccer league.
It would take time to get the fields up to par: to weed them, seed them, and water them. It would take time to get them they where needed to be to play soccer. But the vision was in place. For ministry to happen, the fields had to happen.

Intentional Vision

Recently, some leaders at Valley Christian were looking over the original plans for the lot where the church building would go. These layouts, drawn up in the late 1980s, had written plans to use the property for sports like football and soccer.

“This property has been prayed for, for years that God would use every square inch of it for his glory,” an elder told the congregation during the announcement of the mortgage payoff. In other words, having a successful sports ministry wasn’t an overnight success.

Carter said things were tough in the beginning. “We were ridiculed a little bit, not from in-house leadership or anything, but we were playing on weeds the first year. We were playing with cheap, basic soccer balls and things like that because we didn’t have a budget. We were launching this, but we knew we had to be obedient. There was such buy-in after that first year, even though it wasn’t perfect.”

After running soccer, Matt and his wife Candice were approached by a nearby church with a question: would they be interested in running flag football as well? That church had a league at capacity and knew if another church in the area was running flag football, any kid around who wanted to play could do so. Valley Christian is now in its second season of flag football.

Intentional Innovation

When Travis Osborne took on the role of senior pastor in 2021, he immediately took to the vision of sports ministry already in place at Valley Christian. Having played sports in high school and college, Osborne knows the impact sports can have on young people.

“My high school volleyball coach said sports don’t build character; they actually reveal it. I punched a padded wall after being upset at my own play and broke my hand. I earned a starting position as a setter and had to watch the first eight games of the season from the bench while my hand healed. I had so much time with God to talk about how I carried myself. So, it’s been a huge factor in my life. And I came back a different player because God not only healed my bone, but he was doing a lot of healing in my heart on how I’m going to carry myself when I get back on that court.”

With that experience in mind and seeing the sports ministry going on at Valley Christian, Osborne decided to jump into the work himself, refereeing games. Now, this spring, Osborne is helping lead out a new sport: volleyball. But the church doesn’t have a gym, and there isn’t a sand court anywhere on the campus. So, where will they play?

“We have a great grass field. We’re on twelve acres here, and we have a fantastic grass field. Anytime I see a grass field, I always think, can I put a volleyball net there? Because a grass volleyball net takes 15 minutes to set up.”

The plan is for kids from 4th-12th grade to participate in three days of instructional camp where they’ll learn the basics of the sport. After that, for three consecutive Friday nights, games will be played.

Intentional Ministry

Sports have made a massive impact at Valley Christian for both the church and the community. Matt Carter echoes this sentiment. “Upward has such a positive environment that I think it’s just winning the hearts of the community. They realize, oh, my kids are going to leave, whether they won or lost, or did really great or not, they’re going to leave having fun and having an amazing time connecting with other kids and their coaches.”

Along with the connection families in the community are making with the local church through Upward Sports, church members themselves are getting involved in unique ways. One gentleman even volunteers his time on game days to drive a golf cart, chauffeuring older people who can’t walk the distance to see the games. It allows the grandparents to see their grandchildren play.
“It just opens up so many other opportunities beyond coaching,” Osborne says. “We’ve got another group of people who love doing the concessions. They love getting to interact with the kids. It’s been really cool to see so many different areas beyond just refereeing or coaching of ways people have been activated into serving.”
Travis and Matt are both quick to point out that the sports ministry at Valley Christian isn’t about promoting their church. “We’re not promoting our church. We’re promoting Jesus and the Kingdom. Upward is bigger than one church. It really does reach the community and it pulls the Kingdom together to reach the community.”

“Church is scary for a lot of people,” Osborne notes. “Sports ministry has been such an open door for people to come to church. That’s the whole premise, right? Get them on campus and expose them to the gospel in relationships.”

There’s no telling how long the drought will linger in California. But one thing’s for sure: nothing will dry out God’s faithfulness to us. And nothing will stop Valley Christian Fellowship’s commitment to their community. If there’s grass on the field, sports ministry will happen, whether it’s soccer, flag football, or volleyball.

Downloads & Links

February Community Hero Spotlight

Summerville Baptist's basketball league has been thriving, celebrating its 25th season in 2022. John admits it hasn't always been easy ... but the reward of families coming to the gym to hear about Jesus, outweighs all obstacles. - John Lybrand, Summerville Baptist Church, Summerville, SC

December Community Hero Spotlight

Children with ADHD. Children with dyslexia. Children with autism. Children with Down Syndrome. Jesus welcomed them all. - Vinh Nguyen, Cornerstone Church, Grand Island, NY

November Community Hero Spotlight

"I had some awesome chaplains in pro-ball who would say 'Don't be surprised if God calls you into ministry one day." - Brent Leach, First Baptist Church, Brandon, MS

October Community Hero Spotlight

"To say 2020 was a trying year for many churches would be a massive understatement." - Darrin Worthington & Mary Jordan, Trinity Baptist Church, Lake Charles, LA

September Community Hero Spotlight

"Reaching a Community for Christ with Excellence!" - Alan Royalty, First Baptist Church, Alpharetta, GA

August Community Hero Spotlight

"Making Bigger the Family of God." - Joel & Katie Stevens, Sherwood Oaks Christian Church, Indiana

July Community Hero Spotlight

"Utilizing Sports to Support P.E. in Christian Schools" - Brent Jenson, Angleton Christian School, Texas

2020 Webinar Series Archive

Hear directly from experts in the fields of disease control, hygiene, communications, mental health and more to gain invaluable information about safely and thoughtfully reconvening in your community as shelter-in-place requirements are lifting.

“I had some awesome chaplains in pro-ball who would say ‘Don’t be surprised if God calls you into ministry one day.”

Brent Leach, First Baptist Church, Brandon, MS

“To say 2020 was a trying year for many churches would be a massive understatement.”

Darrin Worthington & Mary Jordan, Trinity Baptist Church, Lake Charles, LA

“Reaching a Community for Christ with Excellence!”

Alan Royalty, First Baptist Church, Alpharetta, GA

“Making Bigger the Family of God.”

Joel & Katie Stevens, Sherwood Oaks Christian Church, Indiana

“Utilizing Sports to Support P.E. in Christian Schools”

Brent Jenson, Angleton Christian School, Texas

Hear directly from experts in the fields of disease control, hygiene, communications, mental health and more to gain invaluable information about safely and thoughtfully reconvening in your community as shelter-in-place requirements are lifting.

2021 Webinar Series

Season 2 of our webinar series is back! Titled “Community Heroes”, this season’s webinar series from Upward Sports will provide invaluable information to church leaders, sports directors, and volunteer leaders on how local churches are changing the game by creating customized sport experiences, offering new sports to their communities, and utilizing the improved technology, all offered through Upward’s new initiative called Project Select. Hear stories from Upward church partners across the country who are bringing their communities together in innovative ways through their sports ministry. We hope that this series inspires and encourages others to continue to labor in the Gospel work of making Jesus known through the power of sports.

Building Strong Foundations during Leadership Transitions

with Sam Sievers, Children’s Pastor at Lenexa Baptist Church, Kansas​

Beyond the Building: Restarting with Intentionality

with Kip Gingrich, Pastor of Student Ministry at Northside Church, New York​

A Customized Solution for Your Sports Ministry – Introducing Project Select​

with Ryan Shaughnessy, League Director at Christ Community Church, Nebraska

Upward Sports Launches a New Sport – VOLLEYBALL! ​

with Danny Downing, Sports & Fitness Minister at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Georgia

Co-Laboring for the Gospel: Engaging Your Community ​

with Tyson Willis, Associate Pastor at New Fellowship Baptist Church, Texas and John Gillespie, Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church, Texas

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©2020 Upward Unlimited™. Upward® is a registered trademark of Upward Unlimited. Upward is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry.