Skip to main content

Churches Pick Up Pickleball

Gabe Wang-Herrera (front left) with members of his church pickleball team.

“They call me the Pickleball Pastor,” jokes Gabriel Wang-Herrera. “Or I wish they did.”

Wang-Herrera, who pastors a small Philadelphia, Penn., church, is crazy about pickleball. Under his enthusiastic direction, his Christian Reformed congregation, By Grace Alone Church, has formed a team and named themselves the Philly Pickleball Phenoms. The church also hosts parking lot pickleball, which has become popular in the neighborhood.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. The fastest-growing sport  in the United States, pickleball is reportedly fun, simple to learn, accessible to all ages, and a very social sport. Canadians are just as crazy about the game as Americans are, with an estimated 1.37 million Canadian players, according to a 2023 Pickleball Canada report.

Lupe Reyes is a member of By Grace Alone Church and plays on the pickleball team. Sadly, her husband died of COVID-19 two years ago. The church has been a great support to her and her four kids, she said. “Pickleball has helped me with my grieving,” she added. “I’m so thankful to God for this ministry of our church. Pickleball helps me to stay healthy, too.”

Reyes invited someone she met on the pickleball court to meet her pastor. “Pastor Gabe was able to share the gospel with him, and he received Christ,” she said. “That was really amazing.”

“Pickleball has really opened up doors for me,” said Wang-Herrera. “I’ve been meeting people from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds and all ages. You can literally have a 7-year-old and a 77-year-old playing on the court together. Think about the relationships you’re building!”

Wang-Herrera’s enthusiasm is catching. “Pickleball has become quite a passion for many of us,” he said. “On our church calendar, there are more times for pickleball than anything else.” And it’s not just casual—they are actively working on skills, and the Phenoms compete in a local rec league.

Hundreds of miles away in Ontario, Canada, another CRC church is opening its doors to pickleball players. Located in a suburb where many new houses are popping up, Community CRC of Kitchener was looking for ways to draw people inside its doors. “We thought pickleball might be a way,” said Anita DeHaan, the church’s administrative assistant. Church members set up three courts in their building’s gym. About 35 people showed up for the first few pickleball sessions in May, though they decided to take the summer off, she said.

At their core, games are a great way to connect with people, said Wang-Herrera. “Games are a microcosm of life. When gaming, you can see someone’s character come out. It brings down barriers. And when someone is winning, those are the opportunities we can take to lift people up.”


We Are Counting on You

The Banner is more than a magazine; it’s a ministry that impacts lives and connects us all. Your gift helps provide this important denominational gathering space for every person and family in the CRC.

Give Now