Jon Stolpe Stretched

What's S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g me now?

Creating Community – The Power of Poker

A guy at our church has been “leading” a monthly Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Group connected with our church’s grouplife ministry.  For some of you, this sounds sacrilegious and not quite right – after all, doesn’t the Bible discourage gambling?   I guess I understand this viewpoint; however, I would argue that this is the type of group that Jesus would promote.  From what we read in the gospels, Jesus hung out with prostitutes, cheaters, and punks.  I’ve attended this poker group a few times, and it draws all kinds of people – people who are part of the church and people who are not part of any church.  The group’s goal (besides playing cards) is to create an entry point for people to get connected with people from our church.  From here, the hope is that they would come to our church and check out other opportunities to get connected and to grow.

Today, I was blown away when I saw one of the group’s attenders file into church a few rows in front of me with the group’s leader.  He quickly received a hand shake and hello from one of the group’s regular attenders who was sitting right in front of him.  I’ll be honest, I never expected to see this guy in our church.  I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  This is the group’s goal, and it’s working.

So what do you think?  Would you consider this a valid part of your grouplife/connection ministry?  What other types of groups might serve in this same manner?

I’d love to hear your feedback!


January 16, 2011 - Posted by | church, small groups, thoughts


  1. Wow, I am flattered that you dedicated your blog to the poker group. When it was first started, I was a little concerned about the potential ramifications of encouraging gambling. I was bought up in a conservative Baptist church so I certainly felt that if we weren’t crossing the line we were right up to it. So when the group first started I set up a couple of limitations. First I didn’t want the cost to be more than the cost of a movie. Others may think this is just a justification, but I felt that we could really think of this as entertainment not so much gambleing. I mean no one is going to get rich here, the main point is to have fun and get to know eachother. The other thing was the question of whether to have beer. I really did not want to in any way have this be a “drinking” event. So we supply water and some gourmet sodas, and let folks bring their own beer if they want. This has actually worked out well, the drinking is really minimal, for the most part just a couple of beers. I never see anyone visably drunk and it really isn’t a problem. The third concern was that the group would be a stepping stone for higher stakes gambling. To avoid this we don’t have after games with higher stakes, which several who play poker regularly would ike to do. For the most part the people that play in the group don’t play poker outside the group, with the excetion with those who were regular players before they came to the group. I have never sat a a table with anyone that comes to the group, and seen them gamble above their head. So overall, despite some concerns things have worked out well. If you can’t invite someone to play poker, I don’t know of a less threatening way to introduce them to christianity. This is the starting point for folks who are far from organized religion, those people you never would expect to see in church. The challenge now is discipleship. We need christian guys who aren’t too proud or afraid to be talk about their faith, but can also play a decent hand of poker. I guess that excludes John for now, but we can work on the poker part!

    Comment by Tom Nesspor | January 16, 2011 | Reply

  2. I’d love to see an intelligent opposing viewpoint on this but alas it will not be from me. Tom you’ve done a great job addressing the risks involved with this type of outreach. I’ve thought about starting this type of group before but let myself get scared off by the challenges! Now we just need more people to buck up and invite their friends(I say to myself) Kudos!

    Comment by Josh | January 18, 2011 | Reply

  3. I have gone back and forth about this idea, and have even participated to some extent. My current opinion is that I think there are definitely a few concerns to be very aware of and careful about, particularly when new people join who are already church-goers. Poker is very naturally an addicting activity. While the stakes might be low at your table, “getting a taste” of the action might be just enough to push someone further into the lifestyle, which brings me to my second point.

    I will not go to a casino because of the related activities and other things (ie: women) that are on display. Someone exposed to a “harmless” game of poker (even with no smoking, alcohol, or money involved) is now at a greater risk of becoming more involved, or at least exposed to, these related activities.

    I got into the online world of poker a few years ago and quickly learned how to win easily at free tables. I eventually realized this, for me, could have led to a “gateway” of playing for more and more money. Gambling in itself is a slippery slope, without even taking into account the legal ramifications. But mostly, I quit because I saw myself starting to become consumed with it and didn’t want it to take over my life. I’m not saying that’s inevitable; my point is that it’s possible.

    The other issue I have is that you argue Jesus would do it. I agree that yes, he did “hang out” with sinners in their homes and other places. But to me, the equivalent of what you’re doing (creating the game/venue rather then simply participating) crosses a very fine line between Jesus dining with tax collectors and overturning the tables in the temple (sidebar- should we do drugs with stoners in order to “relate” to them? Point being, where is the line?). That’s just my opinion, but I think it’s potentially another slippery slope to use “Jesus did it” as justification…He was also perfect, and while tempted, never sinned. He sets a standard that none of us can compare ourselves to.

    Finally, I think there is a trend where the church thinks it has to almost lure people in or find ways to relate to nonbelievers in order to show them that we’re “just like them” and that church is cool if they just give it a chance. I also think (based on experiences) that many people “get saved” without truly counting the cost because the message has been almost entirely watered down in order to be more accessible. The church is to be salt as well as light to the world, and I think sometimes we try to hide our saltiness in order to become more attractive.

    Let me be clear that I’m not against betting, let alone poker. I think it can be a fun and entertaining activity as long as clear boundaries and limitations are set. But do we need this activity to reach certain people? Some might argue that we do. But chances are, all these guys also like some kind of sports, activity, etc. So why not engage them with more wholesome activities that still give you the chance to pursue relationships?

    Looking forward to reading other responses!

    Comment by Craig Allen | September 20, 2011 | Reply

    • Interesting rebuttal! While I’m not sure if Jesus would have poker, I’m sure He would have gone to extreme measures to draw others to Him. It’s clear that he hung out where people got drunk and got into other problems, so I’m pretty sure he would have hung out with people who played cards.

      Here’s one of the main points for my post….I don’t think many churches take seriously the call to GO into the world and make disciples. I think many churches are stuck doing what’s been done for years. They believe that adding a drum and some guitars to worship is by itself enough to reach out to people far from God. I don’t buy that.

      As Christ followers, we need to go to extreme measures to create relationships with people who are far from God. We need to pray for those who don’t know Jesus. And we need to look for opportunities to speak truth into their lives.

      I appreciate your response, and I wrestle with many of your points as well. I don’t want to cause a brother to stumble – that’s for sure. But I also want to do whatever I can to connect people with other Christians and ultimately to God.

      Comment by jonstolpe | September 20, 2011 | Reply

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