Here's Turner Field, which I really enjoyed visiting tonight.
In Atlanta for a workshop about planting new churches, I went to a ballgame with my friend and colleague, RevFun. We sat high, high, high, with a perfect view of the entire field. RevFun kept a box score, and I thought back to games I had listened to or seen with my dad, the last person to take me to a major league game, in the summer of 1976. On the first leg of a trip abroad, our family spent the night in New York City, where we took the subway to the Bronx to see the Yankees play.
This time I saw the Braves play the Chicago Cubs. Why do you suppose so many Cubs fans were at a game in Atlanta? I don't know much about the Cubs. They're from Chicago. They last won the World Series in 1908. Their fans are nuts for them, clearly, if they'll travel to see the team play.
They had the pleasure of seeing their team win, convincingly, their second win of the day. But even if the Cubbies had lost, the fans would still care about them, still watch and attend games, still compare statistics and share anecdotes born of a common culture developed around a beloved pastime.
I learned there are seven ways to get to first base. Do you know them? I named four, eventually. That kind of arcane knowledge has not been lost, is passed from one person to another, from generation to generation.
Baseball somehow remains interesting to people.
Turner Field has adequate restrooms, lots of places to eat or buy food, roving beer sellers, a big screen that keeps you informed and a pretty friendly attitude, right down to the parking lot staff. No wonder people like to go to ballgames!
I want to know, how can we get people as interested in attending church? Clearly people respond to ritual, to activities that vary from one event to another but have the same basic framework. Is there some method of attraction short of selling beer?
Other methods are working in some parts of the country, in cultures that aren't quite as post-Church or De-churched as New England. Some places you can suggest recruiting a school principal to your Launch Team. In Maine, a school principal inviting his or her teachers or student parents to church might well bring on an action by the ACLU, and I would probably support it!
Can The Church of the Future reach people who flock to ball games, who bond over cheers and team colors instead of hymns and paraments appropriate to the liturgical season?
The Ice Cream of the Future melts quickly on a warm August night. You have to hurry to chase the rapidly melting dots around the dish with the spoon lest they become blobs or, worse, melted all together.
I hope I am not just chasing what's left of something ephemeral when I contemplate planting a new church. Surely the God I know means more, ultimately, than the gods of baseball I heard invoked tonight. Surely people could find some joy, some comfort or some relief in meeting that God of Love. Surely we can find a new way to form community that is not tied up in Colonial buildings or Victorian stained glass or 1950's family values.
The Ice Cream of the Future is so cold and so delicious, I don't care that a dish is expensive. I enjoy the extravagant moments, the cool balls of flavor on my tongue, the little bits of Oreo mixed in to my favorite flavor. I savor the moment.
If church felt just as immediate and elemental, who could resist it?