Sports Arenas and Houses of Worship
So I’m having a less-than-the-norm day in terms of productivity. I have nothing to hide, there are plenty of crazy days (yesterday I was checking off items on the to-do list like a madman) so I tend to think you need to balance those out. So I’m sitting at my desk and I’m reading this article (http://extramustard.si.com/2014/01/08/nhl-versus-nba-attendance/) that is making note that the NHL has more teams selling out the stadium right now than the NBA. The author is realistic. This is not a sign that the hockey is eclipsing basketball in popularity. What he does argue is that the NHL offers a better live fan experience. The sport, he argues is actually easier to watch from up high in a live stadium than down low or on TV. And the fans get into the experience. They are offering a reason to spend the time and money to go to a game rather than watch on TV. (I could say a lot about this from the perspective a Blackhawks fan but that would be to digress.) The money quote? “There’s a bigger incentive to leave the house when it actually feels like you will be part of something collaborative and special.”
This is that point at which I realized this wasn’t just some diversion from productivity. That really was a great quote. It’s the question I believe we, the Church, need to ask ourselves: are we offering an experience to people where they “feels like [they] will be part of something collaborative and special?”
Let’s face it: a good sermon is a good sermon, mostly regardless of whether it’s on a TV, in a pulpit, or from a podcast. We live in a world where we have easy access to great music whenever we want. You can buy excellent and engaging books and video series that challenge you and help you grow. And we can put our money towards special interests that are near and dear to our heart with the click of a button. None of these are unique to the church, and none of these require attendance on Sunday (or any) morning. Pastors will downplay online religious experiences and TV worship services with the claim that they lack authentic community… but how often are our churches actually doing that – is Sunday morning worship really that much more authentic? Do we actually offer something collaborative and special?
I am not convinced that this is often the case. Let me borrow from the sports article one more time. “There are certainly great fans at individual NBA arenas — Memphis comes immediately to mind— but my observation is that the average NHL venue is more collectively engaged.” There are certainly churches offering a great collaborative sense of worship, mission, and belonging to a community. But my sense is that this is less and less the case in many places.
So what is the challenge that comes from this? What is our take-away? Let me give three quick hits on what some of the take-aways might be, but my lists isn’t all there is, it’s just the beginning.
Belonging – I could file this whole post under belonging, and it’s become a very important part of my ecclesiology so I’m challenged to be brief here. But like with a professional sport team’s fan base belonging is the target. Cubs fans consistently show up to watch one of the losingest (not a word I guess but it is in this Cub fan’s vernacular) teams. They aren’t showing up because the product is the best, they are show up because the experience of belonging won’t let them walk away. Jesus’ calling and baptismal covenant is about belonging. And radical discipleship is the acknowledgment that the challenge of Jesus’ way is endurable, in fact joyous, because thick or thin – we belong here. How many of our churches fight battles over style and not substance because we are afraid we do not attract people, or that people will get bored. Connect with people, nurture people so that they belong to your vision and mission and you to theirs – and no differences over style will drive them away. I’ve seen it.
Collaboration – pretty close to belonging. But a particular, and easily overlooked, piece. Collaboration acknowledges that in belonging each person has a voice and vote in the process. Collaboration means everyone is invested in the process and the product. No-one is just along for the ride, and everyone has to work together on the problems that arise. Here I think is also a very interesting point for worship – which is so often led by a few for the (viewership?) of the many. How do we collaborate for, in, because of worship?
Passion – maybe I should call this energy. Like fan chants (tribal language?) and team colors we witness our passion for our sports teams and it’s essential to the belonging. But do we have this for our churches and in our worship? When we are gathered do we look and feel like a people who would rather be here than anywhere else? If not… why should anyone else want to be here – is our being here really important at all?
Belonging, Collaboration, and Passion. These are all a part of making a community rather than just a random gathering of like-minded individuals. And they remind us that the work of the church is the work of the community engaging in vital and essential ways in each other’s lives and the life of the world. So recognizing some truth in the thought that “there’s a bigger incentive to leave the house when it actually feels like you will be part of something collaborative and special,” ask yourself: what are you doing to nurture that feeling in yourself and in others?