How-to guide to setting up a church-based running club

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Can you take church out to people?

Taps into an external organised event (parkrun – free timed 5k run every Saturday) with its own infrastructure, you can contribute to the running by adding volunteers – but you do not have to organise from scratch. We, and you, can be supporters of parkrun as well as users of it. All you need are a few ‘runners’, or even just one – see joining up just before the summary section.

There are three simple steps:

  1. Contact parkrun via their Support page telling them you are a club, with a club name that includes the word Church, Christian, Baptist etcetera.  See this page for more info.
  2. If you can have a web page (ideally on your church site), you can add this as a link to your club on the parkrun site.
  3. Optional – Get t-shirts (or ‘bibs’) with the club name and maybe a slogan on – be visible.

In some ways it is that easy. Each runner can link themselves to the club, club membership is retroactive – so all your ‘old’ runs are credited to the club.

The idea is to be visible and offer a gentle (but clear) invitation – ‘we are here, ask about us if you want’.

You are advertising via, club name in results list, web link to your running page on the church website and t-shirts if you have them. We have advertised the Christmas services on the local parkrun website – one regular at our parkrun commented we had “earned the right” to do so, as “it’s not as if we had just come along”, we were 9 months into attending. You could do similar things, in due course.

Over 40% of our runners do not come to our church, we call them ‘associate runners’ and it is my belief that nearly all of those people do not come to church at all. We also run other events, we have run under the church name in events all over England. People will come and run in the name of a church, who would not necessarily want to come to church. I would note we have chosen to give them free t-shirts as a thank you for ‘advertising’ us.

Don’t want the expense of t-shirts for all your runners? A new club has just used a ‘bib’ – print the name of your club twice on a sheet of A4 in large font– reduce this down to 2 rectangles just under A5 size. Laminate and then cut in half, hole punch carefully in corners – you can now use safety pins to attach this club ‘bib’ – it’s cheap, waterproof, and reusable. You can switch to t-shirts later, or not if you want.

What does success look like? People coming to church would be great, but making people more open to faith and less negative about church/faith is also a worthy goal. Certainly reducing people’s already negative views of church was as far as I believe one post race pub chat with two associate runners was ever going to go. Also we are growing, more church attendees are coming, and having the opportunity to ‘fly the flag’ for our church in a way they otherwise would not. If you can get numbers, it certainly helps!

To make it work at least one person should be passionate, or at least enthusiastic about the activity. However it should be accessible to a broad range of people. On that note it can be valuable to recruit ‘non runners’, one lady in her fifties who had the bravery to come has led to at least half a dozen more believing they can do it – she has now completed over 20 parkruns. The ‘non runner’ has become a runner.

Those that really cannot run have also contributed; prayer, childcare provision, and volunteering have supported our ministry – don’t turn anyone away if you can help it.

Getting people to do something new in their Christian life is good, getting non Christians involved is good, but also getting Christians to make something they already do part of their Christian life is good as well. You can certainly ‘run for Jesus’, you can be dazzled by the beauty of God’s creation on a run, you can worship, you can support your fellows, you can ponder, you can connect, and (trust me on this one) you really can pray – sometimes for the end of the race!

I don’t think you can rush it, or be heavy handed about it if it is to work. That does not mean you cannot be open, an event report we wrote on ‘faith or ability’, got picked up on a parkrun Facebook page and is still referenced there.

Joining Up

If you set up a club – we hope you will join up with churchrunner – and maybe take part in some of our activities.

Just want to run and not set up a club? Christian Runners UK let’s you join an ‘umbrella’ club of other Christian runners and still be visible. They have club t-shirts, a website, and still makes you a Christian presence at events.

In summary

The church after all (cliché time) is not the building, it’s the people. When two of our ‘associate members’ chat with a church member who is also a runner, or when one of the fitness group members who use the building decide to run for us they are meeting ‘church’, and in fact they end up meeting quite a lot of us! Make connections.

My point is almost not to run outreach events that ask people to come to a church building, but to harness events like parkrun where people already reach out to those beyond the church and connect those events back, gently, to the people of the church as people of the church.

Questions and queries?

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