Ministry is work. Best intentions and vision can fall flat when they are poorly organized, communicated, and carried out. I’ve heard countless hopeful stories of enormous sportsman’s events being put on by churches, with the end result being ground down volunteers and little to no return with regard to discipling relationships. This isn’t unique to sportsman’s ministry. Program after program stumbles its way to the grave each year because of the same repetitive doom.
Assuming any program, sportsman’s related or not, will super-cede the value of individual growth and focused, intentional relationship building is to believe in a false economy. Volunteer pools run dry. Affinity popularity ebbs and flows with the trends of society. The New Testament doesn’t give support for mass programming either. Instead, the model we can observe, and should likely model, is much more personal.
This phenomenon begs the question, should churches stop doing sportsman’s, or other affinity “outreach” events?
I’m not the first to discuss this issue. Thom S. Rainer gives 7 reasons outreach programs tend to fail. and I tend to agree. Our efforts in outreach very often seem incomplete, and short lived, especially when we don’t have a clear and simple vision.
My feeling about sportsman’s ministry in it’s traditional sense is conflicted….
I believe the local church should absolutely hold gatherings and events that allow the surrounding community to interact with membership. Kid’s events, fish fry’s, sportsman’s banquets etc. all have a special place in church life. Initial contact with any people group is critical to building the types of relationships needed to disciple.
In addition, being hospitable to both Christian and non-christian is positive Biblical behavior. (Rom. 12:9-13) The majority of public opinion about the church is gathered through broad stroke media and personal interaction with individual members outside the corporate context. Why not provide the chance to “clear the air” and allow the community to see what your church is actually doing?
The reason my feeling is divided is due to the fact that I rarely hear a complete vision from program planners that is precise and communicable. Often, in the planning stages of outdoor events, the end goal is to “lead people to Jesus.” It’s the noblest of missions. However, when we consider the spiritual condition of those on our planning teams, and those we will be interacting with (or not interacting with) at the specific events, what does “leading people to Jesus” actually look like? Unfortunately, these efforts are set up for a crash before they ever leave the ground. (Why? See the first paragraph.)
“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.” -Theodore Roosevelt
So I’d like to propose a solution. I believe Christian sportsmen are a unique group in the life of the church. The root of our interests and abilities come from a love for adventure, for experiencing the untouched places of the world, and sharing those experiences with others. We are not conventional in our methods. Our perspective differs because of our experiences in wild places. When we exist in a culture that expects the mundane (often misrepresented) norm of the traditional church, that fresh motivation, unorthodox as it may be, can make an enormous impact on a hyper-cynical culture.
If we are going to lead churches into planning and following through with an outreach event, we need to tap into those passions. While it won’t solve all the challenges of outreach, I believe we can clear up so much of the ongoing struggle with one simple, yet challenging step:
Establish an attainable, communicable, and simple end goal for your event. Then chase it down!
Saying, “Lead people to Jesus” is a great Sunday school answer for why we’re doing what we’re doing. But consider the actual situation. How long has your church been in your community? Does the community actually know anything about your church or is their perception based on a 50 year old “hand-me-down” model? Is there an existing outreach strategy in place? How does your event align with it? Having a life-changing gospel conversation is ideally where we want to go with what we are doing, but we have to consider these things in order to get to that place.
I recommend making an event like this, especially your first, an “initial contact” event. How many people can you meet at the event to follow up with? To invite to your church? This allows for a much clearer and more simplified goal, especially when communicating it with your planning team.
At the end of the day, I wholeheartedly believe that the local church should not give up on large-scale outreach. It’s part of reaching our local communities with the gospel. I also believe that it’s time to re-tool. We are called to reach a culture that exists now. Not one that existed even 20 years ago. It’s new territory. It’s scary for many. Christian Sportsmen can lead the way.