Travel Sports and The Modern Church

The Apollos Project

Who or what are you competing with?

This might seem odd to ask of a church, but the answers are eye opening. We ask this question in the beginning of our discovery work, as we’re helping churches explore how digital solutions might fit into their ministry model. The answer often includes “soccer cults” or “Hmmm…I don’t know, maybe travel baseball?”

This shift in culture creates new problems for the Church to solve if we’re to engage the masses.

A constant state of busyness

Weekends devoured by sports tournaments. Club volleyball. Select soccer. Travel baseball. Family dinners replaced by training. If it’s not sports, it’s music lessons or extracurriculars.

Much good can come from these activities, but as the pressure grows to compete, and activities extend year-round, they’re fracturing families and changing the face of the local church. This constant busyness “cuts off people’s connection to God, to other people, and even to your own soul,” says author and pastor, John Mark Comer.

Church attendance is declining

Even committed church attendees who love God, appreciate the local church, and are involved, are engaging less frequently. Here are a few reasons why.  

  • Kids’ activities. Disrupted weekly rhythms disconnect families from each other and from church. With travel sports becoming a priority on weekends, family calendars are at the mercy of tournament schedules and practices, leaving little to no time for Sunday services for even a moment of rest.  

  • Leisure travel. Americans want to get out of town, despite concerns about the economy or personal finances. As many as 34% expect to spend more on travel in the next year, and 83% plan to splurge on a trip this year, according to AdTheorent.  

  • Culture shift. With booked calendars, people are looking for ways to squeeze in other activities, including exploring their faith. Sundays are now just one part of someone’s journey with your church. To grow the church, we need to consider how to create relevant moments that help people with what they are dealing with—anywhere they might be.  

Despite shifting priorities, people still crave community and authentic connections with others

Parents feel frustrated after weeks of having only logistics conversations with their spouses. Anxiety is on the rise. Many people feel lonely and disconnected. With an integrated digital church strategy, your church can address these challenges, and offer ways to connect that all point back to Jesus.  

Five ways to grow your church membership

  1. Create experiences that integrate digital and in-person church. Church software can help you create a fluid experience between your physical and digital church. With a church app, you can enable church attendees to give online, connect with their small groups, join an online group, or read scripture as a community and see what other people think about the same passage. Apollos integrates with nearly all church management software, making it possible to apply what you know about each person (dad, 30s) and offer personalized suggestions in your church app. With a custom church app, you can show each person content and next steps specific to their journey. To learn more, ask for an Apollos demo to explore the current and emerging features.

  1. Provide clear next steps. Getting involved is often the biggest challenge for church attendees. Beyond Sunday services, what can they do? How do you meet other people in a congregation of thousands? Unfortunately, church websites (and church leaders) don’t always offer simple next steps. Your attendees want a guide who can help them be successful. They want clear, simple next steps. And when you offer those, many will follow. Tell them to join a specific group, download your church app, or attend an event.  Through a church app, you can offer each person options relevant to their life stage, geographical location, and interests.  

  1. Invest in small groups. Enabling small group experiences in your church app deepens people’s sense of belonging digitally. Empower your people to find existing friends, join groups, message friends, and participate in studies together. Whether it’s an in-person or online small group or a 21-day cohort, these connections meet people’s need for authentic connection and give them a reason to stick around. We encourage you to experiment with different ways of gathering.  

  1. Focus your programs around a growth mission. Too many choices creates decision fatigue, which often leads to opting out. People want to know that they are part of something bigger than themselves. What is the central mission of your church, in its simplest terms? Is it clear to your people? What programming directly advances that mission? To spark passion around the mission instead of diluting it, invest only in the activities, programs, groups, and content topics that are tied to it. When people see that their participation matters to a specific mission—when it leads to healing, reconciliation, climbing out of poverty—they’re more likely to engage.

  1. Understand where your people engage. Liking, sharing, commenting, friending—it’s how people connect on social apps. Superficiality prevails on socials, but that’s not what keeps people coming back for more. People seek to be heard, to understand, to get noticed, to feel that their contributions matter, to belong. BeReal app usage is exploding, because it offers the authenticity people crave. The prayer feature in the Apollos church app retains 60%+ more users than mass-produced church apps for similar reasons. First, prayer is personal, connecting people on a deeper level. And second, the app affirms that those moments of prayer matter. Notifications tell you when friends request prayer, when someone prays for you, and when prayers are answered. That’s an incredibly powerful feedback loop!  

God calls us to partner with Him in building the church, creating cultures, and reaching people to the ends of the earth. We can get down on digital church or we can use it to gather—to reclaim the spiritual and relational void created by travel sports and constant busyness. With a custom digital church app, you have the opportunity to create relevant moments for people in airports, on soccer fields, and in the waiting.

If you’d like help to engage more people and grow your church’s digital presence, please book a call with our team.

See what Apollos can do for you