Anyone who wants to start a skate ministry dreams of opening a big beautiful Street League style skate park in a massive facility. We usually try to convince them not to. When JSAW started out we had big dreams, so we built a 9,000 square foot skate park in a 20,000 square foot building that cost over $10,000 a month in rent. We had concessions, a skateboard shop, multipurpose basketball court, dance studio, offices and one of the largest indoor skate parks in the Midwest. Every week we held Bible study and saw thousands of kids come through our doors. Two years in, we were over $150,000 in debt and had to close the doors.
Everyone starts with good intentions: to see skateboarders come to Jesus. Unfortunately opening, maintaining and operating a facility like an indoor skate park has very little to do with those dreams of seeing kids come to Jesus. It has a lot more to do with being a small business owner, entrepreneur, marketing expert, 24/7 fundraiser, and workaholic who is financially broke. After 10 years of experience with this we have come up with 5 reasons opening an indoor skate park is a bad way to start a skate ministry:
1) The cost of a facility to house a skate park is extremely high because it needs a lot of open floor space and high ceilings. This type of property is most commonly found in an industrial park which is a terrible location for marketing, retail and developing any regular foot traffic.
2) The clientele are mostly 13-18 year old kids spending mom and dad’s money. If you’re intention is outreach, your favorite demographic tends to be the lost, broken, needy, poor, and outcast. Which it should be as Christ commanded us. However they definitely will not pay the bills of your giant indoor skate park. It is extremely difficult to generate enough revenue from selling candy, RedBull, skateboards and park admissions to a bunch rambunctious kids who are always hunting for a ‘bro deal’.
3) Indoor skate parks are seasonal. When the weather is nice an indoor skate park is the last place kids want to be. Skateboarding was born outside in the sunshine, back yard pools and on the streets down town. To survive the summer months indoor parks rely on intensive programming and events to keep kids coming indoors. Skate camps, demo’s and contests every week all summer long.
4) The competition is fierce. Here in the US the Tony Hawk Foundation, American Ramp Company, California Skate Parks, Spaun Ranch and others went on a mission to build thousands of free, easily accessible outdoor skate parks across the nation. Not to mention the sidewalk, parking garage, library and schools that provide plenty of opportunities for street skating. Then there is the local skate shop, which likely has a huge cult-like following of loyal die-hard skaters. There’s also the local bike shop, Walmart, REI, Zumiez, Tilly’s, and others that sell skateboards and don’t forget about Amazon, CCS, and the million other online retailers that can blow your prices out of the water.
5) Fundraising and grants are hard to come by and are not sustainable sources of income. There is no such thing as a grant for skateboarding and Jesus. Trust me I have looked. Donors will give, but let’s be honest they are much more interested in clean water, child poverty, Aids and breast cancer. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, those are amazing causes that need our dollars. Nevertheless fundraising is tough and will eat up at least 25-50% of your time.
Starting a skate park in order to launch a skate ministry is a terrible idea. It quickly becomes more about staffing a youth center, fundraising and marketing programs then skating and sharing Jesus with kids. The point is don’t try to start a ministry by opening an indoor skate park. Rather, open a skate park because the ministry you started has grown so much that a facility is needed. There are many ministries who have been successful like Ramp48, Steamboat SkateChurch, The Center and the original SkateChurch in Portland. They all began as a ministry and grew into a facility with an indoor skate park when it became necessary.
JSAW launched Help Board Shop after 9 years of ministry because we needed a place for our programs, our staff needed offices and our donors wanted us to have a home base. We are thankful for what we have been given, but our ministry is not dependent on the facility. Our intention is to challenge your thinking. Are you being called to share Jesus with skaters or are you being called to start a skate park and/or a shop?
There’s a big difference between the two. Skaters need a healthy relationship with someone who cares about them and spends time with them. Most of all they need a relationship with Jesus Christ. Building a skate park is not the way to accomplish that, but here are 3 simple ways to start an action sports ministry in your community.