Engage Sochi: Olympic Ministry with a Church Planting Focus
SOCHI, RUSSIA -- As the Olympic torch was burning brightly in Vancouver, Canada, International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries began exploring how traditional models of Olympic outreach could be modified to include church planting as well as mass evangelism. Shortly afterwards, Engage Sochi was born.
Engage Sochi is an IMB initiative that mobilizes Southern Baptists to reach the people of Sochi through mass evangelism and church planting before, during, and after the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
“We realized that traditional models only utilized one phase of the life-cycle of the Olympic host city,” said Engage Sochi Co-Director Marc Hooks. “Olympic ministry has focused primarily on the time during the Olympics and Paralympic Games. However, Olympic cities begin building their infrastructure years prior to the Games. If we use the momentum provided by the Olympics to begin building a church planting infrastructure prior to the actual events, then in 2014 there will be new church plants ready to receive and disciple those reached by mass evangelism efforts during the games. And, that paves the way for follow-up and discipleship after the Olympics as well.”
As part of the Engage Sochi initiative, IMB church planters arrived in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Russia in 2011 and have hosted numerous volunteer teams - all focused on reaching the Sochi community with the Gospel.
Engage Sochi missionaries have partnered with local Russian Baptists and have launched at least one house church group in the city of Sochi and have a second home Bible study that will begin near the Olympic mountain venues in Krasnaya Polyana later this month. They pray that several more small groups will be started prior to the start of the Games next year.
During the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Engage Sochi team will coordinate approximately 400 Southern Baptist volunteers who will come to Sochi.
“Our goal is to share the Gospel primarily with the people who live and work in Sochi and then connect those people with our missionaries and others involved in local church plants,” Hooks said. “But, it is kind of like archery. That is our bulls-eye. There will, of course, be arrows that hit other areas of the target, and that is not a bad thing. However, you have to have something specific to aim at and so we are trying to reach the people of Sochi.”
“We know that volunteers will meet and share with people from all over the world. Our goal is to connect people, regardless of where they are from, with IMB church planters in their areas,” said Hooks. “We don’t want these to be one-time conversations. Having the opportunity to follow-up with people is very important.”
Engage Sochi volunteers will use traditional Olympic ministry methods of trading “evangelism pins” and using the arts to engage people throughout the city and in Olympic venues. However, their primary task will not be to see how many pins they can distribute in a day, but to spend time talking with people and forming relationships.
In addition, native Russian-speaking volunteers from across Eastern Europe and the United States will be spending time in Sochi neighborhoods in an effort to connect with people and share the Gospel outside of traditional Olympic areas and venues.
But the Engage Sochi initiative also has a stateside component. As churches are sending volunteers to Sochi, they are being asked to engage their community as well.
Each Engage Sochi partner church will receive a set of sermon outlines, adult and children’s small group lessons, and ideas on how they can create Olympic-themed outreach events in their own churches.
“The Olympics are a wonderful way to reach people,” Hooks said. “Not just in the Olympic city, but across the world. The Olympics bring us together. So, at the same time that churches are reaching out across the world, we want them to use the Olympics as a way to reach people in their own communities.”
Engage Sochi leaders hope that churches will join them as prayer partners, realizing that not every church can send a team to Sochi. “Prayer support is very important to us,” Hooks said. “We realize that those churches who pray for us are on the front-line of Olympic ministry. None of this would be possible without prayer. So, regardless of whether a church sends volunteers to Sochi or not, we want them to both pray for the efforts in Russia and for them to be part of Engage Your Community.”
Over the next year the Engage Sochi team will release a virtual prayer walk for each of the three major Olympic areas in Sochi. They will also be publishing a prayer guide to help those in the States to know how to pray for the teams in Sochi.
For more information about Engage Sochi, how to become a partner, or how to send volunteer teams to be part of the mass evangelism and church planting efforts in Sochi, go to www.EngageSochi.org or write to TellMeMore@EngageSochi.org.