It doesn’t take long to notice the great spiritual needs at the average public high school. But getting into a local school with a gospel ministry can be challenging. One avenue few churches consider is through the athletic programs. In most public schools, athletics is a hub for student life. Ministering to the athletes and their friends is a way to serve a large percentage of a school.
In 1982, my father, Bruce Engelman, witnessed a fatal car accident that involved youth under the influence of alcohol. Through this tragedy, the Lord gave him a burden to reach teens with the gospel. He had a career in sports broadcasting, so athletics was an easy way for him to connect with teens. He began a ministry that he called “Athlete Outreach.”
Our Lancaster Baptist Church youth staff began a similar ministry here in Lancaster, California, in the fall of 2015. Over the past eight years, we have had tremendous opportunities to minister to high school students and have seen players and coaches accept Christ as their Savior. Additionally, we’ve been able to counsel players through tragedy, depression, and addiction. We’ve conducted Bible studies in players’ homes. And we’ve seen many come to church as a result of these contacts.
Here are five suggestions—all of which we have used at different times—that you can use to begin a ministry to high school students and coaches in your city.
1. Offer to provide a chaplain to your local high school sports team. Being a team chaplain usually involves attending team practices at least once a week throughout the season and giving motivational challenges and prayer. The advantage of being a chaplain is that you are with the team so much that you have more personal and quality time to build relationships with the players and coaches. We make sure to present the gospel to the entire team at least once a season. But the contacts you make with the players and coaches allow you to share the gospel personally as well.
2. Provide and serve a team meal to a local high school team. Most coaches and booster clubs welcome any support from a local organization that will donate a free game day team meal. This opportunity can get you an open to door to teens and coaches. And remember, many coaches are also teachers and leaders in the school.
Serving a team meal is a perfect opportunity for a youth pastor to introduce himself and his youth group as a friend in the community and also to invite the players to a scheduled youth activity.
3. Provide Gatorades or protein bars at a team practice. This is a simpler method to have an initial contact, and we have seen a simple team snack before or after a practice go a long way in starting relationships.
4. Provide a breakfast or snack to the coaches at your local high school. Contact the athletic director of your local school and offer to bring breakfast or snacks to the coaches or teachers’ lounge one morning. Coaches and teachers are often overlooked and underappreciated. We have found this well received and very appreciated.
5. Invest in athletic advertisement for your church at your local school. Many high school athletic programs have sponsorship fundraisers that are open to the community. This is a great opportunity to support your local school while also advertising your church. Additionally, it’s a good way to begin relationships with school leaders.
These five ideas can be adapted to your needs. You might even use two or more simultaneously—either in the same school or in multiple schools in your area.