New Church, Sports

The Ice Cream of the Future


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!

Dippin' dots
Short of selling beer, what can I offer? Peanuts in the shell? Kettlecorn? Dippin' Dots? After all, it is the Ice Cream of the Future!

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?

13 thoughts on “The Ice Cream of the Future”

  1. Okay then. Quick – what are the 7 ways?? I’m now dating a baseball coach. Maybe I can impress him! LOL!

  2. questions so many are asking… i keep holding to the hope that the truth wins out every time. it might take different shapes in terms of architecture, in terms of how we form community, but the life, the truth, and the way stays the same. something about that brings me comfort.

  3. Go Cubbies! Even though they didn’t invite my chorus to sing the National Anthem this year after the Fred Phelps protests last year, I still love them.
    1. Base Hit
    2. Error
    3. Hit by pitch
    4. Walk
    5. Stolen base when the catcher drops a third strike.
    6. A fielder chooses to throw out another base runner.
    7. Does the last one have something to do with the catcher touching the batter or some such?
    I was an official scorekeeper for my brother’s league, and I think those are the right one’s, but I have no idea if the last one is right.
    How to get people interested in coming to church? Instead of Bat Day, how about Indulgence Day?
    Instead of the 7th Inning Stretch, how about a “post-sermon energizer”?
    Encourage face painting in the appropriate liturgical calendar color?
    All humor aside…I had a guy in my chorus mention something the other day that may be applicable…(the paraphrase of memory)
    Why should I be there when it seems to me the church cares more about being the church than anything else? I wonder how that might apply to church planting?

  4. I just think that for so many people, church in general is associated with guilt and shame. So many were brought up constantly reminded of their sinfulness and inadequacy, so the choice is an angry, judgmental God, or no God at all. It’s really sad.

  5. I love the Cubs! I have, in fact, traveled to see them. And, Songbird, “this is our year!!!!” (that’s what’s being chanted around the city, full of ever hopeful cubby fans…)
    anyway–good thoughts are brewing in that head of yours! keep them coming…and if I, at any point, have a worthwhile thought about this, I’ll let you know. But honestly, my congregation is growing so much right now (both in numbers and in spiritual depth, which is a nice change) that I’m stuck constantly trying to explain how that’s happening. and I am not entirely sure right now…I just know it is.
    But I do know we have several school principals. And while I doubt they overtly invite people to church (cuz we don’t tend to be that type of people), I know they talk about us if they’re asked or if they’re sharing something about their own lives in meetings/retreats etc.

  6. Teri, of course one hopes people in all walks of life will love church and invite others, but I am contemplating regional and cultural differences. This is a VERY Southern event. I am contemplating adaptations.

  7. “I hope I am not just chasing what’s left of something ephemeral when I contemplate planting a new church.”
    Ah Songbird, that is the essence of many a conversation about ministry these days, new church or not, isn’t it? My clergy coach said to me that he thinks one difference between me and my boss is that I think that the church has a future and it’s not as clear that my boss does. When he said that, I was taken aback, because I had never thought about it in those terms. But perhaps it’s true.
    Looking forward to hearing more about what you learn.

  8. I bet even the southern church plants might have a problem if they invited the school principal to actively participate in the launch committee. For one thing, I’m not sure how welcome a liberal UCC school presence would be in the kind of community that would ordinarily welcome religion in the school.

  9. Ruby, the planter who recruited the principal was United Methodist at the time, which made a difference in community perceptions.

  10. I assume the principal can be on the launch committee with no problem as long as the intent of including her or him is NOT that they would actively recruit for the church at their workplace?
    I’m on the governing board of my church, though I work at a state university. No worries there, right? And I wear a cross every day, too.
    Great reflection. Per Jayne’s comment, no one going to baseball games thinks that their team is mad at them! Some of the “emergent” churches in my area worship next to a pond, with a cookout central to the event. That’s a bit of where they get it right…it’s about community and relationship, not about judgment and shame.

  11. Oh, SB!!!
    You make me miss my seminary days of attending games at The Field of Ted and staying late and eating hot dogs, dippin’dots, and of course peanuts! Dang! What great days.
    In Greek school we even took our flash cards on a ring to study! yes, nerds we were.Okay, so anyhow, wish I could have joined you for conversation about church.
    I have had several conversations with church mmebers here about our area mega churches (non-denomniational in name and big into impressive shows).
    Anyhow, a baseball game at Turner Field is pure entertinment…thus what we often see in many mega churches.
    Baseball is not jsut for the “fans” anymore. You go to TF and between innnings you have games to play, they have trivia and contests galore. So, for a non-baseball fan, there is still reason to go…to be entertianed by soemthign other tan what is going on there( a baseball game!).
    If we want more people in our churches, we need the dippin dots, a “break” for trivia questions, andthe ball under teh cap trick.
    Also, the field crew at TF can cover the field in less than 1.5 minutes (actually it is 1 minute, 26 seconds.
    So, perhaps we should see how fastthe elders can set up communion? Clean up sanctuary after a service…
    I am being more than a little synical and sarcastic.
    I ahve decided one of the best parts of a small church (despite low attendnace #s) is the fact folks come to worship God, to be in fellowship community with Christians, and to serve God by givign of time and talents.
    There is no entertainment aspect they seek…now granted, we do get entertined some days (often by kids, but that is like a bonus, not a gurantee.
    Take heart, SB…numbers aren’t always the best thing to have!
    But, so glad you were able to be entertined by my favorite team at the Ted Field

  12. Go Cubbies!!!
    The Cubs represent that hope against all hope!!
    The Indians are just about there too. I don’t want to leave this earth until the Cubs and Indians play each other in the World Series!!!!!!!!
    (I figure I’ll be around for quite some time yet!!!)
    As for Dippin’ Dots – I wasn’t impressed. So cold they have very little taste. I’ll take a soft serve chocolate cone or dish any time.
    Glad to hear you had a good and stimulating time away.

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