So Spain won the 2010 FIFA World Cup. What an event! Thirty-two teams. Sixty-four matches. One hundred forty-five goals scored, and hundreds of millions of people watching. Although it’s impossible to know precisely, analytics gurus estimate that over 700 million people watched the final match of the World Cup. 700 million.

That’s a lot of people.

Since this is a Christian blog, not a sports blog, our question is this:  why are stadiums full and churches are empty? In case you’re a pastor, feeling a bit robbed that people were more eager to get home and watch the World Cup than listen to a message you prepared, the question may be relevant. Why does there seem to be more frenzied, vuvuzela-tooting fans than there are eager, faithful worshipers? Why does sports drink up hours of time, billions of dollars, millions of fans, and endless broadcasting coverage on multiple channels, while church attendance sinks, budgets nosedive, chapel doors close for the last time, and pastors seek a new line of work?

There’s nothing new about it. For example, in ancient city of Ephesus, circa A.D. 50, the life of the city was the 20,000-seat theater, the massive stadium, and the huge athletic complex. You can be sure any of the events at these places drew more people than any of the church(es) at Ephesus could pull out on a Sunday morning. Even a long time ago, this was a problem. How do we respond?

1. We’re not competing with the sports industry.

Remember that you are not competing with the sports industry. It’s not necessary to see who can get more viewers, downloads, Facebook likes, or attendees, than the local sports venue. The goal is not to grow a church that eventually has to buy out a stadium to seat all the people that come. The church is not about sports events attendance records. The church is the “household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15), and the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5). Don’t try to mimic or compete with stadiums, soccer games, or the Superbowl.

2. Jesus told us we wouldn’t be popular. In fact, we will be hated.

When Jesus said, “You shall be hated by all men” (Mt. 10:22), and “blessed are you when men shall hate you” (Lk. 6:22), he meant it. The pursuit of popularity is one which runs the risk of compromise. It is not commanded that we seek to be hated. Jesus simply warns us that hatred will come. Don’t be surprised.

3. Strive to be faithful.

Faithfulness is what God wants. Jesus’ parables (Mt. 24:45; 25:21;), the testimony of others (Col. 1:7; 4:7; 1 Tim. 1:12) and the biblical exhortations (Gal. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:2) tell us that much. In a world of vacillation, compromise, inabsolutism, and virulent change, ministerial faithfulness is essential.

There is a reality that is far more exciting. There is a Person who is more worthy of praise than any team. There is a force that is stronger than the globally-uniting efforts of a sports event. There is a goal more glorious than any golden trophy.The truth we proclaim is essential, life-changing, and eternal. Regardless of the consequences, church leadership must stand fast in the face of difficulty and seeming neglect. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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3 Responses

  1. Pastors Lawrence & Lisa Marie Fox

    Thanks for the encouragement you give in this article. We will remain faithful. Please keep us in your prayers.
    Our lives are committed to God as true sheperds. We live, teach, and preach the whole true. We are strategically growing our church deep and as a result in the last 5 years we have a fellowship of true disciples that are few. Our congregation has yet to grow wide because of the challenge of maturity, holiness, love, forgiveness, and repentance that we stress consistently. We know that “wide is the gate that leads to destruction and many there be that find it”.
    we are humbled by our narrow congregation, because it fits into the narrow way that leads to eternal life.

  2. John Finochio

    I appreciate your blogs and thank you for sharing them with us. I wanted to note that while 700 million is a large audience are you aware of how many people gathered in some form of church gatherings this last weekend worldwide? While some churches maybe experiencing challenges as all of us from time to time do many others are growing and seeing people come to Christ regularly. Let’s not put such a negative spin on this. I look out over our congregation this last Sunday and was encouraged to see many faithful people and some new first-time visitors and marvel that anyone would get up on Sunday morning and gather up their kids and drive some of the distances that they do to join with us in worship, sharing the word and fellowship! We are not a mega-church or even a large church but we are thankful that God has put it in peoples hearts to stand with us and be a part of His family and His household. As you have wisely pointed out we are not in competition with the Soccer World Cup or any other sports venue but we do proclaim a wonderful message and have a promise that He would be in the midst of us as we gather in His name. Let us focus on making that an awesome event and I believe it will be attractive to the spiritually hungry of heart.

  3. Carlyn

    Stadiums full of people, Church pews empty? Sports have always been a place for a fan, an avid sports enthusiastic to express genuine feelings, etc have always been able to release their true feelings. The battle, the struggle, the game see actual, real, alive players in the dirt fighting for the GOLD. Everyone, the players, the fans know the rules, there is no hidden agenda. People can be real.
    In the church, the pews are filled with people who restrain their emotions worrying more about “what other people think”. Also, in the church there are WATCH DOGS, not refs, but, judgemental people that are eager to betray you and your view, your ponderings to the HIGHER AUTHORITIES such as the church council, the pastors, the deacons, the old guard of the church. This is usually under the term:
    Accountability. Therefore, the questions are pushed under the surface and hidden. In the traditional church, the conservative believers appear to condemn the so-called Free Thinkers. Second, the rules, the regulations are vague not clearly defined as in sports. In every church, there are conditions of a person’s Christianity that must be altered to include the rules of MAN, very similar when Paul observed that Peter had compromised his freedom in Christ when he was influenced by the Jews that still practised circumsion. Circumsion was an OT condition that God had given the Jews for their covenant with God, himself. In the NT, the traditional Jews influenced Peter that the Gentile believers, now new in Christ had to have circumsion of the male Christians. (Aside: the circumsion referred by the Lord was to take place in the spiritual heart not in the physical body. It was to render the past ideas and belief systems that Gentile believers had lived with thru their life BEFORE Christ). In each church, there are culture conditions that are included in the realm of Christianity for new believers. One: let all your sins hang out for all to see. A young girl had a terrible life, molestation. Even though, she had worked through the process with a different church, she was expected to once again, expose her hurt, her sorrow etc at the new church where she and her husband had joined. The younger members of the old guard in this church after soaking in her sorrow, turned on her and stated that she was stained. Wherever and to whoever, the young members of the old guard introduced this woman to new friends, the tag of molestation was included. She could never forget her tag. Eventually, her husband and herself wanted to start a family, so she had to leave this traditional church. The old guard, young and old members really didnot believe in forgiveness. They believed once stained, always stained: there is no hope for you.
    The standard in the church is not the same as in the game. The game is based on rules, the church wants to add man’s Christian written books as a source of inspiration. In the game, books written by retired players are not brought into the arena and cited as a reference; the church constantly refers to Christian writer’s ideologies. Example, the prayer of Jabez. All of a sudden, once the prayer had become public, everyone now wanted that prayer applied to their life. The whole world of God, the Bible, had once again taken the back seat in the church. One church I know, bought the prayer of Jabez book and handed them out as gifts to young people. Was the prayer more important than all the prayers found in the Bible? Think about it….

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