- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2007

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It wasn’t a big tent revival, TV evangelist or personal crisis that led Russ Sevedge back to church. It was big drives and fast greens.

Mr. Sevedge and other serious golfers are finding Jesus on the fairways because of the In His Grip Golf Association, a ministry that teaches churches how to use golf as a way to share the Gospel.

Founder Scott Lehman said he got the idea for In His Grip from driving by golf courses on Sunday mornings and seeing men teeing off instead of going to church.

“A lot of Sundays, you go by the golf course and they’re really packed,” Mr. Lehman said. “We felt like there was an opportunity to take our faith to the fairways and just meet [golfers] where they’re at and introduce them to the church and ultimately to Jesus Christ.”

In His Grip holds training workshops for churches and shows them how to host golf tournaments to reach out to men who aren’t active churchgoers.

Mr. Sevedge, 52, attended an In His Grip tournament about three years ago in Port Byron, Ill., where he said he was impressed by the character of golfers participating in the event. He said the experience helped lead him back to attending church regularly and to becoming involved in a Bible study group.

A self-employed salesman, Mr. Sevedge plays about 60 rounds of golf a year and finished with an impressive 10-handicap last year. His church, Heritage Wesleyan in Rock Island, Ill., hosted the In His Grip tournament.

“I’ve always believed in Christ,” he said. “But there was a long time I fell away and wasn’t an active participant. I would go to church and go through the motions. But this sparked me to really seek out my relationship with Christ. It led me back.”

Golf courses are ideal places to share the Gospel because it takes hours to play a round, and it’s easy to talk while walking along fairways and riding in golf carts, organizers say.

Eric Nesbit, golf ministry director at Westshore Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pa., said they’ve had a golf ministry about a year and plan to hold their first invitational in June. The church has about 55 men in its golf league and is encouraging them to invite other men from outside the church to the invitational.

Mr. Nesbit said church members heard about In His Grip and wanted to work with Mr. Lehman to start such a ministry at their church, which has about 2,500 people who regularly attend services.

“Our strategy is not necessarily to have them join the church in the immediate future … but to show them a relationship, whether it’s friendship, enjoying the game of golf together in a Christian way,” he said. “If you were to play golf with me, I don’t curse or throw clubs. It’s a different way of playing golf.

“We try to locate opportunities in the discussion where that [Gospel] will come up. You have to be careful. You don’t want to invite a nonbeliever and then rush right into it on the first hole. Hopefully, by them seeing how we interact with each other … will cause them to be interested and get that conversation started.”

Mr. Lehman said In His Grip held its first tournament nearly 10 years ago and has hosted about 150 tournaments across the country. During its first eight years, In His Grip mainly hosted tournaments for other groups, such as the men’s ministry group Promise Keepers.

But the focus changed nearly two years ago, and now In His Grip is more geared toward training churches to set up their own golf ministries.

Mr. Lehman, 46, a golf teaching professional, holds training sessions for churches in different regions of the country. Up to four persons from a church can attend all-day training events for about $500.

In His Grip doesn’t focus on women because Mr. Lehman believes it can be more effective going after men. He notes that Promise Keepers has said if men are influenced by the Gospel, then their families will often follow suit.

He said In His Grip trained six churches last year and expects that number to be close to 20 churches this year. In His Grip does not endorse a particular denomination, but close to half of the churches participating are Southern Baptist, Mr. Lehman said.

It’s part of the reason Mr. Lehman has plans this summer to move In His Grip headquarters from Moline, Ill., to Nashville, where the Southern Baptist Convention is based.

“Our vision is to reach every golfer in every nation,” he said. “Right now, we’re seeing a big trend of churches looking to meet people outside the four walls of the church, and this is a strategy to help them do that.”

John Garner, director of recreation sports and family ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said churches are beginning to realize the value of using recreational activities to reach people.

“We live in a leisure-oriented culture, where for people their job supports their play,” he said. “So there’s the question: Is the church just going to write them off, or are we going to engage them in their world? And that’s what Scott’s done.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide