Community outreach is a concept churches must consider. How will God’s people have an impact on their city?
Sam Barnhill and his wife, Ashley, had just returned from long-term mission work in Madagascar to Grace Church, their sending church. At that time, Grace Church, a Charis Fellowship congregation in Powell, Ohio (Jeff Stimpson, lead pastor), was being made aware of the desperate need to reach their community. After much prayer, the leadership team decided God was calling them to pursue sports ministry.
“After concluding their research, they set out to find someone to lead the ministry,” says Barnhill. “I sat down with our church leadership, and they pitched me the idea of leading this new sports ministry endeavor and overseeing the launch of it. After praying with my wife, we decided that this is what God wanted for us.”
Barnhill’s background was in exercise science and sports and fitness, so blending this with his mission experience in Madagascar became his goal.
“So, with the help of our lead pastor, Jeff Stimpson, and two church members, Darren Hurley and Jason Frazier, we started what is now called GPS, or Grace Powell Sports,” Barnhill says.
GPS provides spring and fall soccer leagues, two different summer camp experiences, group fitness classes, small group and individual personal training, and men’s basketball open gym. Many church members volunteer throughout the year to aid with registration, special projects, etc., and the church’s sports ministry has three staff members.
However, the focus on relationships differentiates GPS from other sports programs.
“All of our programs are done with the expectation of excellence. We believe that is best shown by caring for people and their families. We go above and beyond to show our members and participants that we care about them,” shares Barnhill.
God has already accomplished more than the church expected through GPS. Initially, GPS was planned to be mainly summer camps and soccer leagues. Now, more than 50 people participate in the fitness programs, and more than 250 kids participate in the camps and leagues.
“We feel strongly that God is calling us to continue to grow our fitness ministry,” says Barnhill. “Spiritually speaking, we have seen families begin attending Grace, being baptized, joining small groups and stepping into leadership positions in the church all because they first came to a GPS program. There is no doubt God will continue to grow our opportunities, and more people will come to know Him through sports and fitness.”
For Barnhill, the sports ministry is more than just an extra program for the church.
“What people do not understand is that this is our DNA,” says Barnhill. “It is the language of Powell, Ohio, and we are learning to speak it. As a missionary in Madagascar, I learned the language, ate the food, and dressed like them. We are speaking the language of the people we are trying to reach.”
[Connect:] Click here to send a note of encouragement to Sam as he continues to serve in his ministry.
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Charis Fellowship (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches), click here.