Close to three years ago, a group of boys from Clark High School learned that the north gym was open after school on Wednesdays and started coming to play basketball with their friends. Some of the boys would stay for dinner and the rest of Wednesday Night Live, our Student Ministry mid-week program, and others didn’t stay, but it became clear to our Student Ministry staff that the open gym was both a need being met and an opportunity to engage a little corner of the Kingdom in northwest San Antonio.
With Clark High School a couple of blocks away, University is beautifully positioned to be in strategic ministry with a whole host of teenagers who just happen to be our neighbors.
With Clark High School a couple of blocks away, University is beautifully positioned to be in strategic ministry with a whole host of teenagers who just happen to be our neighbors. USK8, our Skate ministry, has thrived partly due to this proximity and the same resource—a giant double gym just begging to be used.
As boys continued to show up to play basketball, sometimes bringing a sister or a girlfriend with them, Student Ministry leaders and staff played with them, talked with them, and slowly, relationships were built. More and more began to stay for Wednesday Night Live, hearing a Bible message during worship each week. And the truth is, there were growing pains—for both students and leaders. Many of the basketball players had no experience in a church. What it means to sing corporately, take on an attitude of worship, be respectful of those listening around you—all of this was foreign. For leaders, learning a new kind of grace, growing in patience and understanding, became a weekly challenge. And for the long-churched students who had grown up at University, who the student ministry staff expected and encouraged to welcome all newcomers, there were definitely moments of discomfort and opportunities for growth.
There is a realization that they share more similarities than differences. There is less ‘them’ and ‘us’ and more ‘we.’
To say it’s been a process is an understatement. As these two seemingly disparate groups have gone on Winter Retreat and mission trips together, as they have continued to worship with one another each Wednesday, a remarkable thing has begun to take shape. There are friendships blossoming. There is a realization that they share more similarities than differences. There is less ‘them’ and ‘us’ and more ‘we.’
This fall our church transitioned to an all-church Wednesday night program, and with dinner happening in the gym, gym time for students was shortened. Albert Aguilar, newly Director of Recreation (formerly part of our Student Ministry staff team), saw an opportunity to create a program much like USK8 but for basketball. On Tuesdays after school, the north gym opens for basketball and volleyball. Albert gives a short devotional in the middle, but most of the time is spent playing and talking and building relationships. Averaging 15-20 students each Tuesday, U Basketball is growing, and as Albert connects basketball to life in his weekly devo, the hope is that each student will realize that this is a church that loves them, that wants to be in community with them.
If we are a congregation that truly aims to build bridges to Christ, compassion and community, then we should expect to be uncomfortable. This Christian life isn’t supposed to be easy, but the fruits of the discomfort are pretty sweet. It’s now a regular occurrence to hear these ‘basketball boys’ call this place ‘my church’ and ‘my home.’ And those words are music and worship and full of glory.