Reaching and Discipling Athletes

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes ( is something that I have been passionate about for twenty years. I remember walking onto the campus of a brand new high school just down the street from the church where I served as a youth pastor. I had never had access to public schools, only Christian schools, in all my years of ministry, so this was totally new and exciting. On my first visit, I encountered two teen girls kissing in the courtyard, more cuss words than I had heard in the previous month, and several other eye-opening moments, which led to a desire to be back as often as possible. I needed to be on the front lines of ministry. FCA really opens doors and provides access to those front lines.

Let’s start with defining the various ways FCA functions in any given school district. The first level of ministry is the group huddles. These group meetings are for anyone, not just the athletes; they are open to all. Huddles typically meet before or after school one day a week. They are student-led and usually require a teacher sponsor. In my experience, these groups meet in the host teacher’s classroom, at outdoor picnic tables, or in some other common area. As a pastor, you can volunteer to be a frequent speaker, bring breakfast/snacks, and offer just to sit in on the meetings. Usually, the best way to get involved is to contact the school and ask who heads up the school’s FCA, or you can call the national headquarters of FCA to find staff in your region.

The second way FCA ministers on campus is through character coaches. In the old days, these were called chaplains. Character coaches can be volunteers from your church or staff. Character coaches spend time with a specific sports team. They are available during practices, offering support as needed, and usually give a five or ten-minute character lesson before or after the practice. They often hang out on the sidelines or dugouts and help ensure the athletes abide by the coach’s code of ethics.

A third lesser-known way FCA ministers on campus is through coaches’ Bible studies. All the coaching staff can be invited to this event, or it could be a Bible study with an individual coach during his or her lunchtime. Building personal connections with team coaches allows for greater access to the teams for character coaching.

Here are some things to consider:

Helping in FCA huddles will not necessarily grow your church or youth group.

The majority of kids who come to the huddles are already plugged into a church, or they attend the huddle with a friend with whom they are more likely to go to church. While you will meet a great group of kids, helping the group huddles will not necessarily build your church. In my twenty years of ministry, I would say we have only seen a handful of visitors to the church, though we have seen many salvation decisions.

Adopting a team can make a huge difference to a family and coach.

This is a different approach, which we have seen produce better results. The church adopts a team and makes sure their needs are met. For example, your church contacts the coach of the local high school’s girls’ lacrosse team and volunteers to adopt the team as sponsors/supporters. If the team has needs that their budget can’t meet, the church tries to meet that need. They send people from the church to the games to cheer for the girls. They pray over the team roster. They provide refreshments for the team. Basically, the church seeks to support that team in whatever way possible. This approach will build closer relationships with the coach, players, and their families, even though it would potentially reach a smaller group than the FCA huddles.

Adopting a team may be playing the long game.

Adopting a team will have a generational effect. Character coaches can quit, and coaching staff can change. These events affect your church’s influence in the school, but this type of adoption relationship tends to last longer and reap benefits for multiple generations of students. It can be a while before you see guests from your adoption of a team, but long term you’ll have a better chance to reach people who are completely disconnected from church or other Christians.

Ministering to your community through relationships is the best way to build your church.

These kinds of intentional relationships will build a reputation in the community that will leave a lasting impression. Coaches, players, and families can hear the Gospel and be discipled. Building personal relationships with coaches and athletic directors will be the key to having face time and influence with their teams. When these students and families need spiritual help, they will know who really cares for them.

Building relationships will inevitably open more doors.

Any of the opportunities that FCA affords you will open the doors of communication with principals, guidance counselors, secretaries, teachers, PTAs, security personnel, even janitors. The doors of opportunity swing wide open when you put yourself out into the community.

Taking the first step to find out what FCA has going on in your area.

It is pretty easy to find your local representative’s website at From here, you should be able to find a contact person to get the ball rolling. I would suggest you contact your local staff representative and grab a coffee together and learn what FCA is doing in your area.

Ryan Livingston

Southside Baptist Church

Sarasota, FL

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