It’s More Than a Game

It’s a Saturday morning and like thousands of kids around the country competing in some type of sporting activity, a young 16 year old basketball fanatic arrives at Lakeside Recreation Centre. He loves playing there; the facilities are great, the service is excellent, the competition is organised and well run.

He plays at other venues during the week, but there is something different about this place. You see this facility is run by a church. He is not overly interested in religious things and has no real understanding about Christianity; in fact, the only Christian he knows of is the fictional “Simpsons” cartoon character, Ned Flanders. That was until he started playing basketball at Lakeside.

Lakeside is a unique church serving the community through a Recreation Centre. More than 6000 people a week use and benefit from the range of sporting programs. In 1986, nineteen people started a church in the southern suburbs of Perth. The church met in various public buildings and the church grew rapidly. From the beginning, the thread that bound the church together was the deep desire to reach out to the community. With this passion for outreach, in 1992 the church opened the Lakeside Recreation Centre.

But why sport? Why build a Recreation Centre? Almost two thirds (65%) of Australians participate in sport and around 85% regularly watch sport of some type . So if you want to connect with people, sport is a great place to start.

Part of our Missional strategy is to run a great facility, which the community can enjoy and benefit from. Yes, we strive to be Christian in vision, mission, ethos and practical operation, but the facility is there for the whole community to use and enjoy. Lakeside has a voice in the local community and is recognised as playing a very positive role in the development of the whole person. We are regularly approached by local government and schools to assist in areas of need, as well as for advice and input into enhancing our community. In turn we have been able to break down many common misconceptions and misunderstandings of Christianity.

I hear you say, yes that’s great but what about “evangelism” and “outreach”. As we have a voice in our community, we are therefore allowed to speak into people’s lives. We should not underestimate the value of this.

Lakeside’s ministries are focused in and through the facility. The very nature of Lakeside is that it’s a meeting point, a third place, a hub where people connect and their lives cross over; whether on the basketball court, in the Time Out coffee lounge or gathering on a Sunday morning for worship. We endeavour to make the Centre a place where the so called sacred and the secular meet and cross on a daily basis.

How do we do this? Well even after 20 years we are still learning – yet the concept is not overly hard. You see what we do is, we have Christians doing life with or connecting with non-Christians – I know, it’s revolutionary!!!

We do this through staff members who run the Centre; stadium chaplains who float around the facility developing relationships and looking for opportunities to connect and meet needs; team chaplains and Christian coaches who are a positive influence as well as providing pastoral care. We have a Community Pastor whose primary role is to minister to the 6000 people who walk through the door each week. We encourage all our church attending people to be plugged into the facility whether it is using the weights room or playing on a sporting team. It’s really all about Christians hanging out with non-Christians.

All of the people who are filling these roles are trained to be looking for opportunities to turn community contact into faith conversations. There is a myth out there that Australians are not interested in spiritual conversations; we have found this not to be the case. It is common to see a staff member or a stadium chaplain praying with someone in the coffee shop. In times of need and crisis, we constantly see people with no church connection come to Lakeside for guidance and direction.

Along with this we resist the temptation to have a “cookie cutter” approach to traditional church ministries such as youth, children, men, women and seniors. Rather, we ask the question, how do we do these ministries in the context of the Rec Centre? This means some of these traditional church ministries will look different – we’re fine with that.

Our latest initiative – a direct consequence of attending Crossover’s Emerging Evangelist conference – was to recognise and train people with the gift of evangelism. We are now in the process of identifying who they are. The idea is to train them and help them grow in their gifting, as well give them a forum to meet regularly to encourage and pray for each other.

The tagline we have at Lakeside is “where it’s more than a game”. People are always saying that there is something different about this place – we love it when we hear that. However, the challenge and prayer is to move them from making the statement to asking the question why?

Oh yeah, by the way that young 16 year old basketball fanatic? That was me!

Anthony Palmieri is the Senior Pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church, Western Australia. Prac 14.

1. abs.gov.au : Australian Bureau of Statistics