St Ives Methodist Church

Bringing parents and their children together over televised sports that would otherwise be too expensive for them to afford.

Reaching for the Sky!

When you want to reach a new young audience – and hopefully build your congregation – there are few better ways to do it than through the medium of sport.

That’s the thinking behind the innovative Sports Outreach Project set up by St Ives Methodist Church.

Minister Nick Witham hit on the idea as a way to connect with adults, families, and young people who have little or no previous connection with church.

‘Our town has a lot of sports facilities,’ said Nick, ‘but if you want to watch sport on TV most of it is on Sky Sports or one of the other subscription channels, and, frankly, for a lot of people it’s simply too expensive. For many, if they want to watch Premiership football or rugby, or England cricket, or Formula One, they have to go to licensed premises. We thought it would be nice to provide an alternative to that while also addressing the issues of isolation and declining mental health.’

The Cambridgeshire congregation is setting up a café style environment – and hoping to kick off with the 2022 Football World Cup in November.

‘The good thing about the World Cup is that it actually is on free-to-air TV,’ said Nick. ‘So we can use that as a sort of test to see how things go. But I am working to negotiate a charity rate for Sky Sports, so that we’ll be able to show the big matches and other events in a comfortable, safe environment.’

It won’t just be a case of showing Manchester United on a Wednesday evening – Nick and his team are planning to get more creative, with specific events for mums and daughters and dads and sons, as well as ‘Injury Time’ period where people of all ages can discuss mental health concerns, and ‘Squad Training Nights’, an opportunity to explore faith.

There will be events aimed at refugees – particularly the Ukrainian teenagers currently housed in the area. And the café will also feature a pool table, ping pong, and a bar selling snacks and soft drinks, and Nick expects to be able to cater for fifty or more viewers at any time.

‘We think this is a really exciting opportunity to do something different and engaging in a town which has seen a decline in youth work,’ said Nick. ‘It was brilliant to win – the money will enable us to pay for Sky Sports screenings and other streaming channels, as well as funding sports activities, equipment and advertising.’

How the award was used

Group watching Football in Church Hall

The award money enabled them to launch in November with the World Cup. The church provided food, decorated the room and welcomed all those who wanted to feel part of something together.

Minister Nicholas Witham commented, ‘We had a great time watching the football and welcoming the refugee community that is in the town. We ate together and shared together while watching the beautiful game.’

Since then, they have set up a Wednesday football club for anyone who wants to come and play. Also, a running club on a Saturday morning – with the challenge to move from couch to running a 5K (3-mile) Park Run. The award money has enabled them to pay for the hire of the pitches, footballs and equipment, and pay for running T-shirts.

PC screen showing church fundraising