Church of England looks to sport to attract newcomers

(Photo: Unsplash/Markus Spiske)

The Church of England is increasing its investment in sports and fitness activities in a bid to increase its reach among people who might never step foot inside a church on Sunday. 

Sports and wellbeing-focused pilot projects like fitness classes and holiday football clubs are rolling out across seven dioceses as part of the new push into sports ministry. 

In Gloucester Diocese, plans are underway to launch a network of sport and wellbeing centres that will offer sporting activities while also inviting people to explore the Christian faith. 

Churches in the Diocese of Blackburn are planning sports quizzes, fitness classes and holiday sports schemes. 

The Bishop of Derby, Libby Lane, has been appointed as the Church of England's lead bishop for sport to take the plans forward.

"Sport is such a valued and valuable part of our lives: shaping our identity, contributing to our economy, offering opportunities for societal and personal development," Bishop Lane said. 

"Sports ministry has the potential to transform lives and communities for good through improved health and well-being, personal mentoring, leadership development and community cohesion. These projects are good news, sharing the Christian faith in word and action."

The Church of England's Director of Evangelism and Discipleship, Dave Male, said: "The Church of England has always been involved in sport – this is about rediscovering our roots and association with sports and wellbeing.

"We believe that this work presents the Church of England with an opportunity through its dioceses to reach many millions of people who would not otherwise be in church on a Sunday."

Anglican theological college Ridley Hall has already begun offering training for lay and ordained leaders in sports and wellbeing ministry.

Professor Andrew Parker, Professor of Sports Ministry at Ridley Hall and a member of the steering group overseeing the plans, said: "A lot of people have an interest in sport and we expect this work to reach across all age ranges, in all areas of the country and to people of all sporting persuasions and abilities.

"These pilots show that the Church is intentional about making a connection between sport and Christianity and engaging in conversations around gifts, talents, passions and faith."