Why Kids Choose Sports Over Youth Ministry

Amy Jacober
August 28th, 2019

I like to think of my ability to overhear conversations more like a spiritual gift than eavesdropping. I don’t ear hustle intentionally, I just have really good hearing. In fairness, I do tell my students this from the beginning so no one feels tricked! 

When this particular “spiritual gift” kicked in the other day, I got to hear a beautiful conversation between a mom, a daughter, and a friend of the daughter. While waiting for practice to start, they were trying to figure out the schedule for the fall. The mom had some wisdom to share in saying she didn’t want her daughter over scheduled. I wanted to cheer!!! Next her mom said “You know, you could miss youth group.” I felt like time slowed down. I fought every urge from turning around and shouting “Noooooo! Oh dear parent, what are you doing?!” The daughter’s quick response was something like this “That is the one thing I will not miss! I don’t care if I miss a competition or don’t even make the team but youth group is what keeps me going!” Her friend was so impressed, she asked if she could go to youth group with her!

I wonder if “what makes a teenager choose youth group over sports or sports over youth group?” is the wrong question? What if the question were “what makes a youth choose youth group or sports?” 

What this assumes is that it can’t be both. Somehow, we in the church struggle with students who genuinely are believers, or at least interested in the things of God and sports. We pit them against one another naming issues like time, commitment, priorities, and short term v. long term goals as places to face off to the bitter end. 

No doubt sports takes up a great deal of time. What was once seasonal, for many youth has become a year round club sport occupation. It seems the more we try to get youth on our agenda, the more they recoil. I had one guy tell me he loves Jesus but his youth pastor always seems desperate and no one likes desperate. He chose football because they not only didn’t seem desperate, they had something to offer. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of teaching and consulting over the years. Repeatedly, adolescents have said they would make time in their schedule if they thought youth group wasn’t a waste of time, if it had something to offer. Teenagers are often the first to tell you that yes they are busy, overwhelmed even, but if they want something, they will find the time to make it happen. So let’s just be honest and let that excuse go. 

The following is a list of several things sports offers. Certainly this is not everything as I’m not trying to talk about the benefits of  exercise or how school participation improves with participation in sports, but the following covers a lot of ground. In particular what it covers are many of the areas adolescents report that youth groups no longer or never did cover. Gone are the days where the adults have all the answers and youth sit passively receiving. Gone need to be the days when we as youth workers bribe students just to show up hoping the Holy Spirit will grab a hold of someone on the i-pad giveaway night. Read over the list below. 


Assumes youth have something to offer.

Actually demands from the youth.

Is not insecure over whether the sport is worthy or not.

Provides opportunities to lead and be led.

Provides community.

Wiling to put in time for learning and practice.

Stays together in success and defeat.

Believes this is good for the individual and the group.

Transcends off the field, court, pool, etc.. 

Has adults willing to invest in the lives of youth.

In what ways can you substitute youth group or church for the concept of sport in each line? Where is your group doing this well? In what ways do you have room to grow? 

The end of the conversation with the daughter, her mom, and friend reminded me of the importance both youth group and sports can have in the life of an adolescent. The daughter said she needed youth group because it makes her a better person which makes her a better athlete. She also talked of her youth leader cheering her on and never making her feel bad if she did miss a week here or there. She also mentioned her coach who let the girls choose one practice to be shorter allowing them to get to youth group each week. 

It doesn’t always work out that easily. Some coaches/sports don’t care if you have youth group or not. You can’t change that. What you can control is how you respond to the young person trying to figure out faith and priorities as they grow up with sports a part of their world. Perhaps instead of pitting them against one another, you get to be the voice reminding that young person that faith is for life. Remind him that youth group will still be here when the season finishes. Remind her that you will check in regularly even when she can’t come as often. Invite all your students to talk about what it looks like to integrate their faith in every area of their lives  including sports instead of making them choose between the two. 

Amy Jacober

Amy Jacober is a youth ministry veteran who has been serving marginalized communities including those with disabilities, for a few decades now. She gets to spend her time teaching, serving, and hanging out with her husband, three kids, and an oversized dog. She legitimately is always looking forward to camp and an entire month of being with teenagers.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.