WINTER HAVEN, Fla.—For Nate Osborne, pastor of Faith Baptist Church, the highlight of sponsoring an Upward Soccer league is “the relationship I begin with the parents. I enjoy that; I enjoy their interaction; I enjoy the joy on their faces as they watch their kids play. I want them and their moms and dads to have a good experience on the campus of Faith Baptist Church.”
He says, “Most of the children who are coming to us are prekindergarten through the seventh or eighth grade. Most of them have never played soccer before. They are out there having fun—every kid plays, and every kid plays the same amount of time. And their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, their brothers, and their sisters love it.” The players love it too. Stephen Allen, a sixth grader who has played for four years, says he prefers Upward Soccer “because in Upward you get to play different positions, switching off.” He also enjoys helping his dad, Rick, coach a team of first through fourth grade boys.
As a parent, coach, and member of Faith, Rick appreciates Upward Soccer because “it provides a great learning environment for the children. And it’s not so competitive that somebody who has average talent can’t enjoy the sport.”
During the 10-week season, players memorize Bible verses and hear a devotional as part of each practice session. Pastor Osborne says, “The emphasis is not winning. The emphasis is teaching—teaching them that God is real, that Jesus is God, Jesus died for their sins, Jesus rose again from the dead, and Jesus wants to save your soul.”
Rick Allen says, “We just kind of plant the seed and water the seed through the season. Then hopefully when the invitation is given, they’ll move on that thought that we’ve presented throughout.”
Associate Pastor Peter Brock heads up the Upward Soccer ministry. He describes the closing night activities: “We have some sort of fun entertainment for the kids. We introduce all the kids. We have a real clear gospel presentation. We’ve had four hundred to five hundred people in the auditorium for that.” Gifts are handed out to the players in the fellowship hall, where guests can enjoy dessert while becoming acquainted with Faith’s various ministries through displays lined up along the walls.
Pastor Brock says that the soccer ministry has gone well. “The Lord has blessed it, and we’ve seen several families begin attending church. I don’t think they come because of Upward, but it was a factor in it.”