In the Game: Reflections on Sports, Momentum, and the First Rural Matters Conference

Jesus, rural ministry, and football

This past September, I had the chance to attend the first ever Rural Matters Conference at Northplace Church in Sachse, Texas. The conference, sponsored by the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and their Rural Matters Institute, drew speakers and attendees from across the United States for discussions ranging from the opioid epidemic and incarceration rates to innovations in rural church planting and stories of small-church revitalization. (We even heard from a West Virginian who is helping to plant churches in rural China!)

As I listened to and spoke with people from a wide variety of denominations, I found that we all shared three passions: Jesus, rural ministry, and sports.

OK, maybe the last one is a slight exaggeration. While I had few conversations that failed to touch on God and/or rural ministry, I definitely had conversations that didn’t reference sports. An appreciation for sports, however, did seem to run as a minor theme throughout the conference.

In great talks by conference speakers like Bryan Jarrett, Tyson Lambertson, and Shannon Odell, we learned about rural ministry, but we also learned about 6-man football in Texas, Little League football in Nebraska, and high school basketball in Arkansas. Even Donnie Griggs, the conference’s final speaker, kept up the theme by referencing surfing in North Carolina.

What struck me was in all but one of these examples, references to sports weren’t a side topic, but were a planned and prominent part of each presenter’s talk. It was a good reminder that when we think about rural matters, we are wise to remember that in rural and small town America, sports matter.

This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this rule or that Americans ...

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