Many pastors blame the rise of children’s sports for the decline in families – and fathers – participating in church. According to an article in Christianity Today:
“…pastors most often identified competing Sunday activities—led by youth athletic events—as the primary reason for declining worship attendance.”
That’s what Steve McMullin found after the Acadia Divinity College professor interviewed church leaders and members at shrinking congregations. His study, published in the Review of Religious Research, showed that pastors most often identified “competing Sunday activities”—led by youth athletic events—as the primary reason for declining worship attendance.
The 2008 Faith Communities Today survey uncovered a similar result. Minsters identified children’s school and sports activities as “by far the greatest obstacle [to church involvement].”
The issue is becoming more pronounced as Sunday loses its place as a day of rest. More leagues are scheduling practice and games on what used to be considered a sacred day, thus robbing the church of its traditional growth engine – young families with children.
Why is Sunday becoming “Sportsday?”
- As society secularizes, the need for a “holy day” diminishes.
- Modern families are very busy, and unscheduled blocks of time are at a premium. Sunday morning is one of the few holes left in many people’s schedules.
- It’s reflective of our kid-centered society.
- A lot of parents don’t like being separated from their children on Sunday (as churches tend to do). Sports often bring families together.
Men are leading this movement. The majority of coaches, referees and league officials are male. Many are not affiliated with a local church. Why wouldn’t they schedule sports on Sunday morning?
Fathers often choose youth sports over church for a reason most Christians would applaud – they want to spend time with their families. Can we blame them? Sunday may be a man’s only day off – and he craves time with his young’uns. The modern church can hardly object – we preach family-above-all-else - and then complain when men do what we tell them to.
Moreover, sport is a way for dads to use their gifts in service to the next generation. Men who could never envision themselves as Sunday school teachers are excited to mentor the young through athletics.
Some men may even see ports as safer for their children than church, due to the recent sex scandals that have rocked several denominations.
Many fathers are all too happy to trade Sunday worship for Sunday sports. Of course, some men do both – they attend their children’s sports and still find time for church — but their numbers are dwindling. When there’s a conflict between a worship service and a game, you know which one usually wins.
How should the church respond? Here are three ideas:
- Help men and boys “win” on Sunday. Worship services, Sunday school and youth group are often built around the learning styles and emotional needs of women. Males tend to “lose” in church, so they eventually go passive or quit. The more “guy friendly” your church is, the more men will want to stay and participate.
- Be careful about separating families on Sunday morning. Age segregated programs may be more interesting for the young, but they can also deprive families of time together. Offer as many multi-generational opportunities as you can.
- Embrace sports, instead of resenting them. Baylor University has launched a new sports ministry and chaplaincy program. Director John White said, “Sports can teach discipline, friendship, teamwork, and ethics if Christians approach them well.”
If you are a father who prioritizes sports over church, consider the dangerous messages you’re sending your children:
- My children, you – not God – are at the center of the universe. Everything revolves around you and your activities.
- Winning is the most important thing.
- Your spiritual life is helpful, but it’s not a true priority.
- We’ll spend thousands of dollars on your hockey season, but God gets a quick $20 dropped into the plate.
Hear me – I’m not against organized youth sports. They can be part of a healthy childhood. But they can also become an idol. They can breed narcissism as they muscle God out of the picture.
Local congregations need to realize they are competing for young families’ limited energy and time. It might be time to stop fighting youth sports and learn to adapt. The article in Christianity Today ends with this:
Some churches have shifted schedules. “Here in New England, I know congregations that shut down youth programs during ski season,” said David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. “Whether that’s adaptive or totally capitulating, I’m not sure. They at least recognize that no one’s going to show up. That’s the world we’ve become.”
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