Chiltern Church Runners
Based in Sutton, South London, we are set up around parkrun (a 5km free event of which there are many around the country), our home run is at Roundshaw parkrun, but we also have regular runners at Banstead, and sometimes Nonsuch. Our membership is about 80% from our Church, and 20% ‘associate’ runners, non Church members who lend us their support.
We also run together on fortnightly Sunday night training runs, and enter local running events (Perch 10k, Sports Relief, SLH Informals, Beddington 10k and Hogsmill 5 for example).
We seek to be a visible, friendly presence, mixing a local Church community with the local running community in a gentle way. See what we look like on YouTube courtesy of a video of an event that features us quite heavily – just search Roundshaw parkrun.
We also seek to encourage other Churches to become involved at parkrun – to be ‘churchrunners’. The Selsdon Baptist Church Runners have set up at Lloyd parkrun, Croydon and the Good Shepherd Runners are at Nonsuch parkrun, Sutton following similar models to us. See also our ‘churchrun’ document in the Resources section
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How to set up a Park Run Club
Churchrun – a how to guide to setting up a church based running club
Chiltern Church Runners – a working example
Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” 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’.
There are three simple steps;
- E-mail the main parkrun site telling them you are a club, with a club name that includes the word Church, Christian, Baptist etcetera. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Get T-shirts with the club name and maybe a slogan on – be visible.
- If you can have a webpage (ideally on your church site), you can add this as a link to your club on the parkrun site. See an example – http://www.chilternchurch.org.uk/Groups/182529/Chiltern_Church/Community/C_O_Gs/Chiltern_Runners/Chiltern_Runners.aspx
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 t-shirts, club name in results list, and weblink to your running page on the church website. Most recently we have advertised the Christmas services on the 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 in to attending. You could do similar things, in due course.
Over 20% of our runners do not come to Chiltern, 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.
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 Chiltern 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 lead to at least half a dozen more believing they can do it – she now has 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.
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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