SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Playtime could change your life.
In sports and recreation ministry, the activity is secondary, said John Garner, host of LifeWay’s annual RecLab.
“Sharing the gospel in an intentional way is the primary purpose,” he said. “If you’re just there to play games, you can do that at the city park. Life is too short and the gospel is too important.”
LifeWay has been hosting RecLab conferences since the mid-1960s to provide training, tips, insight into trends and networking opportunities to individuals who work in sports and recreation ministry.
Because it encompasses everything from church softball leagues and sports camps to family festivals and father-son game nights, some 200 RecLab participants arrived in San Antonio — from as far away as Albany, N.Y. — with a variety of needs and hopes for the Jan. 25-29 sessions.
Caleb Neff, family life director at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, said RecLab taught him a “bazillion games” to take back to his church.
A pastor’s kid from Burlington, Neff said the goal of his church is to “use games, fitness, sports to reach out to the community around us.”
A huge part of that effort involves Upward, a sports ministry. Neff said about 600 children (divided into 64 teams) are involved this season.
“A lot of the kids that play Upward start coming to church,” Neff said.
Many of the games Neff learned at RecLab can be utilized in children and youth ministries so he is hoping to share with others on staff at Pleasant Garden.
Neff said RecLab does not “single out the best athlete” but instead gets everybody involved.
“Everybody can be a winner,” Neff said.
RecLab “is a great learning experience,” said Neff, who was a four-sport athlete in high school and played football for Liberty University.
While at Liberty, Neff said he worked with intramural sports, helping run 80 intramural basketball teams.
One of the ways Pleasant Garden is reaching out is inviting the community in during its open hours. A basketball night after church on Wednesdays draws people in to play.
“Most of them are unchurched and they come and listen,” Neff said of the speakers that share with the group each week. Some have even started coming to church because Pleasant Garden’s people have shown an interest in their lives.
“We try to reach everybody and not leave anyone out,” said Neff.
A key to sharing Christ with others in the family life center is to have God everywhere. Neff said they post verses around the family life center as well as play Christian music during open hours.
As a first-time family life director, Neff said he sometimes calls on his mom for help with ideas. She is athletic director for Burlington Christian Academy.
Eddie Robertson, minister of recreation at First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., said he has lost count of how many RecLab conferences he has attended -— perhaps “eight or so.”
“When I first came to RecLab, I felt kind of isolated and like I was out there on my own trying to make recreation ministry happen,” Robertson said. “But I came and found other people who were turning sports into ministry. It was encouraging.”
While Robertson was among this year’s RecLab veterans, Garner said first-time attendees make up a growing percentage of each year’s conference participants.
“We live in a leisure-driven culture,” Garner said, “and pastors are looking for a way to tap into that mentality. They see other churches having success with a recreation ministry and they send people (to RecLab) and tell them, ‘Go find out what this is all about.’”
“The face of my church is older,” said Stacey Smith, a first-time RecLab attendee and minister of recreation at First Baptist Church in Madison, Miss. “I’m really looking for activities that I could offer to senior adults.”
Before he had even attended the “Senior adult 65+” breakout session, Smith began learning about the In His Grip golf ministry founded by RecLab speaker Scott Lehman. After listening to Lehman’s presentation, Smith said golfing seemed like an activity that could show promise for fellowship and as an outreach opportunity at his church.
“I realize recreation ministry is probably one of the biggest front doors we have,” Smith said. “The nature of the ministry means we can provide things the music minister can’t. We’re able to get out of the building and onto the field.”
Organized into sports, outdoor and adventure recreation, men’s ministry and other tracks, RecLab enabled attendees to follow a particular subject throughout the 10 track times or learn a little something about everything.
During his “What is this work and how do I get started?” session, Garner told attendees that recreation ministry requires leaders who can work with anyone.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lowery is a media relations specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information about RecLab sports and recreation ministry conferences, visit LifeWay.com/RecLab. BR Assistant Managing Editor Dianna L. Cagle contributed to this article.)
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — John Thompson brought a kid’s point of view.
In his “Games, games, games” and “More games, games, games” breakout sessions, he had attendees juggling foam penguins and cooperating to carry balls between their foreheads.
Thompson, a representative with Sports Supply Group, offered tips with each activity, including:
- Use cooperative activities, such as partnering to carry a ball between two people’s hips, to encourage athletic children to slow down and help the less-athletic members of the group.
- “The stopwatch is the great equalizer,” Thompson said.
- Rather than setting a number goal for games that require repetitious movement, set a time limit and encourage individuals or teams to complete as many repetitions as possible during that time.
- Don’t forget the lessons the games can teach.
For example, remember to stress that success depends on communication during partner activities.
Thompson also encouraged Rec-Lab attendees to overcome the fear of trying new activities.
“See, juggling isn’t that bad,” he said as tentative attendees tossed brightly colored handkerchiefs in the air.
“And it teaches kids perseverance. This really makes your kids think, ‘I can get past this.’”