Why Students Choose Sports Over Youth Ministry?

It is that time of year again when we kick off our youth ministry year a few weeks behind all the end-of-summer sports practices and right around the same time as all the regular fall sports season games. We pour energy, time, and money into our new, exciting youth ministry year, only to become quickly frustrated by that missing group of students who have chosen sports over our ministry.

How could they do that? Where are their priorities?

  • The Applause- For better or worse, students choose sports because of the applause, but are we applauding our students? Not in prideful or wrong ways, but do kids come to our youth ministry and feel recognized for accomplishments when they do something great for God?

  • The Team- Kids choose sports because they belong to a group of people with unity, connection, an identity, and a common goal. Does our youth ministry? Are the adults of your church seen by students as united in Christ? We should be, but do we? Do our kids know it or feel the united team when they come?

  • The Coach- An adult who wants them to be there, caring for them, and is willing to push them to their limits and beyond. Someone willing to yell occasionally, if needed, in encouragement and instruction. Someone who is respected because of their knowledge and skills in an area of expertise.
  • The Future- Kids play sports because there is a dream of a future doing this professionally or at least doing well enough to help them pay for college. What is the dream or promise of the future that we offer in youth ministry? Are we working hard to talk about adulthood living for Christ, or are we just talking about the student years? Are we working to help students find scholarships to go to ministry schools? Are we talking about colleges and careers connected to faith?

  • The Health- Kids choose sports because it keeps them physically healthy. There is a sense of knowing that they are in shape physically, but also mentally & emotionally because of playing sports. Do students walk away from a year or “season” of youth group feeling spiritually healthy? How about being physically healthy? With “Pizza-Festival”  and “Mt. Dew Chug-A-Lug Night,” are we missing out on a more health-conscious generation?
  • The Friendships/Relationships- Deep, meaningful friendships and relationships are formed through sports. Through the rough 2-a-day practices, long bus rides, win and lose, more kids bond with others through a mutual interest. Camps, retreats, and especially mission trip experiences are so important because they are more extended opportunities and more intense times that build deeper connections. Are we providing meaningful opportunities to develop deeper relationships with other students or just superficial spiritual cliques?
  • The Parents– Kids choose sports over church because parents choose sports over the church. Parents choose sports because they have something they can cheer for, be proud of, connect with other parents through, and even find a way to communicate with their kids. Are our ministries a place where parents are invited, welcomed, and encouraged? Are they involved in bringing a snack? Are they allowed to come to see their child doing ministry? Are we communicating with them as much as a coach or sports league communicates with them? Are we providing a ministry that parents can be proud of their kids being involved in and even “brag” a bit about?
  • The Win- Everyone likes to be a winner. Everyone likes to win. Even in a changing world where everyone gets a trophy in the younger grades, a win and a loss are defined in late elementary through high school. Everyone knows clearly what is a win and a loss. Do our youth ministries provide a clear idea of what is a “win”? Does anyone know what our “goal” is? The biggest question I get asked all the time by others in youth ministry is- “How do you define success?” If we as leaders have difficulty defining a “win” or “success,” our kids definitely don’t know either?

  • The Memories- Kids choose sports over youth groups because of the memories of the past seasons, teams, coaches, and excitement. Are we creating memories that make kids want to return for another “season” with us?

  • The Commitment  I hear students say it all the time, “I can’t come because I committed to…”. I hear parents say things like, “Well, we are trying to teach our kids if they commit to something, then they need to stick with it.” We get frustrated by those statements and lament the lack of commitment to the church, but have we ever really taught about or explained that “committing your life to Christ” is more than a one-time, at-the-altar moment, but rather a “seek first His kingdom” lifestyle. Commitment is connected to priorities and what comes in first.   Sports, after all, is about a commitment to coming in the first place.   Are our ministries, churches, and even our own personal philosophy about seeking God first, or are we just another organization seeking to come in first as we compete against the “other organization” down the road?

Just some passing thoughts from a youth pastor leading a youth ministry while also balancing being a “sports dad” to an athlete of my own!

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