Sports Camp Reaches Community with ‘Open Arms’
Open Arms Fellowship, in Hampton, has hosted a week-long community sports camp for the past two summers. Pastor James Porter said the church was looking to impact local families in a new way but had no way of knowing this camp would overcome so many barriers with the gospel.
“We live in a sports-crazed culture, and it crosses the boundaries of race and culture. We, as a church, can fight it and miss out, or we can use it as a tool to share the Good News and make disciples of Christ. We have seen more excitement about UW Sports camp than anything we have done in our church,” Porter said, adding that 42 campers made decisions for Christ in 2014, alone.
Organized in 1996, UW (Uncharted Waters) Sports Ministry is an equipping resource that uses sports to help churches reach out into the community. In five years’ time, it trained over 7,000 church leaders in 15 countries to hold its evangelistic sports camps. The South Carolina Baptist Convention has partnered with the ministry for the past three years.
Scott Shields, church-planting strategist with the convention, called it a compliment to church planting efforts as a proven outreach experience and said six camps will be hosted across the state this summer.
“We see so much impact. It helps our church plants build relationships, engage with new families, and hopefully, take them from camp to relational environments,” Shields said.
The ministry offers a turnkey customized children’s camp experience to host churches, including on-site staff support. Campers are introduced to a variety of sports, learn basic skills, and compete with other campers while experiencing daily Bible study.
Open Arms Fellowship holds evening camps which start with a music rally led by UW Sports team members. Children divide into their chosen sports for training times a few times each night, learn about real-life athletes, and hear Bible stories. Porter said his church provides a hot meal at the end of each camp day, but that is not essential.
Open Arms Fellowship partners with local churches to make the camp happen and invites others to join them each year. Partnering churches make a minimal financial contribution and agree to help with snacks or meals during camp week. This has kept the registration fee at just fifteen dollars per camper. A local high school offered its practice fields for activities, and a grocery helped by donating some food. All of that community teamwork has resulted in children and families being reached with the gospel.
Porter reports that both years the summer camps have hosted about 140 campers, with only about half indicating a church membership. Because of the camp, many families have visited Open Arms for the first time, several have joined the church; and Porter knows of others that have attended some of the partner churches.
“These camps have also been a huge tool in bringing our community together. Half of the campers were not a part of our church; many had no church at all, and the number of black and white kids is almost even. For our city, it is a huge step to have that many blacks and whites together for one event,” he said.
Also, Porter told of a church elder who approached him with tears in his eyes, saying he ‘never thought he would see so many black and white families together in their city.’
“Total strangers in the community ask me when the sports camp is and say their kids are talking about it. It has created such energy inside and outside of our church that it is one of the most anticipated events that we do,” Porter said.
Shields says sports camps can be great bridges to help build relationships. “It’s non-threatening; kids relate to sports; biblical principles are built around the games and tied into the ‘game of life’ using scripture; and there’s a clear presentation of the gospel,” he said.
Shields reports that UW Sports Ministry leagues are set to debut this fall. For more information about church planting assistance, contact Shields at firstname.lastname@example.org. For online information about UW Sports Ministry, visit www.uwsportsministry.org.