6 Lessons for Evangelism From Youth Soccer

When my three sons were quite young we jumped into community youth soccer. In our case, it was run by the AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization). Over more than a decade, I coached about 25 youth teams.

One of the unique things about AYSO’s philosophy is that they insist everyone plays—and they mean everyone. No matter how experienced or new, no matter how fast or slow, no matter how coordinated or clumsy, everyone plays. The goal was for each kid to get significant field time and learn to love the game.

Over hundreds of hours coaching teams, leading practices and going to games, I learned some amazing lessons. Surprisingly, many of them carry over nicely to the topic of evangelism. Here are some of the best lessons I learned from youth soccer. I hope they help you mobilize your whole church for the work of evangelism.

1. Everyone Should Play.

I followed the rules and made sure every kid on the team played and tried various positions on the field. I quickly realized this approach was the best way to play the game. Kids got better and the team became stronger.

When it comes to evangelism, every follower of Jesus should be on the field and engaged in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). No one should be on the sideline for the whole game. We are all called to shine like a light in a dark world. Each of us is expected to be salt that causes people to thirst for the living water of Jesus (Matt. 5:13–16). We can all explain why we live with the hope of Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). Pastors and church leaders should be committed to train, equip and send every Christian into the world ready to tell the amazing and life-changing story of Jesus.

2. Practice Is Essential.

Kids who know they will never step onto the field during a game don’t practice hard. They usually pick daisies and daydream. But when they know that next Saturday they will be in the game and have teammates relying on them, everything changes.

If we teach believers—young and old, long-time Christians and new followers—that they are expected to share their faith as a normal part of their life, they will want to be trained and equipped. They even will want to practice telling their story. It is the call of church leaders to convince every Christian that they are an essential part of the team, and then prepare them for the game.

3. Playing Together Makes Us Better.

I was amazed, season after season, to see players who had no soccer experience learn the rules and the flow of the game, and become a significant part of the team. I also saw the other kids welcome them, help teach them the game and even encourage and cheer them on.

The same thing happens when we see everyone in our church as part of God’s missionary people. There shouldn’t be just a few enthusiastic evangelists, and the others just watch and occasionally pat them on the back. We are in the work of outreach together, and when we believe this we help each other develop the skills and passion needed to engage in evangelism.

4. Training Reveals All-Stars.

I had a player’s mom pull me aside after the first practice of the year. Her son had never participated in any sport and seemed very timid and withdrawn. She quietly assured me that she and her husband did not expect their son to get on the field during the game.

Within a couple of weeks, however, he picked up the basics of the game. Before long, his teammates gave him a nickname—and he liked it. As the season started, he was a strong contributor to the team. By the end of the season, he was an animal. This kid was a soccer diamond in the rough. Who knew?

As you move everyone in your church out with the good news of Jesus, you will find some evangelism animals who would never have been unleashed if you had let them sit on the sideline. There are people in your church who will become outreach all-stars as you mobilize and train them.

5. Playing Grows a Love for the Game.

Sitting on the sideline does not grow passion. Watching others play will not unleash a deep and lasting love for the game or an understanding of what is really happening on the field. This is true in soccer and evangelism.

If we want people to stop fearing evangelism, we need to equip them and get them doing it. If we want people to love the gospel and walk in deep devotion to our Savior, we need to help them experience the power of the Spirit that is unleashed when we step into God’s mission right where they play, work and live.

6. Playing Everyone Leads to Victory.

All the coaches were required to play all the kids, but many of the coaches resented it, and did not really embrace the spirit of why all the kids should play. The teams that got the vision and joyfully embraced the goal of helping kids love the game seemed to be the strongest teams with the best records.

When a church hears the biblical message that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt. 9:37) and commits to mobilize every believer to engage in meaningful sharing of their faith, there is a victory far greater than winning any sporting event. The eternal impact of a church unleashed with the gospel is the ultimate victory. Step 1 in mobilizing the whole church for outreach is embracing the truth that every Christian is called and expected to share in the work of the Great Commission. When we believe this, we start taking the steps needed to equip and mobilize everyone for the work of the gospel.

If you want free resources to help unleash every person in your church to engage in the work of the gospel, go to OrganicOutreach.org. You also can call Organic Outreach International at 831-655-1328, and we will help you get your church members on the field and playing in unison.

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Kevin Harney
Kevin Harneyhttp://KevinGHarney.com

Kevin Harney (KevinGHarney.com) is an Outreach magazine contributing editor, lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, and the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach International (OrganicOutreach.org). He is the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy and, most recently, Organic Disciples: Seven Ways to Grow Spiritually and Naturally Share Jesus, in addition to multiple studies and articles.