Winter Conference: Catalyst for Community

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Winter Conference: Catalyst for community

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KATIE NEFF

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Who doesn’t love a weekend retreat with friends?

For many years Athletes in Action has been hosting winter retreats for collegiate athletes. These weekend-long events take place across the country, with staff members from each geographical region creating a conference for athletes in their area. 

Every year these gatherings are a catalyst for connection. Athletes discover a community of like-minded individuals, the gospel is shared and everyone present receives training to help him or her grow in faith and reach out to others. 

As with so many things this year, the pandemic affected planning for the event. How do you help athletes to experience community and connection when large gatherings aren’t feasible, and “zoom-fatigue” is real? 

The AIA National Winter Conference was born out of this question.

“Our heart behind this event was to provide a ministry opportunity where [AIA] staff members could invite their students, have in-person contact with watch parties, and be provided questions and discussion prompts to facilitate gospel conversations with the help of technology,” says Lindsey Williams, the operations director for the conference. 

“[We wanted to create something] that didn’t feel quite as ‘zoom-like’ as the rest of 2020 has been.”

In late February, more than 1,000 students gathered virtually and in small group watch parties to be a part of this event. More than 100 universities across the nation were represented, including dozens of athletes who either made first-time decisions for Christ, or recommitted their lives to following Him. 

The new digital format for the event made it easier for athletes to invite their teammates, and allowed for meaningful conversations among students viewing together.

“I was able to learn so much about the girls in my small group and was surprised to hear so many going through the same struggles as me,” one athlete shared. “It just shows how important community is and how we can grow closer to Christ through community.”

Between the two segments of the conference, both of which featured athlete faith stories and spiritual teaching from Cincinnati Bengals chaplain LaMorris Crawford, attendees had the opportunity to discuss what they were learning. 

The vulnerable conversations athletes shared during this time were encouraging, and even life-changing, as some used the time to share their testimonies, and even the gospel, with teammates. 

“It was so amazing to meet with other Christians from different universities in my area,” another student shared. “This was my first experience with something like this and it was so refreshing to meet other like-minded Christian athletes.”

The impact of winter conference continues to grow, as the footage is still available for viewing online (you can watch here), and athletes have the chance to share the things they’re learning with their communities. 

“We hope that athletes take encouragement from this event, that they find boldness in their conversations with friends and teammates sharing the gospel,” says Lindsey. 

She adds: “We hope they feel better equipped for those conversations, and felt a sense of community being a part of something that involved others just like them in their exact position all over the country.”

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