Church of England invests in sports outreach in major drive to attract newcomers to church

Funding is being awarded to churches running sporting activities like five-a-side football to attract people who may never have been to church before(Photo: Unsplash/Markus Spiske)

The Church of England is launching a major drive to attract new people to church through sporting activities.

In a major boost to churches across the country, parishes are benefitting from a £12m fund to help finance activities like five-a-side football, running groups, after-school sports and boxing clubs. 

The Church has launched the scheme as part of its ambitious mission programme, Renewal and Reform, in the hopes of reaching people who may never have been to church before.

A grant of £1.98m has been allocated to fund a new church training hub in the Diocese of Norwich in partnership with St Thomas Church, Norwich, which already has an established sports ministry. 

The church's 'Sports Factory' has dedicated 'sports ministers' who work alongside children and adults in the parish, and offers a programme of weekly sporting activities, including netball, football and a 'Couch to 5K' running group. 

The ministry serves all ages, from a special summer holiday programme of sports for children during the school break, to a weekly Fab and Fit for the over 50s. 

The new hub will train future leaders and church planters, as well as sports ministers and youth ministers, with an emphasis on reaching young people and families. 

The successful sports ministry already up and running at St Thomas's will be replicated across the diocese in 10 different locations. 

Tim Henery, who leads the sports ministry at St Thomas's, said: "A lot of young people see the church as just pews and hymns - not something that relates to them. Through playing sports they realise that there are people who come to church and are like them.

"Sports ministry is helping us to reach people who may never have heard the message of the Gospel, helping us to transform their view of the church. We are building relationships and changing lives."

Ruth Anderson, who founded the sports ministry work at St Thomas's, said: "Interest in sports and fitness is at an all-time high with huge audiences for the Cricket World Cup and England's women's football team in recent weeks.

"Our work presents an opportunity, through a shared love of sports, to talk about faith and the wider questions of life that we might not otherwise have had."

Other projects to receive grants from the Strategic Development Funding include the development of six new intercultural worshipping communities and church plants aimed at black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the Diocese of Leicester. 

The project is to receive £1.54m, with the aim of encouraging greater BAME participation across Anglican parish and diocesan life, including lay leadership and ordained ministry.  The hope is that, by 2024, there will be 900 more active BAME worshippers who are interested in exploring leadership and ministry opportunities in the Church of England.

In the Diocese of Truro, £1.7m is going towards church growth in St Austell, Camborne, Liskeard and Truro where new worshipping communities are to be established outside the traditional church building in venues like cafes, community centres and a former pub.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "From congregations in cafes and community centres to sports ministry and social action, these projects are moving the heart of our mission to where it should be, recognising Jesus beyond the borders of the institutional church.

"The Good News of Jesus Christ cannot be contained within existing worshipping communities. We want everyone to know how much they are loved by God."

Debbie Clinton, who heads the Church of England's programme of Renewal and Reform, said: "These inspirational and creative projects are further proof of the Church of England's drive and commitment to bringing the Good News of the Gospel to all communities and areas of the country."