In January, 400 children along with their families will burst through the doors at Grace Church in Morton, IL, to participate in Upward Sports. Since 2002, a team of volunteers has been building children, first through sixth grade, through basketball and cheerleading. Grace Church uses the opportunity to not only teach sports skills, but they also provide a place for discovering faith and making connections since 25% of the participants don’t attend a church.

Each year, Grace Church sees Upward Sports as an all-week facility and volunteer commitment for the months of January through March. The program requires 80 coaches who can weave devotions and the gospel into their instruction. Between games, the church provides the Overtime Cafe for guests to connect with the church family while enjoying free popcorn, lemonade, and coffee. Each week, that effort requires 40 additional volunteers. Even though families begin by participating in Upward basketball or cheerleading, they connect with the church family through the volunteers.

The vision of Upward is to help “church leaders leverage the power of sports to connect with families in their community.” Brad Habegger leads the program as the children’s ministry pastor. Around town and in the schools, children who participate in the program give him a high-five and call him “the guy from Upward,” and through sports, they discover Jesus. For Brad, that’s a worthwhile investment of time and volunteers.