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).