HANNIBAL – There are many methods used to share the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Immanuel Baptist uses sports.
According to pastor Mark Albee, Immanuel has been affiliated with the nation-wide organization Upwards that offers sports leagues for churches for 15 years.
This year, there are some 100 children between grades 1-6, representing 26 churches in northeast Missouri and Quincy, Ill., participating in basketball.
“Upwards offers basketball, soccer, flag football, and cheerleading. This is the first year we didn’t have the numbers for cheerleading.”
“It’s an instructional league with game fundamentals. Every half time has a ‘huddle’ with a Scripture to memorize, a devotion, and the participants get a CD, and we have an opportunity to share Christ,” Albee said.
All participants are required to attend an evaluation and orientation. Participants are ranked by where they score on Upwards standards, and teams are formed this way. There is one weekly practice and Saturday games for eight weeks.
Some of the students attending are from Catholic schools.
Albee’s student minister and outreach director Gary Taylor helps oversee Immanuel’s role in the program.
“We get the kids an introduction into basketball, get them used to playing the game together, and showing a Christ-like attitude. They learn a sport, but most of all they learn Christ. Before the year is out everyone learns to find success by scoring a basket,” Albee said.
Albee admits, the program hasn’t yet brought a lot of direct numerical growth to the church, but it has presented many opportunities for connecting with unchurched people.
“Families come in, and we try to put them in touch with a Bible-believing church near where they live. Some families have become involved with us. They are always welcome here. We’ve been able to minister to some of the other needs they have.”
The gospel message is presented at every game, and with the families that can mean several hundred hear each message.
“Every Saturday, at half-time, someone from the church shares a testimony of Christ working in their life.”
At times, special speakers are brought in. They have included KC Wolf, the Kansas City Chiefs mascot; Juggling Jeff from St. Louis; strength teams; and bicycle/motorbike riders, all with a Christian message.
“At the end of the year the gospel is laid out and shared. It is attended by 300-400 people,” Albee said.
“We’ve had alumni who play at the varsity high school level, and some who have even played at the small college level. A lot of them don’t play basketball, but learned how to be active, how to have fun, and we share Jesus with them,” he said.