Sports/Fitness and Church Planting
As the world gets more complex, we can no longer just rely on a few simple strategies for reaching the unreached. We must be increasingly creative and inventive, and wiling to try new ways which might not at first seem to us to be very "missionary".
When people think of "missionaries", they often think of an intrepid family who go to a remote village, befriend the village chief, build a bamboo house in the village, and invite curious villagers to Bible studies in their living room.
Fitness instructor as missionary?
Perhaps some may also think of a missionary as someone who opens a coffee shop in a town where there are few Christians. But how many people would think of a Zumba instructor as a missionary? Or a personal fitness coach?
Not all unreached peoples are poor farmers. Many unreached peoples have moved into towns and cities, and many of them are working class or even middle class. And we can't assume that people will invite us into their lives just because we move into their neighbourhood.
How do people who don't live in an agrarian village form relationships? In their workplaces and in the course of their everyday lives (which is why we like missional business and marketplace ministry). But also, in their hobby groups.
Building community in the modern world
I am a typical modern urban dweller. I do not form relationships where I live. I'm far more likely to form relationships where I work. And I do not build relationships when I go into a coffee shop, but I do form strong relationships in my hobby groups. My exercise class has effortlessly embraced me into their community, perhaps because we suffer together so much. I've not been hanging out with them for more than a year and they are already trying to get me to go on overseas trips with them!
GSI is excited about the possibilities of sports and fitness as mission strategies.
At a big picture level, we see that urban dwellers are increasingly wiling to spend money and time on sports and fitness. In addition, a sports club or fitness group is not too complicated to run and may not require very much capital or equipment to set up. It can be a reliable and long-term source of financial stability for the missionary, and if conditions are right it can even be highly profitable. Most importantly, it gives missionaries a good identity in the local community, and a great context in which to build relationships and share life with people.
Sports and OM
At GSI, we are delighted to have received a number of sports-and-fitness related business project applications. We hope to see even more. There are many ways in which sports can be used for mission. In addition to running gym businesses, OM-ers can get jobs as coaches or even professional players, including in countries and communities that are closed to missionaries. As a trainer or player, you have respectable standing in society and a natural position of influence, particularly with young people and their parents Coaches and players can share their testimonies, pray for people, discuss biblical sportsmanship, invite friends to read the Bible after practice, and plant churches among natural relationship networks (like the Surf Church in Portugal).
When playing sports, people tend to take off their masks and engage with all their heart. Like the work place, the playing field is often where true character is displayed. What a great place for authentic Christian witness!