When Sports Compete With Youth Ministry – Part 2

In my previous post I talked about the reality of sports (and other extra curricular activities), and how they often collide with our youth minisrtry events and programs. In this post I want to look at practical steps I take to help sports and youth ministry work for me and the families I minister to. Or another way to put it, here is how I I try to create teamwork between youth ministry and sports: 

1) Schedule Way in Advance / Look at Important Schedules: It’s hard to cover all the bases, but anytime we are planning an event or retreat, we try to avoid major events at school and within our church. The key however, is to plan this way in advance. School and sports schedules (not practices in my experience), are usually posted a couple of months in advance. I try to schedule events 2-3 months in advance, (our mission trip date was given 9 months in advance).  This gives parents a great deal of notice, and communicates that we want to help them by getting important events on their schedule. You might consider this a little too diligent, but is working for me… try it?

2) Make it Easy for Students to Come: I live in an area and am part of a church that is BIG into sports. When I arrived here I was shocked that every Wednesday for our large group gathering we fed the kids dinner! (I had never been at church that made dinner every week for students). However, one of my leaders told me this: “So many of these kids come straight from practice or games, if we didn’t feed them, we wouldn’t see them”. Students give a buck or two to cover about a third of our costs, and I have recruited some great parents to make food every week… We have doubled our numbers in the last year… Food makes it easier for students to show up. Think about what you can do to make it easier for students to come?

3) Get on Campus if They Can’t Come to You: We have to face the reality that students are on campus more and more these days. We must see ourselves as missionaries on campus. If students can’t get to you, go and see them. Showing up at a game, taking a picture of them, and then posting (and tagging it) on Facebook goes a long way. When the season is done, guess who they come and see?

4) Give Grace and Gain a Following: What I mean by this is pretty simple. When parents see us as a partner to helping them figure out their schedules, they will more likely trust us and want to work with us in the future. At times, even if I don’t agree with a decision, I will choose to give grace as much as I can. Parents (and students) need to see the contrast of the demanding “no grace given” sports world compared to the gracious ministries we run.

5) Give Yourself a Break, You Can’t Please Everyone: Bottom line, we can’t please everyone. Do your best, and hand off responsibility to families to make their own choices. As per my previous post, we are not here as the primary disciple makers, we are here to partner with parents who are the primary disciple makers.

6) Give Good Boundaries: For Retreats and Trips I stipulate a leaving time and an arriving back time. If a parent / student cannot make that time, I leave the decision with them and place the responsibility on them to decide what to do.

7) Give Ownership Back to Parents: We do our best to schedule retreats around important games and school events, but it’s impossible to keep everyone happy. If a parent says they cannot make the leaving time due to sports games, I give them ownership of the problem by asking them if they can drive their student later. Recently, I had a parent drive her son and another student 3 hours to a retreat…

8 ) Get Feedback: Simple principle, but is something I see missed by so many youth workers. Have we actually taken time to ask parents what days and times are best for their students? If not, perhaps this is something simple we can do. However, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of trying make it work for everyone.

What do you do to make sports and ministry work? I would love to hear your ideas?

Phil <><


4 Responses to When Sports Compete With Youth Ministry – Part 2

  1. Doug April 6, 2011 at 12:00 am #


    Great topic and one that our family has struggled with for years. Regular church attendance and youth group participation is very important to us. However, with three boys — all active in travel-related sports — it is difficult to say the least. We constantly make trade offs. We have told coaches that we can’t participate in practices and extra training opportunities if they are scheduled on Sunday morning. However, we typically will not miss games or tournaments. Some seasons are more difficult than others, but in the long run, our boys attend far much church services than they miss. Basically, it’s a balancing act. And I couldn’t agree more about our role as parents. I look to the youth pastor to compliment my efforts to raise my boys in Christ — not replace them.

  2. Kile Baker April 6, 2011 at 8:36 am #


    Good choice for a post, this is a more important topic than most youth ministers realize. It is definitely a balancing act because sports are such an important part of our student’s lives that parents (or students) are forced to choose. Although I do most of these already it’s a good reminder to be graceful when it comes to talking to families about church events that are important, but clash with sports. I would say that your #5 is the most important one on this list as it reaffirms that the parents are the primary disciple makers -NOT THE CHURCH PASTORS. I will say however, that there are times when parents need to be helped along when it comes to priority: sending your son to pastry camp instead of Church summer camp is a bad idea, and the parents should be gently told so. True story, happened with me and a parent and their son. We also can’t be afraid to offend families by telling them that church is important and that they may need to prioritize other things around it.

    – Kile

  3. youthworktalk April 7, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    Doug, knowing your family, I know you guys walk the walk and your kids are leaders on the ice! It’s great to hear such encouraging words from a parent who is living out discipleship in their family for their kids! Miss you mate!

  4. youthworktalk April 7, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    Kile, completely agree! It’s so challenging to come alongside parents without them getting the wrong impression. If you have ideas of how to come alongside parents effectively, I would love to hear how you do it? How did you deal with the pastry camp scenario? Would love to hear that one! Wow!

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