As Americans learn how to live safely during the pandemic, churches are slowly restarting in-person activities with precautions. According to Barna Group, 68% of churches are meeting for in-person worship services during September, and 76% of all churches plan to be open by the end of 2020.
Church meetings, Bible studies and youth activities have been a little slower to restart, but some houses of worship are showing that it can be done, and done safely.
Alan Royalty, the director of Upward Sports at Alpharetta First Baptist Church (FBC) in Georgia, recently hosted a COVID-free two-week indoor basketball camp in the church gym. They hosted the camp in July and in August without one infection. Since 1998, Royalty has been a part of Upward as a parent, coach and director. Amid COVID-19 concerns in Georgia, Royalty made creative adjustments to ensure an infection-free camp.
With consultation from Pastor Jim Mason, Royalty decided to shorten their normal five-week basketball camp into two weeks once COVID-19 hit. Clever ideas, such as providing each child with their own basketball, cancelling scrimmaging and tweaking games like "Knockout" and "Steal the Bacon," were incorporated to minimize contact. In addition, tape was used to mark 6 feet across the gym, reminding the young athletes to maintain social distance. Alan found that the key thing to ensure social distancing was to make sure that kids were not waiting in between stations and games, as they are more likely to violate social distancing if they are waiting or bored.
"Some parents were really cautious about sending their children, but other parents were looking for anything to get the kids out of the house," said Royalty. "Only a handful of parents decided to unregister, but about a dozen parents decided to sign their children up, even after COVID hit."
Royalty found that incorporating COVID-19 protocols helped ease the fears of families and build confidence. The Uplift Webinar series hosted by Upward Sports led him to feel "prepared and excited," as episodes invited experts in personal hygiene, communications and mental health to equip church partners seeking to continue sports ministry amid the pandemic.
"We at Upward Sports believe that sports ministry will continue to be an essential tool for community ministry and we're excited to continue to come alongside and equip our partners to reach families with the gospel of Jesus while also bringing the joy of sports back to communities," said Andrew Provence, partner engagement manager at Upward Sports.
Forty young athletes had the opportunity to hear the gospel throughout the Alpharetta First Baptist Church camp, with seven committing their lives to Christ. Despite the many changes the camp faced, the gospel presentation remained the same.
"Jim Mason [one of the pastors at Alpharetta FBC] and I stepped out in faith when we decided (thoughtfully, safely and in a disciplined way) to move forward with two weeks of Upward Basketball Camp this summer," stated Royalty. "I'm grateful for the personal decisions for Christ that were made, and I'm also grateful for the good health and safety of all of the campers and coaches who participated in our camps."
Alpharetta First Baptist Church plans to continue sports leagues through the rest of the year, offering basketball clinics in the fall and basketball leagues in the winter. Royalty plans to build gaps in between games and practices to ensure proper sanitization and to limit unnecessary contact. Upward Sports reports that about 400 partner churches have started or will start sports ministry leagues this Fall.
To learn more, visit upward.org/connect/.
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