Did you know that pickleball is currently the fastest growing sport in the United States? In 2013, there were 4,000 members of the USAPA (United States of America Pickleball Association) and the majority of people hadn’t heard of the obscure paddle sport. Ten years later, there are well over 70,000 USAPA members and virtually everybody knows what you mean when you suggest playing a game of pickleball.
Pickleball has become wildly popular among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and for good reason. The game is easy to learn, and it’s fun to play with friends and family. But it's more than just a good young single adult activity or a great way to get your family together on a Monday evening—it’s a fantastic tool for building friendships and fellowshipping inside and outside of the Church.
My grandpa, Clair Griffin, is 83 years old, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he springs across a pickleball court. Clair has spent the past 10 years playing pickleball several times a week. Even though my grandpa has become quite good at pickleball over the past decade, he doesn’t love playing because he loves winning (although he does that quite often, too). “I go out and play pickleball to keep myself in good physical activity, in order to make friends, and to have a good time with people,” he says.
Recently, Clair’s ward in Logan, Utah, has started using pickleball as a means of fellowshipping returning members, people taking the missionary lessons, friends of the church, and ward members. “Some people might not walk into the church house for a sacrament meeting,” he observes, “but they’ll walk in to play pickleball,” referring to how the gyms in some church buildings now have pickleball courts painted on the wood.
This isn’t the only time, though, that Clair has used his favorite sport to share the gospel and gather Israel. My grandpa remembers one summer when he played pickleball with a nice elderly couple who had traveled to Logan, Utah, to escape the scorching summer heat of Sun Valley, Arizona. After playing pickleball with the couple for several weeks, my grandpa and his pickleball partner gave their opponents a Book of Mormon and bore testimony of its importance.
The next summer, my grandpa coincidentally ran into that same couple again at the pickleball courts. “I pulled up alongside [their car] on my bike,” Clair recalls. “I looked at him and said, ‘How's your Book of Mormon reading coming?’ He says, ‘Oh, not very well. But my wife is reading.’ And I looked over and she was sitting next to him in the passenger seat, and she was reading the Book of Mormon.” Later, my grandpa found out that after the couple returned to Arizona, they came into further contact with the Church and chose to be baptized. Clair heard from a mutual friend that the couple went on to become faithful and active members in their ward. “That was a real meaningful opportunity [for me],” Claire remembers.
While my grandpa may use pickleball to keep himself in good health, he really loves playing for the opportunity it gives him to build new friendships and relationships. “If there’s a lesson to be learned [from pickleball],” Clair says, “it’s that it’s a good way to make new friends.” When Latter-day Saints fellowship and love their neighbors, inside and outside of the Church, we are participating in the gathering of Israel.
President Russell M. Nelson has taught us a lot about the gathering of Israel since he became president of the Church in 2018. “Anytime you do anything that helps anyone—on either side of the veil—take a step toward making covenants with God and receiving their essential baptismal and temple ordinances, you are helping to gather Israel. It is as simple as that,” he taught in a worldwide youth devotional (emphasis in original).
Our efforts to gather Israel can take many shapes. It can be as simple as inviting a returning member to play a game of pickleball at the church building or as meaningful as sharing the Book of Mormon with a new friend.
But even though the task may be simple, members may still find the challenge to gather Israel a bit daunting. My grandpa’s use of pickleball to friendship and fellowship has reminded me of an important gospel principle: that truly, by small and simple things, great things are brought to pass (Alma 37:6). It’s the simple things—like a well-timed text or an invitation to play pickleball—that so often make a difference in our lives.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has encouraged members of the Church to share the gospel in natural and normal ways. “In whatever ways seem natural and normal to you, share with people why Jesus Christ and His Church are important to you. Invite them to ‘come and see.’” Elder Uchtdorf promises that as Latter-day Saints strive to share the gospel and to love their neighbors, “God will work miracles through you to bless His precious children.”
So next time you feel prompted to reach out to a neighbor, coworker, or friend, do it in a way that feels natural and normal, even if that means inviting them to play a game of pickleball. But you don’t need to take my advice, just take my grandpa’s.
“If you’ve got an hour or two, what better activity can you find than playing pickleball? Because it’s fun and it’s very sociable. You get to meet a lot of new people and make a lot of friends,” he says. “And whether you win or lose, playing pickleball, for me, is always a winning situation. Because there are multiple aspects to the game, and winning is only one of them, and perhaps the least significant.”
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