A children’s soccer program at Royal Palms Baptist Church in Phoenix is all about making connections.
“We’ve been trying to figure out how to reach this community for a long time,” said Royal Palms Pastor Ben Pate.
Last year, church leaders asked administrators at the neighborhood elementary school what would be helpful to the community. The answer was sports, said Jackie Fry, children’s minister at Royal Palms.
With a large grass field on the church property, “soccer has kind of always been in the back of our minds,” Pate said.
“Eventually, we just felt the urgency to say, ‘Let’s just pull the trigger and … see if we can begin to reach these kids and … [the parents] in a way we have never been able to before.’”
From the beginning, God has provided for the ministry.
Royal Palms connected with Haven Church, a Nazarene church in Glendale with an established soccer ministry. Church members there helped line three soccer fields at Royal Palms and shared about the setup and equipment.
In spring 2021, Royal Palms conducted a four-night soccer camp for children in kindergarten through 6th grade with the help of church member Joy French, a retired elementary school P.E. teacher, who recruited some of her retired PE teacher friends to assist.
Help for the camp also came from another direction.
Pate, an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University, contacted Bryson Isom, pastor of Relentless Church, a Southern Baptist church meeting near GCU that Royal Palms helps support. Isom sent a church member — a former student of Pate’s who had played soccer in high school — to help.
Last fall, Royal Palms started Super Star Soccer at the church.
The Relentless member wasn’t available to help, so he recommended a GCU friend who had a soccer ministry.
Cristian Gomez is a product of Cosdecol, an evangelical soccer ministry in Colombia.
He plays on a club team at Grand Canyon and started Cosdecol USA, a ministry now officially recognized by GCU.
Gomez offered to help and brought with him about a dozen male and female GCU students.
“In spring, the partnership really took off, with us being the host and them [bringing] the skills and energy,” Pate said. “We actually get to hang out with moms and dads … and build relationships with them, so it’s been incredible.”
French also voiced appreciation for the college students.
“[They] were an answer to our prayer,” she said. “We couldn’t believe how God honored this little bit of effort we had made and multiplied it by bringing these college [students]. They love the kids, and the kids love them.”
Less than a quarter of the children are from Royal Palms.
“The majority are kids we’ve never seen before, parents we’ve never connected with before,” Pate said.
‘Process’ with parents
While the Gospel is shared with the children at each session, “with the parents it’s a slow process of just continuing to invest in them and trying to build relationships with them,” he said. “We’re playing the long game here [and] really just doing the tilling of the soil.”
At first, the parents were guarded with the Royal Palms members, but “they, little by little, started sharing … their lives,” French said.
“They talk about their struggles with their kids and the problems they’re facing at work, and it’s been such an amazing blessing.”
The new relationships are growing.
This summer, neighborhood children attended Royal Palms’ children’s camp, and some are planning to attend Vacation Bible School.
One family asked Royal Palms to help start a soccer ministry at their Hispanic Southern Baptist church not far away.
“We’re praying we’ll see the harvest from this,” Fry said.
Here are some next steps your church might consider for reaching its community:
— Evaluate what your church is currently doing to reach the community. After a harvest festival attended by more than 1,000 people, Ben Pate realized at the end, “We didn’t really have meaningful conversations with anybody.”
— Talk with community leaders to discover needs your church may be able to meet while also sharing the gospel.
— Pray that the efforts of Royal Palms Baptist Church to establish relationships with people in the community will bear fruit.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was originally written by Elizabeth Young and published by Arizona’s Portraits. Elizabeth Young is editor of Portraits and director of communications for the Arizona Southern Baptist Mission Network.