What a night.
The playoff game was intense as our home team Richmond Kickers faced off against a rival from South Carolina. The winner would move on and the loser would go home for another offseason of wondering what went wrong. It wasn’t our normal Saturday night activity: we’d never attended a professional soccer game as a family. But the price was right ($5 per person) and our sons are both enjoying playing soccer, so why not give it a shot?
Ten minutes in, the Kickers scored and pandemonium broke out, but after ninety minutes of regulation, the score was tied and we’d run up a significant food bill. Almost thirty minutes later, the Kickers substituted their star player, who’d been injured for a month, whose one (and only) touch of the night was to head in the game winner. Pandemonium redux.
An hour later, resplendent with autographed soccer balls and freshly minted pictures with players, our family of four returned home exhausted… and converted. Our kids want to make sure we’ll go back for the next playoff game, we’ve told family and friends how great the experience was, and we’ve ‘liked’ the team’s Facebook page. All because of one stellar experience.
Which begs the questions: can church be like that? What can church learn from the soccer experience?
The environment was right. One of the many thoughts I’ve had in comparing church with the soccer experience revolves around the fact that everyone, and I do mean everyone, was friendly. We were warmly welcomed, the activities were planned for the kids to participate in, and they had food kids like. Happy kids = willing-to-do-this-again parents. What would it look like if church was a place where families could come and know that their screaming, snotty, uncomfortable kids (from infant to teen) would be accepted? What would it look like if new people walked in and were greeted by ushers and signage? What if the things surrounding the main thing (soccer game, worship) were also important to those families, from the food to the Sunday School or small groups?
The ‘participants’ opened up to new people. Our eldest decided after the game that he’d like to get go onto the field with the other jumping kids, elated by the win; before long, he’d determined that it would be good to get his souvenir soccer ball autographed. (Before long, our youngest decided if our eldest could… yeah.) The players were magnanimous in giving autographs and pictures, and stopped to get down on the level of the kids who approached them. I often find myself thinking that no advertising can beat good relationships. My kids think these soccer players are awesome, not necessarily because they played well, but because they were friendly! Seriously, my kids asked for autographs from guys who never got out of their warm-ups! What would happen if church was more approachable? If new people were treated with honor? If the smallest, youngest people in the church were treated like they were most important?
The joy of the game is contagious. Now, a win goes a long way- you have to compete to win- but there’s something about experiencing anything done well that makes you want to experience it again. From the play on the field to the interaction after the game, there was an infectious sense of how much fun this could be. Maybe that doesn’t always translate to church, but what if worship would be fun and infectious? What if when you left church, you had heard a message you wanted to Tweet about? What if you had something happen that made you want to share a picture of what your church had done in mission? What if you wanted to let everyone else know about the ‘deal’ they could get by coming next week? [Quick note: technically, church is in fact free to attend. Good deal there.] What if church was something that you enjoyed, and made you feel better about life, so much so that you wanted others to enjoy it, too?
I know futbol, er, soccer, isn’t for everyone. But it seems like if we could help people recognize the value, get fired up enough by the experience, we might see change happen, we might see community grow. We could learn a lot by considering the experience.
Frankly, I’d love it if someone showed up face painted for church.