TAMPA (Christian Examiner) -- It isn't the biggest event of the year, and the "full blown Gospel message" wasn't any different from how it's always presented at Idlewild Baptist Church, but a "Last Team Standing" dodgeball tournament last month had more than 100 middle and high schoolers surrender their lives to Christ.
Nearly 500 brightly clad teams of middle schoolers and volunteers bounced into the worship center Nov. 7, while close to 400 high schoolers and volunteers strode into the worship center Nov. 8 ahead of the intense competition that took place.
Kelly Knouse, student pastor at Idlewild said the teens took part in silly games, watched a rules video and then participated in worship music before a 20 minute Gospel presentation and an old- fashioned altar call.
"We go right into a Gospel presentation right on the front end," Knouse told Christian Examiner. "We jam all that into about a 45 minute ordeal. We don't mess around with the reason we are there."
Afterwards, Knouse said an invitation is given and students respond right in the room with leaders following up.
"All that happens on the front end of the night and we dismiss to play dodgeball the rest of the night," he said.
Students, he said, do the "hard work" of inviting their friends to dodgeball night and organizing the teams.
The church hires a company to set up eight dodge ball courts on its campus with netting and PVC pipes. They light the courts and bring in food trucks and scorekeepers -- and they build bonfires to keep the atmosphere festive.
Dodgeball night is an inexpensive way to provide a great evangelism event for students, according to Knouse who said he believes it is the third year the high schoolers have participated and that the event has had even more history among the middle schoolers. The key, he said, is pre-registration for $5 a person, and advance planning and promotion.
"It was incredible," Knouse said of the response to the back-to-back dodgeball nights. "With most of the students responding, giving their hearts to Christ and getting baptized. It was a really powerful response."
Ken Whitten, senior pastor at Idlewild Baptist, agreed.
"It is amazing that God would and could use something as simple as a dodgeball and a competition to draw students to Himself. Of course that shouldn't surprise us since He said, 'by the foolishness of preaching He would save those who would believe' (1 Cor. 1:21)."
Whitten said the church set out to create an event where students would connect relationally and then "pulled them together to connect with Jesus Christ spiritually."
What occurred next was not by accident. Whitten said Knouse "is not a guy who leads them to say a rote prayer, then raise their hands and count decisions."
"This was a full blown, stand up in front of your peers, walk to the back, sit down with an adult friend and make sure you understood the Gospel," process, Whitten said.
And Knouse said while dodgeball might be the event that drew the teens' attention this time, a February block party generally pulls in even more. About 1,400 generally show up for a guest artist, inflatables, comedians and illusionists -- with more than 150 responses to the Gospel.
Knouse said the events are comparable to old fashion tent revivals.
"We are using inflatables, bonfires and dodge ball, but we haven't changed the message," Knouse said. "We are not delivering anything more unique or creative; it's the same message we are telling forever. I don't know why. It's the same message, the same truth, and the students respond in droves every year, and this is awesome."