Port Orange, Florida—Can church happen and disciples be formed around a basketball hoop in a church parking lot? Todd and Brittany Leclair say yes!
Basketballs, hoops, pizza, Christian Scriptures, prayer, and sweaty young people of all races make up this fresh expression tethered to First Port Orange United Methodist Church in Florida. Todd said, “Our focus is bringing the community together in unity around something they like to do.”
He believes basketball creates unity of brotherhood and sisterhood, through the activity of play, “then slowly we bring them into talking about Christ.” Todd has turned his passion for basketball and introducing young people to Jesus into this fresh expression.
After over a year of thinking, “Yeah. I could do that!” Brittany Leclair, a candidate for ordained ministry in the UMC said, “We were not really sure if it would work, but my husband Todd and I decided we would just go ‘all in.’”
Gathered Around Basketball and Community
In March, they kicked off this Fresh Expression of Church centered around basketball and their love for their community. “We picked a day and time that would work for our schedule and prayed people would show up. So far, every Thursday they have!” said Brittany.
The name “Rebound” came to her while she was driving to class one morning at Bethune-Cookman University where she is currently a freshman. “God said to me, ‘Teach them they are loved. Teach them how to rebound.’ I wasn’t really sure what that meant,” she said.
“You see, growing up I played basketball all through elementary and middle school and my dad taught me the importance of going up for the rebound while instilling in me not to be afraid to get knocked down or take an elbow to the nose in the process. Which is exactly the forefront of our fresh expression. I realized after multiple conversations with God that I’m definitely not the only one who’s had some hard hits from life and that’s exactly what Rebound is about; learning to keep Christ in the center when life knocks us down.”
Brittany realized there is an enormous amount of people of all ages who may have been hurt by the church, work on Sundays, and/or have no interest in stepping foot inside of the walls of any church. So, “Here we are bringing the church to a parking lot once a week by eating a meal together, praying, and sharing life through basketball. My hope is that each person that walks off of our court will have experienced the love of God and know they don’t ever have to go through life alone.”
The Impact of Rebound
The night that I visited Rebound, over 20 young people gathered to play, snack, and pray. One of the young men I spoke with, shared that he used to attend the youth group at the church, but stopped going several years ago because of the busyness of life.
For this young man, “Rebound” is his spiritual community… his church. Here he gets to connect with God and his friends, while also doing an activity he loves. Others in this group who live in the neighborhood reported they have never attended a “traditional” form of church.
While still in the early stages of development, this simple fresh expression has incredible potential. Perhaps the most amazing thing is the spiritual growth Todd and Brittany are already seeing in the youth who come to Rebound every week.
“Two of our high schoolers (one freshman and one sophomore), who have been attending Rebound since it started, are growing in their discipleship journey by leaps and bounds (no pun intended),” said Brittany.
Brittany has noticed that these two high school young men are beginning to understand that although THEY are actively involved in a church youth group, there are many students in our community who won’t step foot into a church building because they work and/or have left our church after attending off and on for a few years without their families. The so-called “nones” but mostly “dones.”
Reaching out to students and adults in the community who are not actively involved in a church has become a huge piece of discipleship for these two young men. Because Rebound has been meaningful and spiritually formative for them, they are seeking to share it with others.
They are now inviting classmates from their school and going door to door in the neighborhood asking people if they want to come play basketball.
“The BEST part is… It’s actually working!” says Brittany. “These kids are inviting our community into a church where we pray together, share a meal, and play a game of basketball in a parking lot. So far, we’ve yet to have a night with less than 5 players. (To God be the glory!)” The group frequently has first-time visitors and others who come and go semi-regularly.
Brittany says, “I really had no idea these kids would ever be so involved in the leadership of this fresh expression. Yet, here they are every week showing up to do life with anyone who walks onto the court. I believe these two young men have the potential to become future pioneers and I look forward to how God will continue to work through them to seek and save the lost.”
Discipleship in the Process of Play
One of the things I noticed as I visited Rebound, was how this husband and wife team were using the phenomenon of “coaching” with these young people. As they were organizing the games, orchestrating the different spiritual components of prayer and devotional, they were also speaking into the young people’s souls.
Encouraging them, stepping in when they appeared frustrated, taking them aside and affirming them as people, not just how they played the game.
A kind of social learning was also taking place, as they modeled the behaviors that were being taken up by the participants.
This was discipleship in the process of play. Around the practice of basketball, as skills for the game were being cultivated, practices of prayer, empathy, vulnerability, and confession were also taking shape.
I witnessed these young men and women taking on leadership roles, guiding the others, encouraging them, leading prayer, and so on.
While this may seem foreign to our programmatically focused versions of discipleship, where the impartation of knowledge seems to be the primary concern. This discipleship reflects the more apprenticeship-based practices of the early church. People did life in proximity.
They were formed as disciples primarily through regular interaction, and a more mature disciple “coaching” the newcomers.
Rev. Michael Beck is South Atlantic Coordinator Fresh Expressions US and North Central District Cultivator of Fresh Expressions for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. Michael serves as senior pastor of Wildwood UMC where he directs addiction recovery programs, a jail ministry, a food pantry, and a network of fresh expressions that meet in places like tattoo parlors and burrito joints. He currently lives in Wildwood with his wife, Jill, and their blended family of 8 children.