(Ninth in a series of 10 posts on reaching out to city kids)
Having a good team experience can be transformative. I wouldn’t know personally, because I was always the kid who missed the ball and never got picked for a team, but from what I observe, kids who are completely alienated from all other aspects of school often come alive, and do better academically, when they start playing soccer or basketball or whatever is offered.
I am indebted to my high school drama program for a similar experience of working hard with other people to give a good performance; I was cast in two of our musicals. Memorizing hundreds of lines, singing my heart out, dancing the tango with a rose between my teeth – these experiences transformed me from a super-shy wallflower to a confident graduate ready to take on journalism school.
The tragedy of many city neighborhoods is that their stressed school districts lack the resources to offer much in sports or the arts – the two areas that give people so much pleasure and provide such important outlets for energy and creativity.
That’s why I’m so grateful that our church, set in an urban neighborhood of Cincinnati, has a dance and choir program for children. One of our members also offers affordable karate classes and another family coaches girls’ soccer at the local elementary school.
I’ve also used drama often in our children’s ministry. It can drive you nuts to try to rehearse with a group that has even one undisciplined kid, let alone two, four or six of them, but even then, it pays off.
Last year, when I started pulling together simple sketches with our fourth through sixth grade Sunday night gathering, I was appalled at how the kids behaved.
They would chat with each other right onstage when I was directing other kids, they would sit on the stage when they got tired of standing, they would argue over who got the biggest parts. Once, a kid came up and asked me a random question while I was narrating in a performance to parents. They just didn’t get stage etiquette. Behavior that I assumed was instinctive had to be taught step by step.
But what helpful behavior for them to learn! They grew in confidence, in patience, in focus, in body awareness, in timing, in their abilities to pick up social cues.
By sponsoring sports teams and offering arts training and experiences, churches can accomplish several goals. It’s an outreach opportunity, drawing in people who may not otherwise get involved with a church. It builds relationship. One practice or rehearsal binds people together faster than months of just sitting with one another in classes or worship.
And in the case of the arts, it contributes directly to the quality of the church’s educational and worship experiences. We need people who can sing well, play instruments well, dance well, act well and make beautiful visual art or we’re not going to be able to illuminate spiritual truth the way our culture needs us to.
Best of all, in a performing group or a sports team, all the things that so often divide people – race, class, age – those things fade into the background as everyone works together on the task at hand.