In Malaysia, a local church has its own court for floorball, a combination of field hockey and ice hockey. The players use the worship hall which has been converted into a gym for the night. Local believers use this recreation to reach out to their community, drawing local families into participation at differing levels. This has become very popular with the local people.
- Another church group, in a small Muslim country, has organized a weekly men’s soccer league. They invite people from the majority religion to come to play—and they do! This has provided individual believers with a great means for creating contact points with the participants with whom they can then follow up with care and sensitivity at appropriate times.
- In the southern part of another Asian country, a church has organized interchurch basketball leagues for different ages where they can attract nonbelievers from the local community.
- In another part of this Asian country, a residential soccer school has been set up for youth. The school partners with the church in another country which sends coaches and trainers who work with local administrators and managers. They are committed to reaching the young men for Christ in addition to building a viable (and profitable) soccer program.
These church-based sports activities are not being done in the traditional way that Westerners or those working in more open situations in Asia may be familiar with. For example, an outreach program such as a city-wide basketball or volleyball tournament from a local church, or a youth program centered in the gym or yard of a local church usually has an evangelistic speaker or an offer to join a church or Bible study as an integral part of the event. These kinds of events obviously cannot be done in the current environment in China. The environments we face in China present some unique challenges for those who may want to use sports to benefit their communities. What are some of these challenges?
- Lack of facilities. Most churches do not have a suitable place for sports activities. Often parks or schools will not let outsiders use their grounds or facilities.
- Sports in general have not caught on with the average person as a participant. Exercise groups for older people are seen, but sports are not necessarily a part of normal leisure time activity. Who has the most leisure time in China’s developing and hustling cities?
- Expensive health clubs are becoming the vogue but largely for upper level urban people with disposable incomes.
- Sports, up to this point, are played mostly by elite athletes or specialists in training (those who go to sports schools or are on government or company teams).
- Currently, there are no church leaders who participate in sports, so in general, the churches do not know how sports could be used for outreach.
However, sports activities can still be done in a creative way given the right conditions and prepared people to carry them out.
- There are numbers of young people in the cities playing “pick up basketball” at local parks and recreational facilities, especially those in or near colleges and universities. However, volunteers are lacking to organize and sponsor teams, tournaments and leagues. Could local believers be trained to do this? In some cities, sports leagues have already been formed—a great way to extend the circle of friendship.
- Could local churches create their own facilities by leasing part-time or building a multi-use facility that could be used for community meetings, then converted to a gym for different kinds of sports?
- There might be opportunities for sports or community centers to be established in urban communities throughout the country.
- Such centers could help fulfill the Chuan Min Jian Shen (Whole Community Total Fitness) movement the government is promoting throughout the country.
- A holistic approach would be provided for reaching into a community, similar to the YMCAs in the West or in Hong Kong.
- Sports could be a key component, with local intramural teams and leagues formed for a variety of sports and activities. Local church leaders could be trained as coaches, managers and owners.
- Language classes could be offered for a fee to attract all age groups.
- Additional courses could be offered for parenting, counseling, husband-wife relationships or other needs that are expressed.
- Local believers could join as partners and/or employees depending upon the initial scale of the project.
- These centers could tap into the “Olympic fever” that has already begun to grip Beijing and will certainly spread to other cities in the next months and years.
- Host a short term sports team of some kind. All kinds of teams have gone to China over the past twenty years, from high-level professional teams to amateur “friendship teams” that help pave the way for longer-term involvement. These can be men’s or women’s teams that play basketball, football (soccer), volleyball or other sports.
- Secure an invitation for long-term sports workers, which is not difficult. Coaches and players can work either with official venues such as schools, come out as language students or come with another kind of visa and help develop sports on their own. There is no limit to this type of opportunity. Both short- and long-term sports teams can relate to officials, corresponding coaches, players in the community and the general public in ways that are unique.
- There seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence of interest on a community level for anything involving children. Games for children could be used in the open community spaces that are springing up in most new urban apartment complexes. These are some ideas on how to answer the question, “Can local church based sports activities be implemented in China?” We believe the answer is “yes!” if done carefully and as a means to affect outreach into communities. At the same time, the expatriates involved should keep in mind the desire and need to develop local leadership no matter what the project is.