Redeemer Covenant uses soccer—and an unused field—to reach out to its community
“A mission field in our own backyard” took on a literal meaning when Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, turned its seldom-used softball diamond into a popular soccer field last summer.
Brooklyn Park, a second-ring suburb of Minneapolis, has an increasingly multicultural population of nearly 76,000. Soccer is a common denominator among the varied ethnicities represented in the area. A deep desire to reach outside church walls and meet their neighbors led the church to host its first soccer camp for local children and their families last summer (with an improved program offered again this season).
The origins of the camp actually go back a couple years. At that time, Redeemer’s pastor Steve Larson had already been praying for opportunities to reach out to the growing population of Latino families in the community. A new Spanish-speaking Covenant church plant, La Bendición, eventually started meeting at Redeemer, a location that was central to where many Latino families live and work. Both congregations have flourished through opportunities to share worship and fellowship, serve together in the community, and reach out in the name of Christ.
La Bendición’s pastor, Juan Lopez, recognized the possibilities of creating a soccer program both as an outreach to the neighborhood children and as a way to involve families within his own congregation. Lopez knew that church attender Santos Gonzalez had been a professional soccer player in Ecuador, so he shared his idea with Gonzalez for inviting neighborhood children to come play soccer at Redeemer’s field. Gonzalez became excited by the idea and volunteered to be one of the coaches.
Conversation ensued regarding a joint summer soccer camp. Some members of the Redeemer congregation had been suggesting for a few years that the church purchase soccer goals and set them up on the unused softball field. The idea began to take hold among both congregations, and they prayed together for God’s blessing.
Creating a program
Plans for the program quickly fell into place. Kickin’ Kids Soccer Camp would be offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from mid-June through mid-August. It would be free and available to kids between the ages of 6 and 15.
Four coaches—two from each congregation—volunteered to lead the camp. From La Bendición came Gonzalez and Lopez, who had learned to play soccer in his native Colombia. And from Redeemer were Kenny Oyederu, a certified soccer coach who came to America from Nigeria 16 years ago, and Keith Weiman, a longtime member of the church who had played soccer as a child in the United States.
Support from the two congregations was strong. Within two Sundays, they gave enough money for the goals, nets and field-marking equipment.
The next step was to get the word out to the neighborhood. The churches created brochures in English and Spanish, which they passed out door-to-door and mailed to children who had previously attended church programs.
On the first evening of the camp, volunteers had taken care of all the details. The coaching staff set up goals, and the facilities staff marked the white game lines. Balls were inflated to the right pressure, and the water jug was filled and perched on the coach’s pickup tailgate with plastic cups ready for water breaks. Information sheets and registration forms were available in both English and Spanish, and the first aid kit was handy.
Everything was prepared. The field was ready. Would anyone come?
When 20 children showed up, the staff was thrilled. Through word of mouth, attendance more than doubled after that, with about 50 children on the field each successive session. By the end of the summer, the roster listed the names of 85 soccer players.
Each session of camp started with prayer and a short devotional. The kids were divided into two groups—6- to 10-year-olds in one group, and 11- to 15-year-olds in the other. They practiced soccer basics, concentrating on just a few skills at a time. Sometimes they divided into teams to scrimmage, but no score keeping was allowed.
Campers also learned to get along with each other. “After each clinic we would think of a word like love or respect and ask the kids what that word meant to them,” says Weiman. Such dialogue gave the coaching staff a chance to emphasize the character qualities of good sportsmanship.
Hosting on the Sidelines
Much more happened in the soccer camp than kicking, dribbling and passing the ball on the field. While the coaches and assistants concentrated on the players, hospitality team members connected with parents and family members on the sidelines. They warmly greeted everyone, registered new children, provided water, and directed individuals to a portable restroom that was wheelchair accessible.
The hospitality team passed out information about upcoming vacation Bible school, AWANA, and children’s events offered by Redeemer and La Bendición throughout the rest of the year. Most of the material was published in both English and Spanish.
Enhancing the future
This summer the church has expanded the camp to include 3- to 5-year-olds for a half-hour at the beginning of each evening of camp. Age-group levels meet consecutively rather than all at once to relieve the congestion on the field. A regular 15-minute devotional tailored for each age group is incorporated into the evening’s schedule.
For this summer’s session, rosters filled up completely in the two younger age groups after one week of registration, and soon there was a waiting list for the 10- to 15-year-olds as well. Most exciting was the fact that two-thirds of the 100 participants this summer do not attend either Redeemer or La Bendición.
This year a small fee for the camp was required ($10 per child or $25 per family). The church recognized that players are more committed to consistent attendance if the family has invested something in the program. With the registration fee, each player received a team t-shirt.
“Redeemer Covenant Church is striving to be a community learning compassion and worship that is centered on Christ,” said Pastor Larson. “The joint soccer program with La Bendición created an appreciation between the congregations as we began to learn more about each other. Through the strength of our work together, we compassionately engaged the community that is so close to our door.”
Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” With that in mind, Redeemer and La Bendición seek to be places of light and warmth in a difficult world, providing fun along the way through ministries like Kickin’ Kids Soccer Camp.
Adapted from the article that appeared in the August 2011 issue of the Covenant Companion.