(This is post 5 in a series of blog posts on how a book on soccer, Soccernomics, can teach us much about the American church.)
From hiring practices to game strategy, soccer clubs love to do what has always been done which leads to unprofitable and unsuccessful soccer. The church is also notorious for lacking innovation in methods and this lack of innovation would be foolish in a culture that is changing the way they interact, plan their lives and engage with the wider society.
Lack of innovation in soccer
Soccernomics highlights the glacial pace at which most soccer clubs embrace new ideas and innovation. Often the ideas do not come from within a soccer club, but from an outside observer. One example was the Taylor Report in 1990, which simply evaluated the benefit that teams would receive from investing in their stadiums. The outside report led many soccer clubs to consider this for the first time resulting in growth in crowds and popularity. It’s as if soccer clubs discovered the world was filled with consumers for the first time. The authors also highlight the often foolish, yet ingrained way “things have always been done” in soccer clubs.
The hiring practices for a new manager for soccer clubs is often based on perception of his star power. This aim leads to managerial hiring that is often quick, lacking a thorough interview process, not assessing qualifications, but looking for immediate availability and making a media splash. Then when he fails, the cycle repeats because it was not the process that failed, but the specific manager.
The soccer clubs are often so concerned with the immediate fan reaction that they make foolish decisions about players, thinking a big signing will generate fan interest immediately rather building for a long haul and we’ve already addressed the suspicion of outside ideas about soccer strategy.l
Lack of innovation in the church
The way it’s always been done is not only cherished in soccer clubs, but in the local church. It is often unquestioned and off limits for being challenged in most churches.
One thing is certain for churches, theology does not change. We are a modern expression of an ancient faith articulated extremely clearly and well in the scriptures. Culture would like much of it to change, but changing God’s words are impossible since they originate from the unchanging, eternal God. We embrace the fullness of God in Jesus letting His truths shape our life, ministry practices, and the mission to meet the needs of others with the message and mercy of Christ.
Theology doesn’t change, but methodology must be evaluated and this is where the glacial pace of embracing change is so easily seen. I’m no stranger to this myself, as I once hated the idea of changing of a method of small groups to missional communities. Sunday services, Mass, and gathering mid-week at the local church only are not enough. This has become clear from declining numbers that churches aren’t the most welcoming places for people who are far from God. If the mission of the church is to help people who are far from God grow near to God, why are we waiting for those far away to stumble into a church?
Away From Programs & On toward Mission
There are too many churches that are filled with programs. There’s a pre-school ministry on Sunday morning, another one (Awanas) on Monday night and a Mother’s Day Out program during the week so your child can overdose on church meanwhile the rest of the world takes their kids to the local playground. There’s a men’s ministry, women’s ministry, singles ministry, marrieds, retirees, pre-retirees, and the list goes on. For every affinity, the church has adopted the Field of Dreams “If we create a niche ministry, they will come.”
The church is meant to be a community on mission and over-programming a church leads to death of the mission for outsiders at the embrace of a mission for insiders. In churches that are under-programmed it can be difficult for people to feel involved because this mentality of over-activity at the church has become so ingrained over the last few decades.
The Widening Gap Between Cultural & Church Norms
I am not advocating for any kind of aim toward cultural relevance, I’m asking that we as the church evaluate whether we place unnecessary burdens and barriers towards encountering our culture to provide a complex dialogue about faith and life. Are the activities of the church normal to our society or have the methods become so abnormal that they are uncomfortable to those outside the church? Think about the ways churches gather as small groups or form for mission.
These small groups often meet in a local home, gathering in a circle to discuss the bible and the challenges of life. Where does the rest of the world gather? Local restaurants, pubs, playgrounds, school yards, PTA, and sports clubs to discuss how their worldview is shaping their experience of life. They might not describe it as their worldview, but their frustrations at home, work, or in relationships are because of their aims in life (i.e. worldview).
Looking at the life of Christ, it is easy to see one who is confident in God, freed to enter into every arena of life, risking reputation, to demonstrate the goodness, strength, and love of God to those far from God. Those who claim to represent Him are called to do the same. Our methods of church are not the silver bullet to seeing people come near to God, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God to see people be reconciled to relationship with God. But our methods can have a way of distracting from the gospel, of bottling the gospel, and hindering it from being demonstrated and declared.
Preaching to the Choir or those who aren’t there?
As this gets demonstrated in soccer clubs at matches where the team with foolish practices doesn’t do well on the pitch, Sundays demonstrate the culture of the church. Music, sermons, and whether a people are welcome demonstrate if we are preaching to the choir or preaching to those who aren’t there.
Are we simply gathering to comfort and enjoy our fellow Christians or are we hoping to bring a friend, neighbor, or co-worker? If we did would they hear preaching that is aimed at the long-time Christian or aimed to exalt Christ for Christian & non-Christian alike? Our Sunday gatherings should be a reflection of our community life outside Sundays. If neither reflect a desire to connect with the people of our culture to engage in a complex dialogue the way Christ did, our methods are failing our gospel.
Since the gospel of Jesus Christ never changes, we should be ready, willing, and quick to evaluate and embrace new ideas in methodology rather than write them off because they don’t fit into what we are used to. The mission of God was made to enter into any environment with grace, love, and power. Innovations in pursuing this mission without compromising the truths of the gospel are a gift from God rather than a diversion from Him.