Many young families have enrolled their children in various sports programs, which are healthy but often conflict with Sunday church services. Consequently, we don’t see these families in church often. What can be done? How should the church handle this?
There is a temptation to tell the families they should prioritize church attendance, but this response will likely drive some people away completely. And let’s be clear: sports are not the only things that take people away from church. Participating in sports programs addresses a felt need, whether it is preparation for future sports opportunities, companionship for both the players and the parents, or the excitement of being at the games. Many families have found a community with the other parents and children in these programs, and they are reluctant to miss out.
Consequently, people can find themselves in a quandary because of schedules they don’t control. Continued absence, though, causes them to miss out on many things that affect their faith formation. They’re missing worship, formational or educational opportunities that meet on Sundays, and being an active part in a community of faith. Even those casual conversations at church help build important relationships that can last a lifetime.
A good first step for the church is to have a nonconfrontational conversation with each family. Topics could include: Is this a short-term issue, or is it likely to be ongoing? Are there other times when they can gather with the church community? Are they open to gathering with some other families for worship, education, and fellowship at times that work for all their schedules? Are there things the church can do better so that the church community is as valued as the sports community?
Families should take some steps as well. They could, for example, work together through educational materials that the church provides and prioritize spiritual practices like Bible reading, prayer, devotions, and singing. With some thoughtful planning, the family can continue to stay in touch with the church and grow their faith while they are absent.