Christian Sports Outreach

Volleyball Outreach Team

These seems to be a common misconception in a lot of people that Christians are dull, boring people who never have any fun and who are incapable of physical coordination and sports competitiveness. We happened to be a group of very talented power volleyball players. We had occasionally played as teammates, but more often, on different and often competing teams. In general, at volleyball tournaments, it was weird whenever one of the Christian players would casually mention his spirituality. First of all, there was soon a large empty space around wherever that person was sitting. I guess people expected that Christian to start handing out leaflets and to get his little soap box out to start testifying or preaching. There was also suddenly a noticeable change in how that person was treated. Rather than being a volleyball player, and being evaluated based on athletic skills and talent, those thoughts seemed to disappear, and it was as if a new person was standing there, whose playing skills were suddenly in question. Very strange!

This was very frustrating for many of us. For example, I, personally, was not used to being treated (by people I knew) as an untalented player, especially since I had been fortunate enough in my volleyball career to have played on two different teams that competed in the Nationals Tournament. It seemed like something should be done.

We believe that the Holy Spirit moved us to begin contacting some extremely talented Christian volleyball players. We wound up with two separate teams, at different playing levels, an 'A' team and a 'B' team. The 'A' team included several players who concurrently or recently played on strong college teams. The 'B' team included very talented players, but those whose lives didn't necessarily revolve around (Jesus and) volleyball.

The premise was to enter volleyball tournaments and to submit the teams in various leagues. Uniforms would indicate in a modest or light-spirited way that the members of this team were Christians. At first, many other teams would automatically disrespect the playing ability of such a team. However, by including strong Christian players on our teams, and having sufficient practices so that all of them were used to playing together, we felt we could be competitive enough to possibly win games, tournaments and leagues.

If and when that would happen, we felt that some of the competing players might open up their minds a little toward just what Christians actually were. In addition, if we selected wisely, and had players who were very competitive but still good-natured (as all Christians are supposed to be!) then there might be evidence of joy and happiness among our team. Often, that seems missing in many competitive volleyball teams. I always have found dark humor in the grim expressions of many competitors, since they seem to approach the game as a life-or-death situation.

A brief aside: I happen to be a very, very good blocker. Often, when an opponent spiker goes through my block or faces me or otherwise makes a great play, I congratulate him. Generally, this is unexpected, and often looks of surprise appear. In one high-level tournament, after having done that early on a match, I happened to get a really good block on the same guy. A moment later, I heard a quiet "nice block". When I looked around, he repeated it, again quietly, and it was like a ventriloquist, where his mouth hardly moved! That was the high point of the day for me. NOT because I got the compliment, but, rather, because I realized how hard it had been for him to offer it to an opponent. I felt like I (or rather, the Holy Spirit) planted a seed that day!

So, the reason for the team was to sort of be "ambassadors" for Jesus, in a sports venue. Very importantly, we had an active team rule, that we would NEVER, NEVER approach ANYONE else regarding a Christian or otherwise religious subject. We felt that was important, partly because of the bad impression that extremely aggressive Christians have sometimes developed in our society. Of course, it was our hope that some individual might quietly approach one of us, while we were sitting out waiting for our next match, and in that case, we could release our enthusiasm! But, even then, not too publicly. Someone nearby, who was skeptical about Christians and Christianity, could be frightened away by an intense religious conversation, and that would defeat one of our main purposes. If an extended discussion was called for, it could be delayed to a more appropriate time, maybe after the tournament when we were all getting food.

This concept was developed early 1994. This presentation was first placed on the Internet in June 1999.

This presentation (and an associated Volleyball Strategy - Practical Power Play one on Volleyball Strategy describe the efforts of a group of young Christians in the South and West suburbs of Chicago, beginning in 1994. Some modern Christian Churches (for example, Willow Creek Community Church, in the northwest suburbs of Chicago) are inspiring great interest in young people, partly due to including interesting and exciting diversions in their Christian efforts. We thought there might be value in carrying over these ideas more specifically into a sports venue, where many young people spend a lot of their recreational time.

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General Guidelines and Team Playing Strategy

Our ultimate desire is to interest non-Christians to check out Christianity. We believe that a valid way to accomplish this is to present a sports team of Christian "ambassadors" to demonstrate a positive image of Christian life. It is our hope that others will see that our team is competitive, organized, and talented, thereby demonstrating sports ability. We also hope that others will see that our team members and coaches are happy, easy-going, pleasant, tolerant, patient people who are enjoyable to be around. We also hope that some of those others who had had peculiar opinions about Christians might see this situation and re-consider those opinions. It is our ultimate hope that some of those others would get such positive feelings from what we show that they would choose to explore friendships with one or more of us, thereby opening the door to future conversations about Jesus and Christianity. All of this is intended as very low-key. We want to NEVER bring up the subject of religion. We want to create such a pleasant, inviting environment that others would want to consider entering our environment, and that THEY WOULD EVENTUALLY BRING UP THE SUBJECT OF RELIGION!

This is a variation on the recent movement in many churches toward "Small Group" Ministry. The two main distinctions here are (1) the initial sports centering; and (2) the fact that new members of the "Small Group" would not be recruited, but rather welcomed at their initiative.

Since this approach relies entirely on the non-Christian choosing to approach us regarding religious matters, the requirements on us are substantial. As human beings, we must seldom anger, seldom be moody, be non-pushy and seldom use questionable language. As sports enthusiasts, we must bring a competitive spirit to the game; we must understand and play as part of the team concept; and, at whatever level we currently play, we must each realize the existence of and strive for that "next level." As Christians, we must each feel a strong personal relationship and commitment to Jesus, and we must each desire to strengthen that relationship.

Note that no reference or requirement was made regarding sports playing level. We hope to eventually field Outreach teams of all playing levels. We suspect that the lower (C) level Outreach teams might someday do the greatest good, since that's the level where most Industrial League teams play, and those are the teams who are generally most disorganized and in need of practice and coaching.

No requirement was made as to years of being a Christian or any other rigid documentation as to depth of our players' beliefs. We believe that a diversity of experience and background among our teams' players may be desirable. If one of our newer Christian members gets approached by a non-Christian (and we HOPE this will happen often!), then that conversation can be joined by another member of our team who might be more grounded in apologetics or whatever other Christian discipline is appropriate. Our team members can "lean on" each other in such conversations. It is quite possible that non-Christians might feel most relaxed at approaching our younger, less-experienced members rather than a member who seems like he might belong on the Supreme Court bench! The important thing is that we offer an inviting environment for a non-Christian to make the first step.


OUR TEAM:

Hopefully, all the members have been invited to be part of this Outreach project already possess the personal and spiritual attributes we feel are necessary to the success of this effort. The bulk of the rest of this presentation will therefore address the sports aspects of the project. In the event that a member of one of our Outreach teams acts, speaks or behaves contrary to the goals described herein, we would like to know about it. An extended period of Outreach activities by a whole team of players could be greatly harmed by even a single incident of a team member's emotional tirade or extended swearing. We ARE all human, and such things could happen, but we should always try to minimize the chance of it happening. Similarly, since future Outreach teams will likely have great autonomy, we have some concern about some future team being influenced by dark forces and going off on a tangent of their own, using this Outreach venue for promoting their own ends. We would want to quickly know about such activity to try to resolve philosophical and religious differences. This concern is a primary reason that we see value in diversity in an individual team's makeup. We would have great concerns about the desired low-key religiosity of a team whose members were all Jehovah's Witnesses.

We trust that all of the members have a level of physical coordination appropriate to the level of play desired. This does not necessarily represent any basic limitation. In fact, it is eventually hoped that we will be able to field a Physically Challenged Volleyball Outreach Team.


OUTREACH EFFORTS

We feel that there may be some value in entering our team(s) in Tournaments or Industrial Leagues. However, we believe that there is even more potential Outreach value in offering a "traveling" team to scrimmage against during practice sessions. Many teams rent a gym, do their drills and such, but lack an opponent team to try their new skills and strategy on. We will go to them! We will send a team which should be at an appropriate competitive level to their gym (and probably share the cost of the gym rental.) In the event that they desire coaching, we would be able to help in that way as well (See the discussion below under Volleyball Skills.) After the scrimmage is over, we feel that opportunities for building personal relationships would be available, with the ultimate goal of someday helping them learn about the Lord and why we follow His Way. At NO point would we EVER get our soapbox out and start preaching!! The premise is that we make it feel safe and comfortable to ask the important questions. We want them (individually or as a team) to make the first move.

GUIDELINES:

(Requirements?)

(1) Christianity

Our team members should be fervent but not aggressive in their Christian beliefs. Inasmuch as our teams will sometimes be made up of individuals from different Christian denominations, we should always strive for a non-denominational attitudes on any religious matters. We should NEVER argue among ourselves regarding Christian beliefs, especially when non-Christians are present.

(a) We should avoid initiating conversations of a specifically religious nature. Too many non-Christians have been chased away by well-meaning Christians who have acted over-zealously and over aggressively in pursuit of their souls. We believe that there is little value in "getting in someone's face" when trying to help them find the Lord. Under NO condition should we EVER do or say anything to make any opponent feel uncomfortable in any religious area.

(2) Behavior

We feel that the first impression we leave with non-Christians is very important. Our team members must not act "Holier than thou" or really unusual in any other way. Each of our players should be highly self-motivated at Volleyball. Each should be able to play very competitively with good focus WITHOUT ever losing one's temper. It would be perceived in a disastrous manner if any of our players would ever swear at or otherwise "lose one's cool" toward any opponent, official, or teammate. Our team players should also NOT be prone to moodiness or arrogance (or perception of such) and should not let one's concentration wander very often during play. We want to present an image of competitiveness combined with the Christian characteristics of gentleness, kindness, humility, helpfulness, compassion, grace, etc. Effectively, we each and all will be God's Ambassadors and must behave accordingly. We WANT non-Christians to realize we have a lot of fun and that (most of us) are just nice people!

(3) Volleyball Skills

We hope to eventually field a variety of teams at various skill levels. One day, it is hoped that we will field Men's A (also high BB); B (or maybe low BB); and C; Women's A; B; and C; and Co-Ed A; B and C teams. Any Christian who carries "the Spirit" and commonly shows the behavior characteristics described above should be able to participate on an appropriate level team. New players should not be recruited indiscriminately. An individual's volleyball skills should be valued, but only after considering the Christian and behavior areas first. When we are invited to scrimmage with a team which is desiring to improve their Volleyball performance, some (or all??) of our team members may be "Certified" as instructors in any or all of the various Volleyball skills. IF THE OTHER TEAM REQUESTS, our team members could offer individual and/or team guidance as to skills and strategy. If the opposing team does not want this sort of help, we will not push it. We must remember that we would be their guests in their own realm and shouldn't try to "take it over."

(4) Team Prayer

Just before a scrimmage or a match, our team should have a brief team prayer. It should be brief and follow the style of dinner-table prayers, without pontification, without including any "Hallelujahs" and without specifically referring to our concerns for the eternal souls of any non-Christians present. Ideally, we should try to find a way to INVITE the opponents to pray with us WITHOUT making them uncomfortable if they choose not to.

(5) Team Bible Study

Whenever a group of our players live reasonably near each other, it seems desirable and advantageous to organize (non-volleyball related) regular Bible study sessions. Most of the benefits of Small Group Worship should then come about inside our team groups.

On first thought, it might seem desirable to have a team of almost identical Christians. However, there may be more ultimate value in having a team made up of a variety of personalities and Christian backgrounds. A non-Christian might more easily find an individual on our team to relate to and build a relationship with. Also, the perception of diversity on our team may help overcome the "slavish, cultic blind followers" image some non-Christians believe of us. Finally, the diversity should help to establish that WE are pretty much just like THEM, that we're not so weird after all.


Volleyball Strategy - Practical Power Play


This concept was first developed early in 1994. This presentation was first placed on the Internet in June 1999.

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