STAYING TRUE TO THE MISSION:
Meeting the Needs of the Community by Implementing a New Sport
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia had to retool their robust sports ministry. During a normal spring baseball season, they would reach 500 kids alone. Danny Downing, Sports and Fitness Minister at the church, saw in the pandemic’s lockdowns an opportunity to shift the baseball program into a discipleship opportunity for kids, families, and coaches. “The thought of children and families not coming out to hear that Jesus loves them, was hard to think about. I knew we needed to take advantage of such a grim situation,” stated Danny.
“We just started picking up the phone and calling each of the families to see how they were doing”, said Danny. “We knew this was a tough time for everyone and the worst thing we could do was pack everything up until we could do sports again. We did not want to take a full year off from ministry. Our mission was never just about running a sports league; first and foremost, it was about helping people discover Jesus and accept the goodness of His love. That mission never changed! We decided to keep in touch with our sports league families and coaches, to be a church that can support and love them, even if it was at a distance.”
Danny and his team stayed focused on the goal of helping families see the love of Jesus through their outreach. But as they reached out across the community, they discovered that kids were feeling a desperate need for connection. Kids were missing sports and needed a safe place to get out and play! “Kids across the community did not understand missing out on activity and we could tell they were beginning to suffer physically, mentally and spiritually. We had to get creative and get families back in a safe way,”stated Danny. When summer came around, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church made sure to offer new opportunities for safe and socially distanced sports, where the community could be a part.
"Kids across the community did not understand missing out on activity and we could tell they were beginning to suffer physically, mentally and spiritually. We had to get creative and get families back in a safe way,” stated Danny
“There was a lot of interest in volleyball but not a lot of options for playing the sport in our area”, said Danny. “As we were offering multiple sport options, we wanted to continue what was bearing fruit through our ministry and to continue to reach families for Christ. We knew families were open to attending sports, so it made sense to offer and implement a new experience.”
For Danny, implementing a new volleyball experience continued to further the mission of his sports ministry: to impart to children a solid foundation in God’s word, while also teaching them the importance of physical and spiritual fitness. Johnson Ferry Baptist Church’s partnership with Upward Sports has always been about promoting the love of Jesus through sports and stepping into volleyball was another extension to share this love.
Danny believes that God created sports to be a valuable tool for the church in building trust and fostering relationships with the unchurched while offering a place to serve and grow for those who are plugged in. Over the 21 years in sports ministry, he has seen that people who might not have a relationship with God are willing to play the sport they love at a church field or court well before they feel comfortable stepping into a church service. “As a sports ministry leader, our ultimate goal is to create a place where you feel welcome and want to be a part. Sports ultimately is the entry point to the church. By offering this experience we are able to invite families to a service, small group, and ultimately share Christ. Sports is simply the vehicle,” said Danny.
"Sports ultimately is the entry point to the church."
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