In West Michigan, Christian Reformed Churches have teamed up with Upward Sports to provide a positive sports experience for children. Providence CRC, Heritage CRC, Corinth Reformed Church and High Pointe Community Church are all involved in the local basketball league for kids from kindergarten to 6th grade.
“We want to give kids and parents a positive experience with sports,” said Providence outreach pastor J.B. Wernlund. It’s for families who may view kids’ sports as requiring too much of a time and travel commitment, yet want their kids to have an opportunity to excel mentally, athletically, spiritually, and socially.
At the beginning of each season, which runs from December through February, players are evaluated and placed on teams designed for even competition. Teams hold one practice and compete in one game per week. Each child receives an equal amount of playing time and is encouraged and coached on the fundamentals of basketball and a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“At every practice, the coach leads a huddle with a lesson and memory verse. It’s an opportunity for the coaches to connect with the kids,” said Wernlund. “At halftime every game there’s a devotion that the church leads at their site. Each church that’s involved has an opportunity to reach out in different ways. At the end of the season there is a celebration for the whole league.”
“The opportunity to partner with other churches helps us to break out of our own bubble and cross denominational lines,” Wernlund noted. “We can see and understand that we’re all serving the Lord and God’s kingdom,”
Wernlund values the ministry as a way to build relationships with people who aren’t otherwise connected to the church. “Over 200 of our 850 kids don’t have a church home, according to the information they gave us,” he said. “Upward Sports is a way of planting seeds. I love to hear testimonies of how it has played a part in our players’ and families’ journeys.”
Upward Sports started in 1995 and is now the world’s largest Christian youth sports provider with approximately half a million players at more than 2,000 churches in 47 states. The Southwest Kent chapter made up of the four churches has more than 850 players.