MEGA Sports Camp Helps Alaska Churches Grow

MEGA Sports Camp Helps Alaska Churches Grow

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The success of MEGA Sports Camps has been documented in the United States north to south, east to west as an incredibly effective way to engage kids and reach them for Christ. But would that success hold true in the Land of the Midnight Sun?

Josh Dryer, who is 30, has been ministering to kids at True North Church in Fairbanks, Alaska, for the past four years. And for each of those years, MEGA Sports Camp (MSC) has been a part of the church’s summer program.

Dryer, who was born and raised in Oklahoma, felt burdened for Alaska once he learned that each week many villages throughout the state were without a weekly presentation of the gospel of any kind. After completing James River Church Leadership College, graduating from Central Bible College, and spending 3 ½ years at the Ozark, Missouri, church on staff serving in kids ministries, he responded to a call to serve in Fairbanks with his wife, Lindsay.

“Fairbanks is a ripe area,” he says. “A couple years ago, a study was done by a local pastor and we learned that about 95 percent of the people in the area did not go to church. We wanted to be a church for the city — to connect with the city — and one of the ways we did that was through MEGA Sports Camp.”

Four years ago, Mark Zweifel, the former district youth director for Alaska, became the pastor of True North Church, with Dryer joining him shortly after. At the time, attendance was 85 people. But that first summer’s MSC drew 100 kids.

“Aside from hockey, basketball is very popular in Alaska,” Dryer says, “so we offer the sports of basketball, cheer, and street hockey — and the kids love it.”

Each year the camp has grown and expanded, along with the church. Today, with God’s favor resting on the church, church attendance runs about 1,250 and this year’s camp saw 350 kids register.

“What we’re really excited to see is that each year at least 25 percent of the kids who attend are unchurched,” Dryer says.

As MSC combines sports with the gospel message and caring mentors, it’s not surprising that as kids learn about Jesus and see His love in action around them, they want to be a part of His “team” and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. However, this year’s response was unexpected.

“We were prepared for up to 75 kids [as they had 66 and 65 kids respond the previous two years], and then we had 90 kids indicate they wanted to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior,” Dryer says. “So many of them I didn’t know, which is what you want [kids not already attending the church].”

Dryer says the kids who made a decision for Christ were given a Starting Point kit that helps them learn what’s next in their relationship with Christ. He estimates that, on average, 20 to 25 of those kids’ families show up the next Sunday to “check the church out.” Judging by the growth of the church, many of those families stay.

But Dryer can’t do all this work on his own — the church provides many volunteers, but each year he also invites a team to come in to assist with putting on the camp. This year, Rob Gillen, youth pastor of Christian Life Assembly from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, brought out a group of 18, made up mostly of middle school and high school students, to help put on the True North MSC.

It was the perfect fit.

“We had just put on the same MEGA Sports Camp at our church a few weeks earlier,” Gillen says. “Our teens got plugged in as coaches to students and helped lead the different sports while mentoring students as well.”

A vision God has given to True North Church is to plant 20 churches by 2030 in villages that don’t have a church.

“Josh has a map with pins all over it, each pin represents a village in Alaska that doesn’t have a gospel presentation,” Gillen says. “As he shared with us this vision, he was shedding tears — he’s so passionate about this vision the Lord has given.”

What Gillen didn’t realize when accepting the invitation to help with the MSC was that Dryer prays that with each group that comes, that God will touch hearts in such a way that a tithe of them will be led to one day return to Alaska to serve as missionaries.

“We had two high school students [a tithe of the group of 18], Grace and Mayson, who were so moved, that they have pledged to one day go back,” Gillen says. “Grace already has everything planned out and talks freely about going to college in Alaska and even raising a family there.”

Dryer says that the MEGA Sports Camp success at True North Church isn’t an anomaly. He says the True North Church campus in the small village of Nenana, about 56 miles southwest of Fairbanks (led by Campus Pastor Billy Starkweather) has had great results as well.

“They have 52 elementary kids in the entire community,” Dryer says, “and they had 40 and more kids attend their MEGA Sports Camp each day, last year and this year — with kids and families always eager to return.”

And this spring, in Nuiqsut, a village just 13 miles from the Arctic Ocean, True North laid the groundwork to revive a church that hasn’t had a pastor for nine years and has a congregation/caretaker of one. Many of the villagers still rely on hunting whales, seals, and other wildlife in order to survive.

“We went there on Easter and had a great response to the church service,” Dryer says. “We did a MEGA Sports Camp for elementary kids in the mornings, and had a great response, the we did one for middle school and high school kids in the afternoon, and that response was just strong. We had 40 to 50 kids a day — it was an unbelievable time.”

True North Church is growing as it reaches out to serve and love on people who desperately need God. MSC is one of the church’s key outreaches. Many inspiring stories have reached Dryer, including a child whose mom says makes her take him to church (and now she attends too) and a family that has plugged into the church due to their child accepting Christ at camp.

“Their team is praying consistently about more opportunities to reach people for Jesus,” Gillen says about True North. “I was personally inspired to be more intentional, not only in ministry, but in my life, about sharing the gospel and being strategic about praying for and reaching the lost in my own community.”

“We’re breaking a lot of misconceptions about what a church is all about,” Dryer says. “High-energy music, people greeting you in the lobby, smiles, laughter, compassion, caring, the gospel message, and most importantly, the presence of the Holy Spirit, draw people to this church — and I believe God is just getting started.”

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