It all started with prayer
The story starts forty years ago with what has become the beating heart of Christians in Sport: prayerful action.
In 1976, a handful of Christians were drawn together by their desire to live and share their faith in the world of sport. Their lives had converged within the arena of professional tennis. Gerald Williams, the BBC tennis commentator met the Reverend Alan Godson at a tennis tournament in the early 1970s; this was the start of his own journey to faith. Later, while working in America, Williams was introduced to an American sports evangelist, Eddie, by Wimbledon champion Stan Smith. Another person in their group was businessman, Kenneth Frampton. As well as being a keen tennis fan, he became a vital catalyst for the first meetings of Christians sports players in 1975 and 1976.
United by their interest and involvement in sport, they committed to praying for five goals, shared in a memo in February 1976. These prayer points were heartfelt, specific and pioneering. One in particular stands out. It is the goal of “a sports fellowship across the nation”. They dreamed of a network through the sporting world that would unite and encourage Christians. It was a powerful and contagious vision of Christians worshipping and witnessing in teams and clubhouses across the country. Former Oxford University bowler and Anglican ordinand Andrew Wingfield-Digby (below) remarked that “people were excited that there was a marriage of sport and faith. Everyone wanted to raise the profile of Christian presence in sport.”
They made themselves available to God's call
The sports fields and clubhouses were their mission fields. They believed that sport mattered to God - and they saw that their sporting desires, gifts and opportunities were God’s invitation to live out their faith in this context of sport. At the time Gerard Williams recognised the huge sense of excitement and expectancy they shared: “We had a feeling that God could do something through Christians in sport if they made themselves available to Him”.
The first gathering
On June 19th 1976, the eve of the world-famous tennis tournament Wimbledon, the first dinner was held for eighty Christian sportsmen and women at the Park Lane Hotel in London. Brian Adams, a member of the British Race Walking team at the Montreal Olympics, remembers the gathering. The very next day he would be on a plane to an altitude training camp prior to competing at the Games. He told of the fresh excitement in his heart: “It was great to be sent off to the Olympics with the mindset that what I’m doing in sport is for God.” He was aware of the deeper purpose to his sporting abilities and opportunities: “Your identity is in Christ and sport is an expression of that identity.” This was an attitude that would be shared by thousands of Christians in the decades to follow.
On 18th June 1977 a second dinner for Christian sports professionals followed and in 1978 a third dinner was attended by four hundred guests. The desire for a Christian sports network was growing. Various conferences and meetings took place over the next few years with the fledging movement now going by the name of ‘Christians in Sport’. In 1980 a new opportunity emerged to strengthen the network and ‘Christians in Sport’ became a charity in that year. The prayers on the 1976 memo continued to be answered and in 1984 Reverend Andrew Wingfield-Digby took the step of faith with his family, eventually leaving the Anglican clergy to become the full time director of ‘Christians in Sport’.
Prayerful action remained the bedrock of the organisation and its growth has been incredible - the kind of growth that can only be attributed to God’s faithful and generous work.
Forty years on, it is awe-inspiring to look back and see how God has unfolded his abundant blessings through the humble prayers and actions of Christians living out their faith in sports clubs, universities and at elite level. Since the first fledging prayer meetings and sports dinners of 1976, hundreds and thousands of people involved in sport have heard the gospel throughout the UK.
Christians in Sport now supports over 10,000 Christians within the world of sport. Over 1,000 sports leaders have been equipped and encouraged. The sports camps and university work flourishes and 80,000 people have heard the gospel news in the last two years alone through various events run alongside churches. And this gospel impact extends to 150 countries throughout the world, where Christians in Sport partners with indigenous sporting ministries.
Reaching the world of sport for Christ
As the sporting sector steadily expands, God continues to invite Christians to offer their sporting gifts and opportunities for His glory - and to follow in the footsteps of those pioneering Christian sportsmen and women in 1976. Their prayer memo remains a valuable reminder of God’s faithfulness and life-changing work throughout sport.
Today, take a moment to look back at what God has done in the great arena of sport and rejoice! And look forward to what God will do as Christians proclaim their faith in sport clubs across the nation and the world.
Christians in Sport is a UK based charity that aims to reach the world of sport for Jesus. We mainly work with sportspeople in competitive and elite sport.
Registered Charity England and Wales 1086570.
Registered Charity Scotland SCO45299.
Company number: 4146081
Photos (c) Shutterstock unless specified