Fellowship of Christian Athletes and AIA: The Difference?

If you are an athlete or have a child involved in sports, you may be looking for good organizations to join where faith and athletics meet. Two of the most well-known Christian sports organizations are Athletes in Action (AIA) and Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). For those who may be choosing to join a sports group like these, you may be wondering what differences there are between the two. First, let's just say there is no wrong choice here. Both organizations have done tremendous work in reaching people through sports and the gospel. With that being said, there are a few ways to compare Athletes in Action and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Let’s look back on the history of both groups and see how each came into the present day.

Histories of Athletes in Action and Fellowship of Christian Athletes

As most older Americans would tell you, the United States experienced something of a return to Christian values during the middle of the 20th century. Whether it was a natural result of the horrors of WWII, a response to the threat of Communism, or the work of evangelists like Billy Graham, America underwent a spiritual revival that bled into every aspect of life. During this time, both Athletes in Action and Fellowship of Christian Athletes were born.

In the 1950s, Fellowship of Christian Athletes was started by a former basketball coach named Don McClanen. Seeing the ways in which professional athletes were sponsoring products, he felt the need to use Christian athletes’ influence for a series of sports camps and bible studies. The mission was to train up young athletes in the faith so that they could be spiritually whole in much the same way that sports satisfied their need for competition.

Some time after this in the mid-1960s, Athletes in Action was also created. The ministry is one of many under the Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) banner. While the two groups do some similar work, we see a more evangelistic goal in the purpose of Athletes in Action. Both ministries began in the United States, but they have each traveled far beyond our borders. Athletes in Action can be found in nearly 100 countries around the globe and FCA has had similar success in taking the message of Jesus to other countries.

Camps and Resources

So what do these organizations do exactly? As we said earlier, Don McClanen’s initial vision for FCA involved professional athletes sponsoring sports camps for young athletes. It turns out that’s still a pretty big draw for the organization. There are actually quite a few different ways to do camp with FCA. The organization offers six different styles of camp, some aimed at coaches, others at individual athletes who engage in multiple sports, and yet more dealing with full teams.

Athletes in Action also offers a few camps, but more of its focus is on missions. One of the biggest events the group offers each year is called the Ultimate Training Camp. It’s start out like most Christian sports camps with teaching, worship, and fun activities, but things get real when the camp’s main event kicks off. It’s a “20-hour sports blitz” that incorporates running, swimming, and a host of other physical activities. AIA also has sports leagues, summer mission projects, and more. These different events are catered to a number of sports, from basketball to wrestling to tennis. Athletes in Action does not solely work with high school and college level athletes, but like many aspects of Cru, this is the main area of focus.

Aside from camps and events, what kind of resources can Christian athletes use to equip themselves? Let’s start with AIA. The group’s website is full of great content for believers who are wrapped up in the world of sports. You can read about how current events relate to what the Bible has to say, enjoy daily devotionals, or read some leadership training material. As for Fellowship of Christian athletes, many of the resources that can be found on the FCA website are tools for local chapters, or Bible studies called “Huddles.” These include lesson plans, audio from speeches given by professional athletes, prayer resources, devotionals, and stories from the FCA magazine.

Reach and Influence

It’s probably safe to say the founders of these two organizations could never have imagined how far-reaching the influence of AIA and FCA would be. The two organizations have helped millions of young people in the past 50-60 years between their camps, Bible studies, and other special events. The influence of Fellowship of Christian Athletes can be felt in most high schools and cities across the US as young student-athletes gather together, share testimonies, and engage in Bible studies. It is a nationally recognized religious group that provides an outlet for Christian sports enthusiasts to grow in faith with like-minded people. While FCA is probably most effective within the US, it has grown outside our borders to roughly 50 countries around the world.

As a group that prioritizes evangelism and taking its message overseas, Athletes in Action clearly has a more international presence. It can be found in twice as many countries and advertises mission trips to countries in Asia and Africa. That’s not to say that AIA isn’t interested in projects stateside, however. The group reaches many through initiatives in the US and through hosting dinners and events associated with the Super Bowl and other championship games. One thing’s is for sure: both AIA and FCA are doing great work when it comes to meeting the spiritual needs of athletes everywhere.

Boiling Down the Differences Between Athletes in Action and FCA

This may be too simplistic of a distinction, but it seems that FCA is more focused on spiritually building up athletes and developing leaders, while Athletes in Action wishes to use sports as a means to share the gospel. Again, there’s probably some wiggle room on both sides of that breakdown. What we know is that millions of student athletes and coaches are better for having been a part of either organization.

Faith plays an important role in the world of sports and we’ve seen many of the games’ biggest stars use their platforms for the cause of Christ. While the K-LOVE Fan Awards spends much of its time on Christian music, the event also celebrates those who are making a spiritual impact in the areas of films, books, and sports. Past years have featured appearances by NFL tight end Benjamin Watson, Chicago Cubs player Ben Zobrist, and more. Find out how you can be a part of the ultimate fan experience at the K-LOVE Fan Awards by clicking on the link below.

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