A common complaint among children’s pastors and leaders these days is that they are losing families to sports that, unlike in the past, are now played on Sunday. The soccer fields and baseball diamonds are full of kids playing sports during times that they might formerly have spent in Sunday school or worship services.

Worse, it’s not just the kids who are playing that are missing church, it’s the parents, plus siblings, and even grandparents, as well. If you have a number of kids in your church playing in Sunday leagues, it can have a significant impact on attendance.

So what should we do in response to this dilemma? What are some ideas that work, and what are responses that are counterproductive? I honestly don’t have all the answers to this problem, but here are a few ideas and strategies:

  • Making parents feel guilty is probably not a good idea, and it may even drive them farther away from church.
  • Don’t make the kids feel bad for wanting to play sports. They’re kids! They just want to play – and they don’t create the schedules.
  • Don’t bemoan the loss of your sports kids in front of the other kids. They are just as important, and may wonder what they’re missing!
  • Whether it’s Sunday school, children’s church, or other activities, make it memorable and fun. Let the buzz from other kids make the sports kids wonder what they are missing.
  • Go where they are. Eric Hamp, now senior pastor at New Beginnings International Church in Fort Worth, Texas, speaking at INCM’s Children’s Pastors Conference, talked about how they would go out to the soccer fields with bottles of water with their church name on them and give them away, and do t-shirt cannons at halftime. They spent time engaging with the parents and other kids in the stands. (I’m not sure how often they did this – but if you did it a couple of times a season, it would certainly create goodwill for the church.)
  • Let the kids know you miss them, and continue to invite them to other children’s ministry events.
  • Praise parents for their faithfulness who continue to bring their children to church.
  • Start a non-Sunday sports league in your area, if there is not one. Upward Sports, among others, has leagues that have devotions at half-time, no games or practice on Sunday, and an emphasis on good sportsmanship.
  • Be there for the parents and kids when they need you, whether they are in church or not. If you hear of a need in one of your families, respond to it. They’ll know you care and support them.
  • Pray for them, above all. Whether present or absent, pray for your kids and their families.

I would love to know your ideas, or strategies that have worked for your ministry. Please comment below and let’s all learn from each other!

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Joy Feemster is a 20-year veteran of children's ministries and is currently the Director of Christian Education at Neely's Creek Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Her passion in life is pointing people to that "1 Thing" relationship with Jesus Christ (Luke 10:38-42).

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