Sometimes, Christians get into the habit of thinking of the church as a club for members only. We find all kinds of excuses to avoid evangelizing to those who don’t know or care about the Good News of Christ (i.e. I don’t know what to say, I’m too busy, etc.). But Christians are commanded to spread the Gospel, and we need to take advantage of every opportunity God gives to invite others into His kingdom. This is why Immanuel Lutheran Church in Houston, TX, has created an Open Gym program for members of our church and members of the surrounding communities.

Basketball is a great sport (I’d argue that it’s one of the best games out there), and basketball is a great way to get to know people. The way a person plays basketball says a lot about him or her; the game gives Christians a great opportunity to show the world what we’re all about. Furthermore, basketball is a means to building relationships. Using basketball to get new people in the door helps Christians find something in common with non-Christians. The relationships that form on the court build trust. Once the non-believers have trust then the Holy Spirit can really get to work.

A normal night at Open Gym consists of lots of basketball, lots of conversation about basketball, a short devotion about halfway through, plenty of hot dogs, and questions about the events taking place in players’ lives. Volunteers serve hot dogs, play basketball, and talk to the people watching from the bleachers. The Lord had blessed our Open Gym to such an extent that Immanuel was able to host another Open Gym at the local Lutheran High School. Immanuel also hosts Bible Basketball Tournaments; we are planning our next tournament for this coming June.

The Tournaments take place all day on a Saturday and finish after church on the congruent Sunday. These Tournaments give Immanuel’s volunteers more opportunities to talk one-on-one with individuals and also offer more devotion time. Two other Open Gym programs in Houston have entered teams in the Tournament and leaders from these churches give devotions at the Tournaments and at Immanuel’s Open Gym. At the Tournaments, we hold devotions every hour, and we give away some type of prize to encourage those done playing to stay for the devotions. We usually try to give away tickets to some event (i.e. basketball game, baseball game), which gives us a second opportunity to witness to the people who win. During our last Tournament, Immanuel gave twenty people tickets to a Houston Rockets game. We also purchased twenty extra tickets for people from our church and people who helped with the Bible Basketball Tournament. Giving Immanuel’s church members an opportunity to sit next to non-members at the Rockets game created another great chance to share Christ with our non-Christian guests.

An Open Gym program is a great way to get God’s word out to a world starving for the Good News of Christ. An Open Gym program is also a great way to get Christians actively involved in evangelism. Many people can be involved in a basketball ministry; one doesn’t have to be a great player to have a role in the program. One of the most important things a person can do is pray for the ministry. Then, people can serve food, offer testimonies, or simply ask another person how his or her day went. It’s amazing how God can work through something as simple as basketball to reach the lost.

If you would like help starting a basketball ministry at your Church, or if you would like devotion ideas, please contact Bill Gumtow at

Bill Gumtow is a teacher at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Houston, TX, who began the Open Gym program for Immanuel in 1997. Bill and his family live in Houston, TX.

thESource is published on the Web by LCMS District & Congregational Services-Youth Ministry.  The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1333 South Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295; 1-800-248-1930;  Editor: Gretchen M. Jameson; Assistant Editor: Dawn Cornelius-Gaunt; Layout: Gretchen M. Jameson. VOL. 1 NO. 7 April 2004.