At Britton Christian Church in Oklahoma City, tennis is more than a sport.
Since 2011, a youth group trip to the tennis court has grown into BCC Tennis Academy, which officially opened in 2018.
Participants in Britton’s tennis clubs like Los Gatos learn more than how to swing a racket. This weekly club is offered to students at nearby Britton Elementary School who are behind in reading, and includes tennis lessons, tutoring, time in the church’s computer lab with educational games, and Bible lessons.
The tennis program has grown to reach families across the congregation’s diversifying community, through weekly groups, summer camps and an annual event – and provides a powerful way for church members to volunteer.
“God can use me to make a difference in a kid’s life,” senior pastor Rev. Mike Hays explains. “It’s easy to ask, ‘how is an inner-city kid ever going to connect with me?’ as a white guy who lives in nice area. But kids could care less about that stuff if they know you love them.”
Coaches also use tennis to teach Biblical lessons, Hays says. “For example, the first time you touch a racket you might not hold it correctly. The coach will correct you, and you can’t blow off that advice. Proverbs says, ‘trust in the Lord, rely not on your own understanding’” (Proverbs 3:5).
The tennis academy’s board raised over $250,000 in donations and grants to build three courts on the church’s property, where they offer most of their programs. They also have groups practicing 3-4 days a week at a local country club, which charges the church a discounted fee.
Students of all ages and abilities can participate. The academy teaches all levels of tennis – from beginners two Sundays a month, to competitive teams like the Cheetahs, a 10-and-under club team, who won the state championship last year.
Church membership is a requirement to participate in the upper-level programs, and this program has helped Britton CC reach more families across the community.
“We want to be more than a tennis outlet for kids,” Hays suggests. “We want to minister to their families too, so these programs help bring in families that may be going through difficult times. We had a student start our after-school program, and he soon brought his mom to church. She came to other programs we offer, like ESL and citizenship classes, and church leaders attended her citizenship ceremony.”
Between the tennis academy and other community ministries like a medical and dental clinic, at over 100 years old, Britton Christian Church still finds new ways to serve love to their neighbors.
“God has given us a wonderful tool to get involved in families’ lives, be a blessing, and teach great lessons,” celebrates Hays.
“Love transcends every cultural divide, every racial disparity, every cultural context. Love transcends them all.”