Church and Sport: Churches Connecting with Local Communities through Sport

Several decades ago, sport and the church existed side-by-side within many local communities. In fact, in many places, local churches took an active role in developing sporting activities or collaborating with local sporting clubs. Many churches entered sporting clubs in local cricket or netball competitions. In some instances a league or an association was formed to cater for church clubs which had numerous young people ready and willing to participate. For example, a junior football league was formed more than 50 years ago in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne to allow children from local Catholic primary schools the opportunity to compete against each other on a Saturday morning, leaving Sundays free for church and family commitments. In many places, tennis courts were constructed on the same property when a new church was built, then subsequently a tennis club formed.

Community expectations, even of those who had no interest in church or religion, saw Saturday as the day for playing sport while Sunday was the day for church, rest and family. But society has changed. Sunday is no longer reserved for church, rest and family. Most sporting venues are used all weekend. Arguably, within the last generation sport has encroached more and more into the time-space of local church, although how much effect, if any, it has actually had on church attendance is contentious (Powell, 2002).

However, there are some churches which have recognised the potential of sport to connect with people in the local community. Lighthouse Church in Wollongong has a number of activities using sport to link with the local community, such as a charity cycling event and regular walking groups. Citipointe Church in Brisbane includes a skateboarding facility, known as the ‘God Bowl’. State Youth Games is a weekend of sports and activities for young people organised by Youth Vision, the youth ministry arm of the Churches of Christ in Australia, although young people from other denominations also participate.

Church attenders are, in fact, more involved in sport and physical activities than those who never attend a church. While the difference is not great, it is statistically significant. Examining the data for different age groups, one finds that among younger people aged between 18 and 29, there is no difference at all in the engagement in sport between those who attend a church frequently and those who never attend. However, the difference becomes apparent among older age groups. Among those aged between 30 and 54, 57 per cent of church attenders are active in sport and physical activities compared with 50 per cent of those who never attend. People aged 55 and over are a little more active in such activities (59% of church attenders compared with 55% of non-attenders).

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 24, No. 2, Pages 1-4

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