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Unchurched Kids Drawn to Church s MEGA Sports Camp

Unchurched Kids Drawn to Church's MEGA Sports Camp

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When Josiah Bridgewater, the children’s pastor at the Neighborhood Church in Bellevue, Washington, started preparing to host this summer’s MEGA Sports Camp at the church, he wasn’t sure what to expect. The past three years, the camp had grown from 25 to about 60 kids. He prayed that this year would be a breakthrough year — it was.

“We had 115 kids register,” Bridgewater says, “and 90 percent of those kids were visitors. Of those visitors, 60 percent or more had never even heard the name of Jesus.”

MEGA Sports Camp provides churches with the ability to combine a variety of sports clinics (and even some non-sport activities) with periods of teachings from the Bible and group interaction. This year’s “Team Spirit” camp focused on stories about Jesus and His team of disciples.

“The Bellevue school district has more than 80 different languages spoken, it’s unbelievably diverse,” says the 27-year-old Bridgewater. “Many of those families are from India, with a majority of those being Hindu. The question for all the churches in this area is how do we reach Hindus?”

One of the struggles in communicating the gospel to Hindus is that they have so many gods. Adding another God isn’t necessarily seen as a problem, but making Christ their one and only true God and Savior — that’s a big problem.

Lori Stephen, who works part-time at the church and was in charge of registration and the check-in/check-out process at the camp, agrees with Bridgewater’s evaluation, saying it didn’t take her long to realize that most of the families registering kids had no church affiliation.

However, with the focus of this year’s MEGA Sports Camp being on Christ and His disciples, it was the perfect fit as so few of the children, ages 5 through 12, had any idea who Jesus is, what He has done, or even how to pray.

Although campers were obviously enjoying learning new skills in the offered sports of soccer, basketball, or cheerleading, what was arresting the attention of Bridgewater, Stephen, and other volunteers was the response of the kids to the gospel.

“Many of the children were hearing about a man named Jesus for the very first time,” Stephen says, citing several examples of kids excitedly telling their parents about singing songs about Jesus and later in the week raising their hands to accept Him as Savior.

Soccer was by far the campers’ favorite activity, but Bridgewater says that even on the playing field the lessons continued to draw kids’ attention. “All week long kids were talking about the stories among themselves, what was going on in the stories, during sports and other events,” he says.

Bridgewater says that the Neighborhood Church opts to hold their MEGA Sports Camps in the evenings as a majority of the people in the area are double-income families. The first time the church held a camp, it was during the day and the logistics for parents to drop off and pick up children ended up excluding many kids from participating, so the switch was made.

On the fourth evening of camp, after days of helping kids understand everything from prayer to how much Jesus loves them, Bridgewater, with many parents looking on awaiting dismissal, shared a story, a brief salvation message, and asked kids to raise their hands if they wanted to make Jesus their Lord and Savior. Hands shot up all over the room.

“A coach told me about how one little girl looked at her mom, and her mom shook her head ‘no,’” Bridgewater recalls. “But when I led in the prayer of salvation, her coach noticed her repeating the prayer and later she took one of the Now What? booklets.”

Stephen says her heart was filled with joy seeing the kids respond.

“There was a brother and sister who attended camp together and both raised their hands to accept Jesus,” Stephen says. “For those children that raised their hands, the coaches passed out Now What? pamphlets about next steps after accepting Christ. The brother was handed one and told his coach, ‘My sister needs one too. We are going home to read it tonight.’"

Bridgewater prays that seeds of the gospel were also planted into the hearts of the waiting parents.

Both Bridgewater and Stephen agree that what was taking place in the hearts and lives of kids wasn’t the only thing going on — God was using the 40 volunteers, who represented one-fourth of the church’s average attendance on Sundays, to fulfill His purpose.

“I saw people from our church using their God-given talents for the first time,” Stephen says. “I got to see confidence grow, excitement for serving others blossom, and relationships with others outside our church’s walls begin to build.”

Bridgewater isn’t sure how many of the salvation decisions will “stick,” but he’s praying that many will not just stick, but expand to draw family members to Christ.

Perhaps what is most telling about the effectiveness of the camp is a survey the church did following the camp. Of those who responded, 90 percent said they were planning on attending next year and another 90 percent said they would recommend MEGA Sports Camp to a friend or family member.

It would appear the Neighborhood Church and MEGA Sports Camp got it right — provide the opportunity and then step aside and let the Holy Spirit do what only He can do.

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