In 2009 a team at St Pauls, York, was beginning to discover, experience and track the huge rise in the numbers of young people involved in Sunday morning sport. Both those children of “church-families” and those on “the fringe” were struggling to engage with the traditional morning Family Service, not only in terms of clashed schedules but also in terms of learning style.
We realised that we needed something new. It wasn’t just about “photocopying” the Family service and relocating it somewhere else in the week; we needed to think imaginatively about the learning and engagement needs of these families.
The result was Sweaty Church. The rather tongue in cheek name was inspired by the hugely successful Messy Churches. However instead of using craft as a connection and community building point we wanted to use games, sports and activities.
Initially, we wanted to create something that appealed particularly to 7 – 11 year old boys. It soon became apparent that Sweaty Church was equally popular with girls and that younger siblings got swept along in the fun. We needed an active and energetic space where we could tell people to stand up and engage their bodies more than we would tell them to sit down and quieten their minds!
Importantly, more than a Kids club or a Holiday club, this was a church service. Many of those now involved in leading Sweaty Church had previous experience of all these types of clubs but none of us had used our skills and gifts in this way. Creating a family service that was characterized by activities, team games, competitions, aerobics, songs, discussions and, oh yes, a boxing bag suspended from the church roof was all new!
So, commencing in October 2010, we embarked on a hilarious, and “sweaty” journey.
A number of values began to emerge quite quickly, in particular the two ‘pillars’ of Sweaty Church, which act as foundations for everything we do; these are families learning and playing together, and kinaesthetic ( hands-on ) teaching and learning through the physical activities themselves.
We found ways of exploring biblical themes through sports related topics – teamwork, discipline, using your head, being a good winner (and loser!). In the end we created an outline that fitted our context, and created games and activities that worked for us.
In 2011 we created a “Sweaty Camp!”, with up to 125 people spending a Back-to-Basics adventure weekend under canvas – with games, river-walking, bonfires, shelter building, bread-making, bricklaying and catapult launching!
Next we helped a group of churches in West Yorkshire set up their own Sweaty Church. This acted as a pilot to see how the Sweaty Church model could work in a different environment – ecumenical and with leaders with different skills and different buildings available.
The early success has led to steady growth and more recently we’re pleased to say we have had our resources published by Scripture Union, found a Development Manager for Sweaty Church in Schools and received a great endorsement from the Archbishop of York.
If you would like help in starting your own Sweaty Church then please contact the Sweaty Church Team to discuss how we can help you.
Our resources are available to download from Scripture Union here: https://content.scriptureunion.org.uk/resource/sweaty-church-six-all-age-sessions