Rugby opens doors for churches in the U.K.
"The reason why we've thrown [this rugby party] is largely just to create a presence in the community," said Rev. Ross Gunderson of St. Barnabas Church of England in Dulwich, London. "I think quite often churches can be a lot of things, but yet, they're not always a voice for just the community-building event."
Building community around rugby is what Engage 2015 had in mind when they created a website along with outreach and evangelism resources for churches to use during the Rugby World Cup, which began Sept. 18 and will end Oct. 31. A variety of churches have contributed to the events calendar on the Engage 2015 website, including Church of England, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterian and more -- all joining together with one goal: sharing the love of Christ.Engage 2015 has collected and shared the testimonies of popular rugby players to draw a direct link between faith and sports.
David Chawner, U.K. coordinator for Engage 2015, noted, "I've been involved in professional sport for 15 years now, and when you get out there you find that many people are actually quite interested in spiritual things and want to know more, but they very rarely step over the doorstep of a church. But when we go to them, they're interested and they're open."
The Rugby World Cup party held at St. Barnabas was an open door for the community to watch the match, enjoy food, and get to know the church. Gunderson estimated the crowd was made up of 60 percent churchgoers and 40 percent people new to the church.
A local resident who attended the party said, "Yeah, first time to come to the church. Really lovely event that they're putting on at the church. It's totally welcoming and a really nice event -- the sort of thing I love to see a church do because it makes you feel part of the church."
The hope is that, as people come together to cheer for their team, relationships will be formed and people will find community in the church and faith in Christ.
A International Mission Board worker who serves in Wales as a journeyman recently joined a rugby club to help him meet new people.
"The rugby community is huge, and it's opened up a really big door [for] relationships," the worker said. "Out of the time that I have been playing rugby, I've had the opportunity to have a couple conversations about God. God is definitely doing something [here]."
Gunderson noted, "Christ always was extending the hand of hospitality to everybody He met, and therefore, we're trying to do much the same within our local area. Sports is really a great way of extending a hand of friendship towards another person, no matter who they are."