The Youth Sports Cartel

by | Church Working Right

I am a huge sports fan. Huge. I spent my last 20 years on the west side of Cincinnati and sports are a big part of the culture. After all, it’s the hometown of one Peter Edward Rose. There are so many things I love about sports. I love to play and I love to watch – especially the Kentucky Wildcats! My friend Bob Russell from Louisville penned one of the greatest things ever written about sports and their impact on the church. Please read it here.

When my son Tyler was in high school he was an excellent basketball player. We tried to make every game and for a season we even allowed him to miss church to travel with a select team. Looking back, I feel that was a mistake because we began to experience the effects of what I call the ‘Youth Sports Cartel.’ At the risk of meddling and offending, I’d like to speak to your heart about this subject. Because the stakes are sky high when your kids miss church for dozens of weekends. This issue has to be navigated by every parent (and grandparent) as our children enter the sports league era of life.

I don’t want to dictate what you should do with your kids and youth sports leagues. You have to pray about it and decide which is the best long-term choice. All I know is this. The Children’s Minister where I served told me that every week we average 40 kids in our kids ministry that missed 3 weeks in a row, and 10 kids who have missed 6 weeks in a row. She said that when their leadership team checks in with people to make sure they’re ok, sports is almost always one of the top reasons for missing.

The problem with this is that kids are missing regular opportunities for spiritual growth and learning. But a bigger issue, as she profoundly pointed out, is that kids are building stronger relationships outside of church than they are inside. That’s not bad if your goal is evangelism, but if not, what develops are not friends in the church, but merely acquaintances. So later, when friendships become a deciding factor on what children do in middle school, they will always pick sports over church, robbing kids and parents of strong Christ-centered support during those uncertain teenage years.

Just something to ponder parents – if a kid grows up in their formative years worshipping sports, don’t expect them to suddenly flip the switch and start worshipping Jesus when they enter the teen years (and make an urgent plea for the church and its Student Ministry to then fix them). Told you I might be meddling! But I hope you hear my heart and rethink what’s MOST important to you. Don’t let Ball become your Baal. And since I’m in the deep end already, could I be honest? Every kid is ‘select’ now and 99.9% will NOT get a scholarship. What they will get is a weak faith that may affect them in this life and the next.