Posted on : Wednesday October 8, 2008

BALTIMORE, Md.-Churches are discovering sports ministries can get their members off the sidelines, into the games and ready to charge into their communities with the ultimate goal of winning souls for the Lord.
Many churches, especially small churches, think Upward Unlimited sports leagues and camps are too daunting an undertaking. After all, they think, we’re too small or too old … but they’re wrong! Partnerships can make it work.

This summer, Tabernacle Church, Essex, hosted an Upward Sports Camp on their church lawn. Tabernacle is an older, established church in a large changing community that the church was struggling to reach. They had Vacation Bible Schools that were successful, but they were drawing a lot of church kids and few from the community.

The sports camp was different. Almost all of the kids were from the community.

“We had 100 kids that week and almost 300 people at our closing family night – from all over the neighborhood. Of those 100, ten were from our church or were church kids. All the rest rode on bikes, came on skateboards or walked with their parents. It was a neighborhood thing,” Tinney Parrish, Tabernacle’s pastor said.

The church originally wanted to have the camp at the school across the street, but couldn’t, so they had to have it on the church lawn. That, he found, was a God thing.

“Kids could see and hear us all over the community. As they rode by and saw it going on they wanted to participate. Each day we had more kids. In the seven years since I’ve been here, this is the first time we really made a connection with the community,” Parrish said excitedly.

That camp was a result of Tabernacle’s partnering with Embrace Baltimore. Embrace facilitated a partnership with First Church of Canton, Ga. First, Canton came to Baltimore on an Embrace “Catch the Vision” tour last fall. Canton leaders visited several churches and were drawn to Tabernacle. They were excited at the possibilities of reaching the big diverse community that surrounds the church.

The Georgia church brought a group of 68 volunteers-middle and high school students and adults-who came and lead the camp. First, Canton paid for everything including the camp needs, and for their own accommodations and food.

“Our job was to meet parents as they dropped their kids off and picked them up and hang out with them in hopes of making relationships with them,” Parrish said.

First, Canton has committed to a three-year partnership with Tabernacle in an attempt to help Tabernacle learn how to lead the camps on their own and to help others lead camps.

They’ll be back next year to run the camp again, but then, Tabernacle members will help. Canton will even pay for some of Tabernacle’s members to attend Upward training. On the third year, Tabernacle will lead and a Canton team will come to assist.

“Their goal is that on the fourth year, we make sure that we’ve got a church somewhere in the Baltimore area that can’t afford to do an Upward camp. Then we’re going to go and give them an Upward experience,” Parrish said.

Tabernacle’s teens also enjoyed having the youth around the church and developed friendships. In fact, the church is hoping the teens can pair with the First, Canton teens for a future mission trip.
Brandy Caffey, Embrace’s sports evangelism associate, coordinates the Upward team partnerships for Embrace. The partnership between Tabernacle and First, Canton was one of the most successful, she said. Caffey came to the camp every day to help make sure everything went smoothly.

“I can’t say enough about Brandy,” Parrish said. “She’s a jewel. She’s the most wonderful, tireless worker for the Lord.” Tinney said he was so impressed that Earl Gray, Embrace’s director of evangelism, and Maria Sigmon, Embrace evangelism associate, also showed up most days of the camp.
“They were very uplifting and encouraging,” Parrish said.

This summer, Baltimore churches, with Embrace Baltimore’s assistance, hosted camps with the help of partnering churches. More than 125 people made professions of faith, churches reached out to their communities, discovered talents and abilities they never knew they had, and developed relationships they’ll carry into eternity.

“It was one of the best weeks I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was really something,” Parrish said.
Parrish said as word gets out, more churches are going to come aboard and join in and growth will be phenomenal next year – with many assists, one-on-one contacts, goals accomplished and souls saved.

By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent