Faith Nights boost churches’ fellowship & outreach

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Joe and Lisa Cox had been attending First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., but hadn’t officially joined the church.

They had been talking to Jeff Lake, the church’s children’s minister, about starting a Sunday School class for special needs children. Lake called one day and invited the couple to a Faith Night for the Nashville Sounds, the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

“It was just a great experience,” Joe Cox said about the evening at the ballpark. “We were able to meet other teachers and other workers in Sunday School that we otherwise would never have run into. It was a great atmosphere for that, and for getting to meet and develop relationships with other children’s teachers at the church.”

The next Sunday, Joe and Lisa officially joined the church.

Stories like that are not uncommon around Third Coast Sports, the Nashville-based company that schedules and promotes Faith Night events at multiple sports venues across the country.

What started off as a promotion for the Nashville Sounds has in just a few years turned into a national sports phenomenon. This year, Third Coast Sports will hold more than 75 Faith Night events across the country. Minor league baseball teams are still the primary focus, but on July 27 the Atlanta Braves became the first Major League Baseball team to partner with Third Coast Sports for Faith Day.

“The reason it’s growing has nothing to do with us,” said Brent High, president of Third Coast Sports. “It’s God blessing us. We can’t take the credit for all this. God is obviously orchestrating something much bigger than we are.”

Braves pitcher John Smoltz shared his testimony as part of the first of three Faith Day/Faith Night events in Atlanta. In two Faith Nights scheduled for Aug. 13 and Aug. 26, Braves relief pitcher Chris Reitsma and former Brave Sid Bream will speak. Also, the Arizona Diamondbacks are on board for a Faith Night event Aug. 27.

High expects other Major League teams to follow suit.

In addition, the company is exploring possibilities with the NFL, NBA, NHL and NASCAR. Third Coast Sports has been featured in stories in USA Today, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and other major publications. An entire ESPN “Outside the Lines” program also was dedicated to Faith Nights.

Fans who attend Faith Night at the ballpark will encounter a few things out of the norm. They might receive a bobblehead doll of a biblical character like Noah, Daniel or Elijah. They may see Bible giveaways. They might run into Veggie Tales characters Bob or Larry. They may hear a concert from a Christian group. They may hear testimonies from Christian players.

But ultimately, High said the success of Faith Nights isn’t determined by what happens at the ballpark.

“There has to be that very intentional, unashamed ministry aspect to this effort, or it’s just another event that a church can be involved with,” High said. “As a former youth minister, I know how much church leaders get hit up with stuff to do. So we’ve found an event that is not only fun, but is also very much ministry and outreach and church wide fellowship and involvement.”

High said Faith Nights accomplish the goals of several different groups simultaneously. For Christians and Christian business owners, the goal is to use these events as opportunities for outreach to people not involved in a local church.

“All of the ministry goals are easily and readily rolled into the goals of the teams as well, because they are looking for attendance, and they are looking to fill empty seats,” High said.

Jeff Parker, general manager for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx in Jackson, Tenn., can attest to the ability of Faith Nights to help fill empty seats. Parker said Faith Nights are a natural fit for his team.

“We try to do something for everybody and make sure we’re a reflection of the community on multiple fronts,” Parker said. “We love to get the churches involved. They’re a big part of what we do at Pringles Park.”

Parker said that attendance on Faith Nights is typically several hundred more than on an average night at the ballpark.

“It’s a no-brainer for us,” Parker said. “The entertainment’s great. It gives us something other than baseball. It gets some people in here who typically might not come to a game. It gets the whole family out.”

High has a few stories to illustrate how Faith Nights are making an impact on people. At one event, a 10-year-old boy came to Faith Night at the invitation of a friend. He picked up a free “Heart of the Outdoors” camouflaged Bible because his dad liked to hunt and fish.

High said the dad started crying when his son handed him the Bible. The father hadn’t read the Bible in 20 years, but recommitted his life to God and started attending church.

At another event in Las Vegas, a teenager had stopped attending church after impregnating his girlfriend and dropping out of high school. He returned to church when he was convicted by what Christian recording artist Matthew West had to say during his concert as part of Faith Night.

High emphasizes that Faith Nights are not “ambush evangelism,” as he calls it. The event is separate from the game itself, and activities are held in an area of the stadium and at a time when fans have to make an intentional effort to be part of them.

So far, churches have responded with overwhelming support, and High said that’s the key for the continued success of the promotion.

“We are just trying to set the table, and then the churches can take it from there,” he said.

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