Taking Jesus Out to the Ball Game

Mixing America's favorite pastime with the Church, Faith Nights is drawing thousands of baseball and Jesus fans to stadiums nationwide.

On Sunday, it's the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium and popular Christian pop punk band Hawk Nelson is on deck.

What began with minor league teams has spread prominently into the major leagues, complete with player testimonials, in an outreach that has involved hundreds of churches and attracted larger crowds to the games.

"We want you to come to a game and have fun and listen to music," said Brent High, president of Third Coast Sports, which runs and promotes the events, according to The Associated Press. "But at the same time, we're going to set the table for you with player testimonials and music. It's a great night for you to reach out to people who don't have a church home."

Although a Christian band performs during a pre-game concert and Christian activities are set up nearby, Faith Nights has not been "overly evangelical" or "much in anyone's face," as Birmingham Steeldogs General Manager Scott Myers had noted.

Christians who come out to the games simply hope that any nonbelievers in the stadium will be introduced to Jesus or to a church to attend.

Sport evangelism has become more widespread as Christians recognize the large segment of America's population that sports fans and viewers make up. From skateboarding to surfing and basketball to baseball, more churches are setting up sports ministries to meet unchurched people where their interests are.

Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), the largest Christian sports organization, began placing in 2006 salaried individuals in local churches rather than just campuses to develop community sports ministries and camps, according to freelance writer Eric Tiansay in Outreach magazine.

"Sports is the universal language," said Shane Williamson, FCA's metro Atlanta director. "We're here to enable churches to catch the vision of using sports as an outreach tool to the community."

A 1999 Sports Illustrated study revealed that Americans spend nearly $250 billion on sports and recreation each year, according to Tiansay, and if not playing, people are watching sports.

This year's Super Bowl, for example, drew 93.2 million viewers, making it the second most-watched Super Bowl broadcast in history. After the Indianapolis Colts won the championship, the more than 93 million Super Bowl XLI viewers also witnessed Colts Coach Tony Dungy publicly expressed his Christian faith, stating that the big game was won "the Lord's way."

High-profile sports figures like Dungy and the line-up of major league baseball players at this year's Faith Nights who offer their personal testimonies are seen as people who can have a positive impact.

"A lot of times, people have a tendency to listen to whoever they look up to or admire, and the message is always right there in front of them all their lives," said basketball coach Mike Davis from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, according to AP. "But whatever it takes to get through to them, I think is good."

Faith Nights this year kicked off in July and will run through until Sept. 15 in Minneapolis, Minn.