Home Field (Dis)Advantage

I am a Red Sox fan.  A month ago my family and I went to Baltimore to see the Red Sox play the Orioles.  We had great seats right next to the Red Sox dugout.  There were quite a few Red Sox fans but by far we Red Sox fans were the minority.

yay-1546048I am a Red Sox fan because I was born and raised in Massachusetts.  We still go back every summer for a vacation week and we usually take in a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.  When the Red Sox have home field advantage at Fenway it is a whole different experience than when they are the visitors at Camden Yards.

The church used to have a home field advantage.

When an upstanding person moved to a new area they would join the Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist or Catholic church.  This was true especially if they wanted to do business in town.

Back when the church had home field advantage the two main social events in the life of the community were school and church.  In some communities schools did not give homework on Wednesdays because that was the midweek church gathering time.  Stores closed on Sunday so families could worship.

The church also enjoyed respect when it had home field advantage.  The church was looked upon as a place where morals were instilled and truth was taught.

Today, and for a long time now, the church no longer enjoys home field advantage.

Persons no longer join church by default when they move to a community.  There are a myriad of options on Sunday and every other day of the week for persons whether it be travel sports, shopping, traveling or catching up on chores persons were too busy to do in the week.  The church has continued to lose respect year after year.  Some of this the church has brought on herself with foolish squabbles or high profile indiscretions.  The media though has also been all too happy to paint the church in a less than flattering light at every turn.

No one can argue that in 99.9999% of communities in the United States the church no longer enjoys home field advantage.

Why then do we as the church often continue to practice ministry, worship, evangelize and disciple like we did when we had home field advantage?

We expect that people will just come if we have good enough programs or powerful enough preaching.  We hope that if we spend $3,000 on postcards somehow this will spur someone to attend church.  We hope that children will come for religious instruction while we still use flannel graphs to tell them the greatest story ever told.  The list could go on and on.  You get the picture.

Changing the way we do things in the church because we recognize we no longer have home field advantage can fill quite a few books.  One important first step is becoming aware we no longer have home field advantage.

Does your church still do ministry like it has home field advantage?

Two Ways to Avoid Discipleship by Accident

Most churches will claim as part of their mission statement that the church exists to raise up disciples of Jesus Christ.  The statement might be to raise up “Fully devoted followers of Jesus.”  Or, in my own tribe, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

yay-3227823The problem is that in most churches, including ones I have led and been a part of, discipleship happens by accident.  As new persons enter into the church we just hope they will catch on to the myriad of opportunities one has to become a disciple.  We hope they will catch on that Sunday School or Bible Study or participation in a small group is a good thing.  Or, that part of being a disciple means serving outside of the church, in daily life or in the life of the church itself.  Most churches lack any direction for newer persons (or persons who have been attending a long time for that matter) when it comes to how to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

There are at least two ways churches can begin to remedy such a situation.

First, stop defining discipleship as information transfer only.  To be sure we are to love God with all of our mind and read, and learn and study.  Too often, however, discipleship in the church has been reduced to whether or not a person has gone through Disciple Bible Study or Christian Believer.  Yes, study both individually and collectively is an important part of growing as a disciple but it is only a part.  It would be good to expand our definition of discipleship to include things like spiritual disciplines, stewardship, service inside and outside the church, and much more.  It would be good for each church to spend time defining what a disciple of Jesus Christ looks like using scripture as their guide.

After all, how can we make disciples of Jesus Christ if we do not know what a disciple looks like?

Second, churches can move away from discipleship on accident to discipleship on purpose by having a clear pathway for persons to grow in their faith and love of God and others.  Everyone knows that discipleship is not linear or is not just a bunch of boxes to check off but this should not stop us from providing some type of guidance for those who attend church to know how they can grow in their faith.

I remember attending a Conference where the speaker was talking about his realization about how the church needed to do better with discipleship on purpose.  He said he had opened up the altar for prayer (remember when this used to occur?), and a young man came forward and with tears and in fervent prayer came to the altar and gave his life to Christ pledging to follow Christ and then with tears still running down his face asked the pastor “Now what?”

What is your church saying to the new follower, the new attendee, the revived attendee who asks, “Now what?”  It is a good question to answer and is worth pondering.