Many churches utilize Upward
Basketball as a community outreach tool. In fact Upward Sports, with
headquarters in Spartanburg, S.C., reports 230 Upward basketball leagues in
North Carolina this season.
Churches find Upward one way
to fill their gyms with kids from the community, which is one justification for
most churches who built them in the first place. Upward leagues can bring a
flood of people through your facility for eight weeks who can afford the $65 or
so it costs per participant.
But First Baptist Church
Cherryville turns the tables on that cost and assumes all the expenses itself.
For the 350 boys and girls involved in their fourth season of Upward Basketball
this year, the Cherryville congregation foots the bill for more than $20,000.
They involved close to 100
volunteers and saw about 2,000 people through their facility every Saturday.
Pastor Vince Hefner says many young people made professions of faith through
the distinctly Christian sports activity.
“It’s a recruiting tool for
Jesus, not a recruiting tool for our church,” Hefner said. In season and out,
Hefner looks for ways to keep his congregation actively involved with ministry,
community and personal growth.
“A local church ought to be
involved in ministry 12 months of the year,” said Hefner, pastor for eight
years in Cherryville. Besides, he said, when people are busy in ministry and
personal growth, they don’t complain about the carpet, heat or sermons!
The church launched a
personal growth event this winter called 27·30, a challenge to read the 27
books of the New Testament in 30 days. Hefner provided a reading schedule and
has given away 1,300 New Testaments with schedules.
When church members wore
their 27·30 T-shirts and told friends on Facebook what they were doing,
requests for the schedule came from all over.
The shirts are an evangelism
tool, said Hefner, a member of the Biblical Recorder board of directors. People
naturally ask about their meaning and the wearer can say, “Let me tell you how
the Lord spoke to my heart in 30 days of reading His word.”
Church members also
demonstrate their giftedness through a prayer quilt ministry in which
participants gather twice a week to construct quilts as gifts of love given to
terminally ill patients. Hefner secured the loan of several acres of land from
a church member on which other church members are going to plant a major garden
this spring. When the vegetables are harvested, they will be given at no cost
to those in need.
On Sunday mornings some men
meet at a local outdoor recreation store the owner lets them use for Bible
study with men who avoid a church building like they avoid rickety deer stands.
They cook breakfast and study the Bible in an atmosphere where they feel at
“We’ve been blessed here not
to just have ideas, but to have planning and implementation as well,” said
Hefner, who wishes he could help pastors see the need for planning and not just
for having ideas. “Lots of people have ideas. I have an idea for world
peace, but no plan to implement it.”
Hefner sees his church, with
attendance of about 500, as “counter punchers.” They have a steady stream of
smaller projects and activities.
Wednesday nights the church
has Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action mission groups, and utilizes an Awana
program on Sunday nights.
A space in the old fellowship
hall has been remodeled into a coffee house that is very popular with the high
school crowd. When unemployment started hitting local families a couple years
ago, First Baptist held a job fair, matching employers with prospects.
Cherryville Area Ministries
(CAM) is a service oriented ministry that helps struggling families. While a
silent auction has raised money for CAM before, Hefner thought he could cajole
more funds out of supporters with a live auction this year and the event at
First Baptist raised $10,000.
Hefner is all about
“Anything I can do — that’s legal — I’m going to do to find a way to
tell people about Jesus,” he said.