However, First Baptist Church has been incorporating such activities into the lives of its members for decades.
Rusty Asble, associate pastor of recreation, said the church offering a variety of activities allows its members extra opportunities to get to know each other, and talk about their faith.
Citing a verse from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 9:22, that speaks of finding “common ground” with someone before sharing one’s faith, he said the goal is to do that through different activities.
“We have an opportunity to build relationships,” Asble said. “We found out how people love to play. … It’s play with a purpose.”
At its Family Life Center not far from the church’s main building and at sporting locations throughout town, the church offers a variety of activities for all ages.
Offerings include, but are not limited to, swimming, basketball, soccer, aerobics, camping, hunting, fishing, scrapbooking and quilting.
Participants can receive instruction in those activities and partake in them with others from inside the church and out. In addition, the Family Life Center’s pool and gym maintain regular hours and can be used even when special events aren’t taking place.
Asble said he and the church’s recreation staff are constantly asking church members which activities they would like to see to ensure what is offered remains relevant.
While what they do is different from those involved in First Baptist’s other ministries, like music, he stressed it is a valuable way to foster community in a church and reach out to others in the community outside a church.
“A tool is all it is,” he said. “The church has always embraced recreational ministry.”
To prove his point, he mentioned a church historian had told him the church had a ladies’ baseball team in the early 1900s that competed with other teams in the Chattanooga area.
Because so many activities are offered today, participants range in age from preschoolers to senior citizens.
For example, pickleball games are available for seniors, and the church recently hosted an event in which young children got to experience fishing for the first time.
While some of them require all participants pay modest fees to take part, First Baptist’s recreation activities are open to both church members and the general public.
Asble said having them open to all is part of what makes the church’s recreation department a ministry.
“If I don’t do it, we become a country club,” he said. “No church should be a country club.”
Asble likes to tell the story of a little girl he met as part of the church’s soccer team for children. As part of regular practices, he would provide a short time for reading and discussing a verse from the Bible.
He uttered the words “Jesus Christ” in the context of reading from the Bible, and a little girl shushed him, explaining he shouldn’t say those words.
When he asked why, she told them they were bad words. This girl had only heard about the person around which the Christian faith is centered in the context of cursing, and it was her first time hearing the name mentioned in a positive way.
Asble shared how, in another instance, a group of 21 guys sat down for a Bible study together after taking part in a class to learn archery skills. He said it might have been hard to get that many men to sit down together to talk about their faith, but they had already gotten to know and trust each other through a shared activity.
Speaking to a recent class for new members at the church, he spoke of the need to find one’s passion and use it for Christ by sharing in activities they are passionate about together.
Asble said many people lead busy lifestyles, and the first activity they want to do when they actually have free time may not be attending a traditional church service. However, they may do things like go hunting at every opportunity, and even that can be a ministry.
“All ministry is, is people,” Asble said. “It’s loving people.”
Recreational ministries provide extra opportunities to do that throughout the week, he said.
As the associate pastor over that ministry, Asble described his schedule as “schizophrenic.” On a recent afternoon, he was overseeing the setting up of tables for the wedding of a young man he had worked with in recreation. Before that, he had come from a welder’s shop, where he had been trying to see about getting a boat repaired to be used at Camp Cherokee along Parksville Lake.
With all that goes on, it is easy to focus on the activities themselves. However, Asble stressed it is the relationship-building that has the most impact on the local church and its surrounding community.
For more information about First Baptist’s recreation ministries, call 423-472-6222 or visit www.clevelandfbc.com.