Hoops and Hope

October 13, 2016
Hoops and Hope

Tabernacle Baptist Church is discovering that an open gym can open hearts to Christ. Their open gym ministry is enabling people in Dermott, Ark., to hear the Gospel, some for the very first time. In the summer of 2016, Tabernacle saw more than 30 kids and young adults accept Jesus as their Savior.

Drew had just moved to Dermott when he began playing basketball at Tabernacle this summer. Drew and his family did not go to church, but Tabernacle’s gym was open to anyone who wanted to play ball.

After coming to the gym a few times, Drew met Tyler Hall, a Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) student from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They quickly became friends, and every time Drew played basketball he would hang out with Tyler. It wasn’t long before Drew heard Tyler talk about a man named Jesus.

Even though Tyler had many conversations with Drew about Jesus, Drew said he was not ready to accept Christ as his Savior. Tyler realized that he would be leaving soon for Army training, so he asked his roommate Jeremy Hayes to step in.

Jeremy, also a student from the BCM at University of Arkansas at Monticello, was serving as the evangelism leader of Tabernacle Baptist Church’s gym ministry. Arkansas Baptist churches’ giving to cooperative missions allowed Jeremy to work in Dermott all summer as a missionary and continue talking with Drew.

“The ABSC supports and engages with churches like Tabernacle Baptist,” said Dave McClung, a Church Planting Strategist for the ABSC. “When you give to your church, and your church gives to the Cooperative Program, you are plugging missionaries like Jeremy into ministry opportunities. When you give, ministry happens.”

Jeremy had worked in gym ministry before—his first experience was with First Baptist Church Monticello—so he knew there was hope for Drew.   

“Tyler told me, ‘Look, Drew’s getting there, but he’s not there yet. Talk to him and keep sharing the Gospel and see what he does,’” Jeremy said. “So I took Drew under my wing and talked to him every day he came to the gym.”

But whenever Jeremy would talk about accepting Jesus, Drew said he was scared and was not ready.

“I told him there was nothing to be scared of,” Jeremy said, “so I asked him to come to Tabernacle on Sunday. He took me up on it, and when he came, Brother Ricky preached a sermon about not waiting to be saved and to not be scared. That is exactly what Drew needed to hear.”

When Pastor Ricky Lattimore gave the invitation, Jeremy turned to Drew and said, “Are you ready?” That was when Drew said, “Yeah, but can we do it after church?”

Pastor Ricky and Jeremy shared the Gospel with Drew again in the church office and prayed with him. Drew accepted Christ that day and was baptized the following Wednesday.

“Here was a guy who just had no clue about the Kingdom before this summer,” Jeremy said, “and now he’s going to it.”

Open Doors, Open Hearts

Even though Tabernacle’s gym had been open to the community before, this summer was the first time the gym was to be used specifically for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship.

“We had closed the gym and opened back up,” Pastor Ricky said. “We wanted to add the evangelism piece but didn’t know how we were going to do it.”

“Pastor Ricky Lattimore wanted to do more evangelism through Tabernacle Baptist’s gym ministry, and he knew there must be more ways to share the Gospel,” McClung said. “So the ABSC was able to connect Tabernacle with Jeremy from the U of A Monticello.” 

Jeremy started working at the gym three days a week along with a deacon and two ladies from Tabernacle. He would also bring other BCM students with him.

“He really just set the atmosphere for our sports ministry,” Pastor Ricky said. “The atmosphere and culture and attitude of the kids changed. They still did some of the things you would expect, fighting or whatever, but not at the magnitude it was before.”

Pastor Ricky said Jeremy would call the kids together during breaks and in-between games, and they would listen. As he and the volunteers talked with the kids, Pastor Ricky said they would make “the plan of salvation really plain so that they could understand it.”

“Jeremy came over and taught us how to evangelize,” Pastor Ricky said.

By the end of August, 26 kids and young adults had come to know Christ.

Working Together Means Winning Together

The Cooperative Program is far more than a collection of money. CP engages ABSC churches in cooperative missions. When Arkansas Baptists give to their church, and those churches give to cooperative missions through CP, they become a part of a much greater movement of churches.

Arkansas Baptist churches are doing two impactful things by participating in cooperative missions together. First, they collectively create a pool of resources that is available to every ABSC church for summer missionaries, block party trailers, and much more. Second, they develop a collective body of knowledge, experiences, and models of ministry. All of these resources and experiences are available to ABSC churches and provide limitless ways for churches to develop new ways to share the Gospel more effectively in their community. These models touch every aspect of church life, from local missions efforts to helping them more effectively engage with Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missions efforts abroad.

Tabernacle Baptist Church became an ABSC church in 2015 in order to tap into those cooperative missions resources and experiences. Shortly after joining the ABSC, South Arkansas was hit with tornadoes and flooding. Tabernacle hosted ABSC Disaster Relief teams and saw the impact of Arkansas Baptist churches working together. Tabernacle began taking advantage of other CP-funded resources as well. They hosted a block party and medical clinic in April 2016 and saw a number of salvations.

It was natural after these experiences that Tabernacle would tap into that body of knowledge and resources to determine how to more effectively utilize their gym for evangelism. “When Jeremy came and members started coming because we had joined with Arkansas Baptists, we started having a lot of people coming in and getting saved,” Pastor Ricky said.

For Tabernacle, a fellow Arkansas Baptist missionary helped them become better missionaries in Dermott. Even though Jeremy returned to the University of Arkansas at Monticello, members of Tabernacle continued the gym ministry utilizing the plans they developed during the summer. Six more people have come to Christ, and the ministry continues.

The resources that send missionaries like Jeremy and the experiences developed through cooperating churches are both created through Arkansas Baptists giving and serving through their churches. Pastor Ricky is confident that being involved with ABSC in efforts such as block parties and this gym ministry has helped Tabernacle Baptist Church “go higher and higher.”

“We got in with Arkansas Baptists, and that’s when the ball got rolling,” Pastor Ricky said. 

Related Story: Six Strategies for an Evangelistic Gym Ministry