By Chris Moon
A pair of Christian colleges saw a wave of baptisms of student-athletes in the fall as coaches continue to make the gospel a priority while still teaching the Xs and Os of their sports.
Kentucky Christian University saw six of its football players baptized. That was in addition to at least five baptisms of student-athletes from the school’s volleyball and basketball programs.
Point University in Georgia, meanwhile, saw four members of its football program baptized in a six-day span in October. Videos from several of those baptisms were posted to social media.
“It’s amazing how it all transpired in a relatively short period of time,” said Julius Dixon, the head football coach at Point.
A number of factors contributed to the baptisms, one of them being the COVID-19 pandemic, Dixon said.
“It gave them an opportunity to really check their faith,” Dixon said of his student-athletes. “We’re living in times that are not ordinary. If there was any time to believe in something spiritually, it’s now.”
Dixon said his quarterback last spring was discussing the idea of being baptized just as the COVID-19 pandemic caused the college to shut down. By the time students returned to campus in the fall, two more players were ready to be baptized, as well.
Dixon said those baptisms occurred on a Thursday. By Sunday, another student was baptized at a local church. The next Wednesday, another player was baptized at his home church.
But baptisms don’t happen every day, even though Dixon, who is in his fifth year at Point, says he makes it his mission to discuss it with those who are part of his program or who are considering joining up. In the previous four years, only about one player per year was baptized, he said.
Beyond COVID-19, consolidating the football team’s living quarters into just two locations (to simplify possible contact tracing) may have fostered more spiritual conversations, Dixon said.
“It was a little easier for them to be contagious” . . . in a spiritual sense, he said.
Building Up the Spiritual Culture
Meanwhile, at Kentucky Christian University, the large number of baptisms have occurred as the entire athletic department has sought to build up the spiritual culture of its sports programs.
“I think the brotherhood and family you get from that college athletic experience is incredible,” said Corey Fipps, athletic director and head football coach at KCU.
Fipps said the school’s coaches regularly talk about faith and the importance of baptism with their players; the coaches are encouraged to view their programs as a “college ministry,” with the goal of spurring the spiritual growth of their athletes.
The football program, which Fipps has led for the past four years, has “Knight Church” on Wednesday nights, led by a local church pastor. Baptism is discussed at every meeting.
“Once we start hammering that home, kids figured it out and started asking the right questions,” Fipps said.
He said sports programs at Christian universities are valuable for spiritual formation because coaches often spend more time with students than many professors do. Daily practices have a way of fostering the relationships so important to discipleship.
Fipps agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has helped spur students to make decisions for Christ. National emergencies can push people to make their faith decisions sooner rather than later.
Fipps recalled being baptized as a football player at Harding University following the 911 terrorist attacks.
“It probably prompted me to do something I was going to do down the road,” he said.
In this case, the pandemic also has created the need for students to meet in smaller groups, Fipps said, and those smaller groups foster the discussions that can help a person grow their faith.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.