Recently, I heard the pastor of a smaller church bemoaning the Sunday morning competition with the local sports teams. He was asking whether or not the church could even compete in today’s culture.
Frankly, the only smart way to compete is to compete to win – and that begins by being brutally honest with what our resources are and what we’re up against.
So, let’s start with dealing with reality – a very good place to start:
- They church has a history of acting as if “good enough” is actually good enough. It’s not.
We live in a culture that puts a high value on its resources and demands value on their investments. This is also known as “consumerism” and you and I and our neighbors have been so enculturated in this world view that we don’t even recognize it. And so, when someone is asked to invest their time, talent, or money in something, they expect a good Return On their Investment (ROI). In a culture like that, “good enough” isn’t worth investing in – so they don’t. And if they “try” something and don’t get a good ROI, they won’t return.
- The church has a history of cherishing their tradition. Those outside the church don’t value those traditions.
1955 isn’t coming back. Ever. The world has moved on and by and large it’s left the church in the dust. Our society expects connectivity, screen technology, today’s vocabulary, and solutions to today’s problems. Few churches today even recognize those needs, let alone do anything to meet them.
- The church has a history of majoring on “spiritual” skills. Those outside the church are focused on “life” skills.
It’s not that the Nones and Dones aren’t interested in spirituality, they are. But they’re not interested in spirituality as a compartmentalized topic. Connection is everything to the real world. The church hasn’t been big on connecting spirituality with things like leadership, conflict, marriage, dating, addictions, finances, teamwork, vocation, diet, competition, or really life in general. And here’s the kicker: Every single one of those issues is a spiritual issue demanding relevant spiritual responses.
- The church has a history of being insular with clear demarcations of those who are “in” and those who are “out.” Those outside the church expect diversity and inclusivity.
Today’s families expect that when they participate in something, they’ll find friends, not just friendly people. Friendly is expected. Walmart is “friendly.” Church is “friendly.” But people today won’t deeply invest in organizations that are just friendly – they are looking for friends. The church is generally ill-equipped for this challenge because the membership is aging and the membership has “enough” friends. Rare is the long-time church member who will be bothered to build an authentic, viable relationship with a twenty- or thirty-something.
When a parent evaluates an activity for their children, they ask a couple of things:
(1) Will I get recognizable value for my investment?
- Church activities notoriously lack excellence in every aspect. Hand-me-downs, old furnishings, out-of-date technologies, yesterday’s games and crafts, group-think rather than strong leadership, environmentally substandard, and general mediocrity is the rule.
- Parents are willing to invest to ensure their children experience excellence. Most sporting leagues feature excellent equipment, uniforms, paid referees and umpires, well groomed baseball diamonds or soccer pitches, trophies, banquets, and so one. Yes, the parents and kids are expected to support the team with their time and funds, but they’re willing to invest because they know what they’re getting for the investment.
(2) Will my child be fully engaged if they participate?
- The church will immerse the child in church culture and tradition using outdated pedagogy.
- Even the soccer team will use today’s technology. Using social media, video replay, video training, and today’s communication technologies. The child will be right at home with the pedagogies used.
(3) Will my child learn real-life skills if they participate?
- The church will teach their children to be morally good boys and girls.
- Being on the soccer team will teach their children sportsmanship, teamwork, real-world competition, and of course, soccer.
(4) Will my children be socialized and will we all make new friends if we participate?
- Most churches have few young adults, fewer children, and most member won’t make time nor do they have the motivation to break from their own cliques in order to build friendships with new families. Friendly? Yes. Intentional friend-making opportunities? Not so much.
- Largely because of the previous points, successful “competing” organizations have plenty of young adult families participating, so there are many families to make connections with. In addition, the activities themselves are designed to help both children and their parents make connections with the team’s families by expected volunteer participation, team pictures, picnics and banquets, and so on.
All that’s to say, if we’re going to “compete,” we’re going to have to come to terms with these realities and decide whether or not we even can compete. And if we choose to enter the fray, we’ll have to do better than “good enough,” otherwise we’ll continue to get the results we’ve been getting.
Last word … I’ve always contended that the church can compete with Sunday morning sports. But we’re going to have to make sure whatever we offer has so much value that parents and kids both insist they want to be involved. It’s funny … it seems that most mega churches are managing to attract and retain children and families on Sunday mornings, so it’s possible. And what one church can do, another can too. We’ll just have to focus our resources in ways that make a difference.