Bob Foote, senior pastor of Grace Community Church of Huber Heights, Ohio, has run an open gym at Grace for more than 10 years. The goal was to be an avenue for the community into the church. Over the years, Foote and his leadership team noticed a gulf: getting young men into a church building was difficult enough, let alone getting them into church on a Sunday morning.
“Our ambition was to foster relationships with young adults, in hopes we would have spiritual conversations that would see them come to faith in Christ and into our church,” he notes. “We’ve concluded that the distance across our parking lot is like the Grand Canyon for most young men. The distance from Friday noon to Sunday morning is even greater.”
A year and a half ago, Foote and his ministry partner, Joe Horine, a retired civil servant who was looking for something significant to do for Jesus, became the primary leaders of BasketBall Church (BBC) (both members of Grace Community) decided to change that. After much prayer and discussion, they decided to bring Sunday morning church to the young men: by planting a basketball church.
Basketball church is unique in the church-planting world: instead of singing songs and chatting in the foyer afterwards, in the words of Foote, the members “play basketball, follow Jesus, and encourage others to do the same.”
This was not an easy paradigm to shift. The definition of “church” is deeply rooted in cultural expectations, so they had quite a bit of work ahead of them. For them, it meant giving up on the notion that the Friday meeting was a bridge into the “real church” that meets on Sundays, and instead seeing BBC as a functioning church in of itself. It meant agreeing that that doing life together meant being involved in men’s lives beyond Fridays. It meant building a leadership team among the believing attenders, and finding ample support and participation from people used to more conventional church settings.
BBC garners a lot of unbelievers who come from broken and hurting families, and are dealing with children born out of wedlock, unmarried parents, unemployment, substance abuse, and felonies, to name a few—“all glaring discipleship issues,” notes Foote, desperately needing the man-to-man discipleship that BBC offers. “[At BBC], they know they are going to hear the word, get a verse card with discussion questions, and pray together. They come expecting to discuss and apply what they hear.”
“We have unusual opportunities to teach grace when language gets foul and tempers boil over. We remind people of our boundaries, the why of our boundaries, and that boundary offenders are still welcomed at BBC.”
BBC uses the discipleship model on multiple levels, with Foote and Horine pouring into the leadership team, who in turn entrust and support them by reaching others who come to play basketball. Though the effective size is where Foote wants it to be — around 25, the vision for BBC is ever-expanding, with hopes for multiplying in the future if God opens those doors. For now, though, the focus is on BBC at Huber Heights, nurturing and enriching the community there.
“While there are things we don’t do—yet—that are integral to the church (we will eventually do communion together, have a baptism, etc.)—what we do now is so much part of ‘Go and make disciples of all and teach them all.’
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.