Reaching families through football

Photo supplied by Ambassadors Football GB

Many a preacher has used football analogies in their sermons to present Gospel themes in contemporary and understandable ways – at least to footy fans.

And whether you love it or not, there’s no escaping the fact that football and the Church have a conjoined heritage. Avid footy fans may well know that several Premier League football clubs of today started up as parish church football teams, set up for the health and wellbeing of those local communities. They were established to have a positive impact, especially in communities where poverty and deprivation hindered any kind of thriving.

So Christian evangelism, outreach and social action through football is not exactly a new idea, and there’s a growing movement that is reclaiming it as a valuable mission tool today. What’s more, it isn’t only for the super fit or even for the footy fanatic.

Martin Bateman is Director of Ambassadors Football in Great Britain, a global Christian organisation established in 1990 that partners with church leaders to establish football coaching for children and adults that is run by the church. He hopes churches will see the social and spiritual benefits that football can bring.

He said, “As churches, we want to be welcoming and loving environments that affect human flourishing in all sorts of ways – a locally run football club can be all of that, especially for kids who wouldn’t otherwise have the confidence or the money to join a paid-for football club or team.”

Not only that, Martin explained that the language of football, (which he says is often described as ‘the universal language’ for its ability to break down barriers between culture and class), is also helpful for building talks for children and parents around Gospel themes.

He said, “We talk about some of these Christian themes in a ‘team-talk’ session as part of the coaching, and we try to do this so that the parents are within earshot too. We commend introducing a theme or ‘thought’ of the week and provide loads of resources to help you do that.

“For example, we compare the values of teamwork with the team of disciples that Jesus had, and how he had to entrust others to do their bit. We talk about recent football games in the Premier League and how the selfishness of players might damage the team’s chances of success, and that this applies in life in general too. Talks like this help children to see Gospel themes in action, in a context they can relate to, and teaches them about the value of good character, humility, hard work and valuing others. And of course, it improves their game too!”

Martin also explained that most of the people who come to church football don’t go to church on Sundays, but that the club can be a means by which worship is gradually introduced into their lives. They can be invited to Alpha or family services for example, or worship, such as brief Bible study, prayer or songs/chants, or even a tailored short service straight after the club can be a part of everything that’s offered.

The vital thing is that the work of God’s spirit is enabled. Martin added, “People have their own preconceptions about what church is like and what Christians are like, and the clubs help to break all that down. Once you start talking about Jesus, there will certainly be people who listen and are inspired – the Holy Spirit is working in them, and they have begun a journey to discipleship.

“To take that further we offer coaching camps where faith is explored more intentionally and deeply. We’ve seen baptisms happening as a result of these clubs, and the ripple effect of faith through the whole family.”

Ambassadors Football supports church leaders with all that’s needed for the football coaching too, which, Martin assures, isn’t particularly complex.

The first steps include:

  • Finding a location to play – a park, a MUGA, or an existing club can also sometimes offer their facilities when not in use. Most locations are free, but you can rent some pitches if you have the funds.
  • Sending out a flyer within and outside the church community, letting people know the club is coming and asking for volunteer support if you need it. Ambassadors Football can help advise on the general logistics for running the club, the Safeguarding and GDPR things that churches worry about for example. It’s usually straightforward, and parents can often help with admin too.
  • When the team is ready to kick-off, Ambassadors Football provides a pack which comprises a ball, bibs, a whistle and cones for goalposts.

There are over 400 UK churches now working with Ambassadors Football and it’s growing all the time.

To see an example of the impact of a church-run football club, watch this short film about a pop-up football session run by St James', Lower Darwin:


For more information and advice, contact Ambassadors Football direct.