Soccer clubs in professional leagues often spend millions of dollars purchasing the rights to players from other teams. This results in the soccer player often moving countries and adapting to new cultures. While they spend millions to get them there, they spend nothing to help them adapt to their new environment.
The transfer market is largely a gamble and a rather costly one at that. The transfer market is different from the free agent market that we are used to in American sports where a player chooses where to take his talents. At the end of the season, soccer clubs make players available for transfer, letting the league know he’s available and then soccer clubs pay each other for the right to sign the player. Most teams are awful at the transfer market, but Arsenal seems to have figured it out (Go Gunners!).
Soccernomics highlights that Real Madrid paid $35 million to Arsenal for Nikolas Anelka in 1999. Chelsea paid $44 million to Olympique Mareseille for Didier Drogba in 2004, then a record. Both of these players are cited in Soccernomics as being transferred to a new team, a new city, a new culture and given no assistance in helping them or their families adjust. Drogba succeeded despite the challenges his family faced, but Anelka struggled tremendously and was quickly moved to Paris Saint-German.
Soccernomics highlights that these players and many others face significant challenges off the field when they relocate and that influences the way they play on the field. The authors argue that simply hiring one employee to assist players in relocating would increase the success of these players involved in the transfer market. This assistance would include helping them find housing instead of a hotel, learn about school options for their family, and generally being available to new players. Nike & Adidas seem to agree because they send assistants to players they sponsor when they transfer to insure their investment is a success.
The Church & Relocation Assistance
Teams that provide relocation assistance often see the greatest benefit from transfers. The issue for the church is that we live in a transient society as people move jobs, churches, and try to adapt in transition. The church not assisting people in transitioning from what they are familiar with to their new context and environment hinders the mission of God in churches. This is largely because of false assumption and lack of effort from the church.
“What if you had a clean slate?”
At an Acts 29 Regional back in April, I was asked how I would lead a missional community if I had a clean slate, meaning starting from scratch with people. It’s a nice idea, but a terrible assumption.
No one comes in with a blank slate about church and God’s mission. Everyone has a preconceived or imagined idea unless they are hearing the gospel for the very first time and even then typically have a stereotype of a Christian. Some people come from a highly programmed church background and feel as if there is less for them to do in a missional community church leading them to feel less connected. Other people assume what they have come from is missional and do not assess what needs to change to join the mission of their new church.
While this is happening with current Christians, there are newcomers or those exploring Christianity who can gather an unclear picture of the overall mission and direction Christianity and the church. Insider jargon, lack of communication, and not expecting to come alongside people in transition is unhelpful. We have no choice but seek a better way to assimilate and care for new people in the church.
“They just need time in our church”
This is the assumption that learning must take place by osmosis in being around the community, but nothing can or be done to teach it. Ultimately, this provides the depth of understanding, but assumes too much of the culture of your organization’s ability to communicate without direct language.
People feel comfortable enough connecting on their own
Most churches have a connections environment and a connection card where people fill out their information. It connects with some people, but not everyone feels comfortable putting themselves out there and connecting with people. The church often puts it on the visitor to figure everything out rather than providing environments and encouraging people to help a new face understand how things go.
Here was Anelka’s situation on day 1 that can mirror a newcomer’s experience at church.
“On Day 1 the shy, awkward twenty year old reported to the club, and found there was nobody to show him around…As he said later, all Real had told him was, ‘Look after yourself.’”
This can sound similar to someone new to church that is never greeted by anyone or never invited to have a conversation beyond hello. The Sunday gathering has become too comfortable for Christians to focus on being taught and not enough on Christians seeking to welcome people into the loving family of God.
What can the church actually do?
While the answer for soccer clubs is simple, spend less than 1% of the transfer fee and hire a relocation specialist, the churches solutions are a little different.
Churches that I have seen do this well provide consistent early entry environments to give people specific information about the church and next steps for them to be engaged with the church’s mission. They also have some sort of membership process to allow for more depth than the early entry environment.
Mark Dever, the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C., advocates for an intensive membership process including an interview to confront any assumed agreements so that long term agreement and understanding is established. While lengthy, it does go through the hard work of clearly articulating the unique culture and methods of mission of his church.
What about going a little further to help people with God’s mission? What if the transition for the entire family or outside influences of the cultural context affect the ability to be on mission? How can a church address those?
Relocation Assistance: Moving People to Mission
Manhattan is 60% transplants and is constantly seeing new people come to New York. There are unique benefits, challenges, and quirks to living in Manhattan, especially if you have children. The space is different, the school system is unique, and the pace of life is different. Until people move from transplants to residents and begin calling New York home, they will never care for the city like Jesus does.
While every city, town, or neighborhood doesn’t have the transient nature of New York, each has their own unique issues that both highlight the beauty of God and need the gospel of Jesus Christ to heal the brokenness.
What is the church provided contextual assistance, listening and learning from their neighborhood, and provided an overview of the area to newcomers?
A relocation assistance brochure or class on the city/neighborhood/town would communicate about the purpose of the church, the concern and the enjoyment of the neighborhood. People need to be shown how they could generally live in an area if they are ever going to be on mission there. In addition the church can highlight the ways they are seeking to benefit and bless the neighborhood.
As much as we assimilate people into the church, we need to assimilate them out of the church and into the mission of God to care for their neighbors.
Is it about the church or about people?
In Soccernomics, a relocator was quoted as saying of the soccer clubs “I guess it comes down to the fact that they see the players as merchandise.” The players are merely pawns in their game to make more money and win more games. Despite this reality, soccer clubs don’t see their value increases through concern for the players through assisting them be better on the field.
The church has to confront that they may be more concerned with numbers inside their church than helping the people attending the church care for their neighbors. The church can become a place where people are merely cogs in their machine of religion, rather then equipping them to be bearers of God’s love on mission. God’s mission is about people and He’s chosen to use people to accomplish it.