This soccer club has a whole church on side
Coolum Beach Baptist is kicking goals with its innovative outreach
When the Coolum Crusaders take to the soccer pitch, they have not only family and friends but a whole church behind them.
This unusual club is, in fact, owned and operated by Coolum Beach Baptist Church on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
“For us it’s not just about equipping them for the soccer field but equipping them for life.” – John Gallagher
“We realised that in this day and age we can’t expect the community to come to us as a church. We’ve got to get out there in the community. I think Christ would want us to do that,” John Gallagher, church pastor, explains to Eternity.
And come to the church they have – in droves. Since playing its first season with four teams in 2017, this year the club has swollen to 12 teams with a troupe of 145 players. Off the field, the soccer club is drawing families into the church.
“Our Kids Ignite, primary-aged group [at church], has 24 who come to that. At last count, we had about 14 from the soccer club who are coming along. We’ve also got three other families who are connecting with us at church on a weekly basis now, which is really big. It’s a real blessing,” Gallagher enthuses.
“We’re very excited about it. God is certainly working in it, and we’re making great connections.”
The idea for the club arose when the council built a $3 million cricket pitch in the sporting complex right next to the church. The council was seeking sports clubs to sub-lease the facility in winter, so Gallagher pitched the idea of a soccer club to the church elders.
It’s an opportunity they believe to be God ordained. “We had a phone call from another club just down the road from us, Sunshine Beach Soccer Club, who said they were folding and we could have all their gear and their shirt colours, which was orange and black. We saw that as God’s hand again, so we were able to get all their gear for free,” says Gallagher.
“Other clubs are blown away by what we do as a club for our players and their families.” – John Gallagher
The club is part of the Sunshine Coast Churches Soccer Association, for which Gallagher has signed up as chaplain this year. It’s a sizeable operation, with a total of 3700 players. However, of the 19 clubs involved, Coolum Crusaders is the only one affiliated with a church. As such, Gallagher notes, “We’re the only club with an ethos that’s not necessarily about making the best soccer players but making sure they’ve got great character, and about bringing families together as well.”
“For us it’s not just about equipping them for the soccer field but equipping them for life.”
Other clubs in the competition have also noticed another difference in the Crusaders club. “To be honest, the other clubs are blown away by what we do as a club for our players and their families,” says Gallagher, adding, “But we love doing it.”
Members of Coolum Beach Baptist run the canteen and cook the barbecue for home games, as well as serving on the club’s committee. This year a group of women from the church knitted more than 60 beanies in club colours for the kids who play. In addition, every Bible study group in the church has “adopted a team”.
“Our home groups pray for them, and quite a few of them become the quasi-grandparents or friends of the team. They go and watch the team and connect with the parents,” Gallagher explains.
“We’ve also been able to help out with hampers, and moving houses and helping people with some other chores around the house who we know are struggling a bit because they’re sick or incapacitated.”
Eight of the 12 team coaches are church members, including Gallagher and the new youth pastor, appointed this year.
“One of his main roles is to connect with the soccer club,” says Gallagher. “I do that that as well, so between the two of us, we get around to all the teams and connect with them.”
“That gives us an opportunity to say … we love you and God loves you, and we just want to serve you and bless you in as many ways as we can.” – John Gallagher
Throughout the year, the church invites soccer club families to “fun nights”, such as movie nights and barbecues with a jumping castle. Gallagher says these are “well attended” and help foster a sense of community. In the July school holidays, the church also runs a five-day ‘Hotshots’ soccer camp for any local kids, which attracts about 50 participants.
“Each morning we do a bit of a Bible lesson that relates to a sports theme, like respecting the rules, trying your hardest and working with your team – which is another great way of presenting the gospel in a non-confrontational way to people,” says Gallagher.
This July the church is also opening a “homework club”, for use during the soccer club’s Wednesday night training sessions.
Gallagher shares how the idea came about: “Particularly last year, we started noticing that quite a few mums and some dads were coming straight [to practice] from school … They were just going to sit in their cars or the undercover area near the clubhouse [with the kids] doing homework or just whiling away the time until practice started.”
So, Coolum Beach Baptist is renovating a space to welcome in these families, with the help of a small “innovation grant” from Carinity (an outreach of Queensland Baptists). They’ve put an awning over the church playground where younger siblings can play and installed new glass doors in the hall so parents can watch them. They are also doing up an outdoor undercover area by installing café-style tables and raised garden beds. Set to be opened after the holidays, it will be a “relaxing retreat for families” to do homework and hang out.
“I’m hoping as we grow as a church and as a club, that if we see any more opportunities, that we can grasp those … with both hands.” – John Gallagher
One of Gallagher’s favourite moments in the life of the Coolum Crusaders is being asked by club parents why the church goes above and beyond to support the club.
“That gives us an opportunity to say because we love you and God loves you, and we just want to serve you and bless you in as many ways as we can.”
“I’m so proud of our church family … I’m hoping as we grow as a church and as a club, that if we see any more opportunities, that we can grasp those opportunities with both hands.”