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The Formal Formalities

When applying for the Magellan Grant last September, I wrote a formal research proposal to the committee. It is not my typical writing style, but was key to formulating the project. It was the first time I put the idea on paper, and it has guided "God at the Games" from the start.


God at the Games

Madeline C. Mulkey, Public Relations;

Prof. Cecile S. Holmes, Journalism and Mass Communications

Research Statement

The proposed research project will identify ways in which Olympic Ministry Teams operate and amplify their outreach methods at the 2018 South Korean Winter Olympics through use of private publication and mass media. It will explore how a rapidly changing media landscape shapes such teams’ tactics and outreach.

Project Goal and Objectives

Goal: The project goal is to understand the ways in which Olympic Ministry Teams amplify their outreach methods through the use of private publications and mass media; this includes the use of social media, pamphlets and handouts, pin trading, news broadcasts and publications.

Objectives: Interview past Olympic ministers; travel to the 2018 South Korean Winter Olympics; interview and observe current Olympic ministers, observe outreach methods and gauge the effectiveness of the methods by following up with those on the receiving end of the interaction.

Project Significance

Olympic ministry brings thousands of people to the site of the Olympics to spread the message of the Christian God. The project will identify the ways in which Christian groups have shaped their ministry tactics in order to adapt to an

ever-changing environment and stay relevant at large mainstage events.

Background Research

Olympic ministry in the form it is seen in today began in 1996. The first missionaries to ever put the idea into action were a small group of former and injured athletes, who later went on to found “International Sports Ministry,” now sponsored by the Salvation Army. Since then, groups of missionaries have and continue to travel to the sites of the Olympics with the sole purpose of spreading the word of God to those attending the Games. Spurred on by the declarations of Jesus to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), these Olympic Ministry teams utilize the gathered presence of countries from all over the world in order to preach the gospel to “all nations.”

Ministries, like all organizations, evolve, and with the constant changing of the technological environment, ministries have to evolve in order to stay relevant in the lives of Christians and non-Christians. Olympic ministry tactics used in past Olympics include using balloon animals to tell a Bible story, taking a group of “Clowns for Christ” to those waiting in long lines and entertaining them with the story of Jesus, and pin trading with the “More Than Gold” pin (signifying that faith in God that is more important than winning the Gold medal), in order to open a conversation about faith life and journeys. All Olympic ministry techniques must be creative and innovative in order to reach attendees, and the word is spread almost exclusively through private publication materials and word of mouth. With innovations of technology, Olympic Ministry Teams are now alternating their tactics in order to reach those attending the Games.

The ultimate goal of Olympic ministry has not changed - to share the word of Christ with as many people as possible. It is because of this that the tactics of effectively spreading the message must change. Working with local ministers in the host country, former Olympic Ministry Team Directors, and current Olympic Ministry Teams, this project will identify the ways in which ministry tactics have shifted in order to keep up with the ever changing technological environment.

Project Design

The project has been broken into three distinct stages;

  1. Background research and preliminary interviews: This section will take place primarily in Columbia, S.C. With training from Professor Cecile Holmes, who specializes in reporting religion and media, video interviews will be conducted with a presently assembled list of past and present Olympic ministers on their methodology and experience. Interviews will begin upon approval from the IRB and will be conducted within all regulations and training requirements. Literary articles on religion and the Olympics such as “Theology at the Olympics…” and “Religious Tourism and Beijing’s 2008 Olympics…” have been compiled for background research.

  2. Travel and on site interviews: I will travel to PyeongChang, South Korea, for ten days of field work. On my first day in the country, I have arranged to shadow a minister on his assignments at the Winter Olympics, observing and recording his activities. Two days will be spent with Olympic Ministry Teams of different denominations on their ministry assignments. Three days will be used as open interview days. The final day will be used to attend events and get general video shots of the Olympics for the video presentation. Professor Holmes will be available by email or IMessage if needed. At the Olympics, I will have support from two local pastors with whom I have previous working relationships. Additionally, I have three native Korean friends who have offered to translate with locals, and I fluently speak Spanish. For other languages, I plan on using translating applications to communicate.

  3. Assembly of information and presentation: A video presentation of the interviews from the project will be compiled into a video, and shown at the School of Journalism. Professor Holmes will assist in compiling the information into an article series, and aiding in the submission process to various secular and religious publications. Both the video and the articles will be presented at USC’s Discovery Day.

Project Timeline


Background research, review of past Olympic Minster’s ground game plan

IRB approval process through USC Office of Research Compliance Scheduling interviews for pre-departure and field work

Develop questions/gather equipment for pre-departure interviews


Interviews with former Olympic ministers

Pre-departure interviews with current Olympic ministers Interviews and arrangements for field work


Begin official independent study with Professor Holmes Develop questions and skills for field work

Last minute field work preparations for accommodations


(8-17) Field work at 2018 Winter Olympics

March-April: Compilation of video interviews, writing of article, presentation at Discovery Day

Anticipated Results

I anticipate that Olympic Ministry Teams will rely heavily on private publication as their main form of communication. Tools such as social media posts and videos will be used to reach those online, but I foresee traditional, paper resources being used more prominently. In relation to the mass media, I anticipate that there will not be much access given to religious groups, and that Christian publications will write a special interest on Olympic Ministry Teams. These findings will be formatted into a video presentation, as well as in a written article, and presented on Discovery Day, April 20, 2018. I will also collaborate with Professor Holmes on submitting the article to newspapers and religious publications such as the Pew Research Center, United Methodist Communications, and The Association of Religious Archives.

Personal Statement

Raised in the church, I have spent many summers and school breaks as a missionary in both domestic and abroad settings. These experiences shaped my perspectives of mission work and emphasized the importance of effective missions that bring sustainable aid. As a Public Relations student, the effects of ever-changing technology on religious groups fascinates me and aligns with my personal and professional interests. The past two summers, I participated in resort ministry, ministering to those on vacation by providing worship services and children’s activities. Through this, I worked alongside some of the original Olympic Ministers, and through their passion, acquired an interest in the ministry. From this research experience, I want to enhance my project management skills, interview techniques, and content creation, such as video editing, article writing, and publication skills. In the future, my career aspirations are working in the nonprofit sector as a communications consultant.

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