What if Church Were More Like a Blazers Game?

Would more people want to belong if we paid attention to the purpose of church?

Would more people want to belong if we paid attention to the purpose of church?

If church were a sporting event, would more people want to belong?

I went to a Portland Trailblazers basketball game back in the day, and although I arrived as an observer, I left a fan (of the Trailblazers—not sports in general).

The Rose Garden in Portland, OR quickly filled to capacity the night I went—and I noticed right away that people dressed to support the team—I spotted black, white, and red t-shirts on just about everyone there. Occasionally, the cameras would pan the crowd and zoom in on a Blazer-painted face, or even a torso-face combination. I had on a green shirt. But it didn’t matter.

But my voice mattered. I cheered when the Blazers made a basket, and grinned at perfect strangers in the bleachers around me. When the team called a time out, I felt comfortable enough to ask a person I’d never spoken to before to explain the significance of the referee’s call. That’s just the way I felt—secure in my fellowship with thousands of people crammed into a tiny coliseum to participate in a victory for the team.

I seem to remember a real live organ belting out the musical cues for the fans to cheer when the Blazers fell behind and the victory cheers when they scored. We jumped to our feet when Jerome Kersey made a basket, and held our breath as Clyde ‘the Glide’ Drexler defied gravity with the grace of a ballerina and avoided a traveling call.

During half time, we stood and stretched, bought popcorn and joked with the people around us. I found out that the guy behind me had been to every home game for the last five years. I discovered that the lady in front of me had only been to one other Blazer’s game (she preferred the Phoenix Suns, but was enjoying herself any way).

By the end of the evening, I’d learned stuff about free throws and their strategic importance to the game that I still remember to this day (I promise not to bore you with the details). Time passed, but I didn’t notice. Sitting in the bleachers felt nothing like watching a game at home.

I left the game energized and excited to have helped spur the Blazers on to a victory. MY cheers helped them win. I could scarcely talk for the next two days, but I had an inner glow knowing that I had had a voice in victory. I belonged. I was a Blazer fan.

Church. I go. I sing. I sit for so long I long to jump from my seat and shake someone’s hand. I want an intermission. Everyone smiles politely, sits politely, listens politely. No one eats popcorn or turns to ask the person behind them the meaning of a text (it wouldn’t be polite to turn and whisper in church). But what if church were more like a basketball game?

Hebrews 10:22-25 reminds us that need to go to church for two reasons. First of all, we need to worship together.

Who decided what worship needs to look like and sound like? David danced and sang before the Lord. I intone hymns and wish that worship felt a little more like the cheering and the singing at a basketball game—slightly off-key, but from the heart, not the head.

The second reason we should go to church?  To “spur each other on toward love and good deeds.” WE should spur EACH OTHER on. It doesn’t say anywhere that the pastor is in charge of the spurring and encouraging. We should do it for each other. I can attend church for years and never really know the burdens of my fellow churchgoers.

An introvert by nature, I need someone to direct the ebb and flow of my conversations and questions—just like the organ player at the basketball game directed our cheers and shouts of victory.

Although I go to church, I sometimes feel as if I belong more to the Blazers game than I do to my fellow worshippers. But wouldn’t it be fun if we could spur each other on? If we knew each other well enough to sing loudly off-key and ask deep questions and feel the worship with each other?

Community building (or congregation building) doesn’t happen passively in a jug-mug relationship (you know, the teacher is jug, ready to fill all the little mugs).  (click to tweet)

It requires direction and instruction in how to get along so that those who belong can learn from each other.  Community building requires work and and effort and sounds like conversations and talking over the backs of pews(click to tweet)

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Jenny

    I loved this and how very true it is! I often think the same things. We get so excited about sporting events, but why don’t we get that excited about worshipping our Lord. Great post!
    Popping in from FMF!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jenny, and I’m glad you understand. I’m not trying to be sacrilegious or disrespectful–it’s just an honest question that comes from someone who knows that the typical church format doesn’t build community any better than desks in a row in a classroom build community and curiosity.

  • I love this…I really do. For so many people church is not a safe place. I’ve even been struggling with that recently. Not feeling that belonging, camaraderie, safety. If only we could reshape the church institution to create more of this feeling.
    Aprille @beautifulinhistime.com recently posted…Fight, make love…belong {Five Minute Friday}My Profile

    • I secretly hope all of my pastor friends will read this and ponder this and think about changing it up at church. We need safe communities where we can change with the spurring on of safe people!

  • Sarah

    Love this, Anita.

  • I totally get that. We’ve been to auto races and concerts where we’ve met the people around us and, by the end of the day, it feels awkward to say Goodbye with the knowledge that we’ll never see them again. We used to be in a church where everyone listened politely. I don’t think we ever sang a hymn that was written after the year 1200. Responsive readings were mumbled incoherently. But worst of all, we always had to be careful to conceal whatever was wrong in our own lives. We had to wear our shiny happy faces.

    We have since found a church where we were welcomed from the first time we walked in the door. It’s a real family. I hope you’ll ask the Lord if changing churches is right for you.
    Melissa recently posted…Belonging – Five Minute FridayMy Profile

    • I’m so glad you found a church that feels like home!

  • Amy

    We’ve even considered starting a home church. We have talked not only about not knowing our fellow members well enough, but the huge amount of money that goes just to salaries. We would love the capacity to give more away. a god made the church for a reason, but I don’t think we are doing it right.
    Amy recently posted…The Shoulds and the Should NotsMy Profile

    • I totally understand! Maybe I need to go back to school…

  • You hit this spot on. Our congregation is made up of men in recovery and they’ve made me think church needs to be more like this too. They are honest about their struggles and desperate to know God cares about their lives. I’m glad to have found this can be worship and thankful God has expanded my view of of church and have hopes for a broader version of community. I’m in the stands cheering right next to you!
    Debby recently posted…Five-Minute Friday {belong}My Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Debby! The whole concept of church needing to be more than passive sitting and half-hearted singing has been brewing in me for a long time–only I felt a little guilty for feeling that way–and then God led me to that verse in Hebrews and now I’m really thinking.

  • Hi Anita! What an interesting idea. I completely understood your concept, and I think you are right. Back in the day of the Apostles, the people would gather to eat a meal together in a large space, then the teaching would start. I imagine there were plenty of children falling asleep, or being held and cuddled while everyone sat together to hear about The Lord.

    So it was community time first, then the message. That is a good model for connecting. You’ve given me something to think about today! Thank you.
    Have a great Friday 🙂
    Ceil recently posted…The Older Son’s PrayerMy Profile

    • We have an hour of Bible study before our worship service, but it feels like a mini-sermon with a little discussion tossed in (it depends on who is in charge). There still isn’t the personal, getting to know you better sort of activities happening.

  • I. Truly. Loved. This. Post! And not simply because you called up memories of Blazer games past and favorite players (Jerome and Clyde). Sitting in nosebleed seats some of the time and others having been given tickets that seated us right behind the team, I’ve cheered when that organ told me to, just like I stand and sing on Sunday because the bulletin says to stand and sing. We all feel the same as you’ve shared at some and various points in our church life. I know I do right now. I feel a strong sense of “unbelonging” in our church home at the moment. Maybe it’s because we’re seeking a new pastor, or maybe it’s because I’m growing older and therefore, am not in “that younger crowd.” I don’t know. But you have stated my feelings that for some reason I didn’t find until after posting my own two bits on belonging. Did I say thanks for this? If not, thanks for this!
    Sherrey Meyer recently posted…Belong | Five Minute FridayMy Profile

    • Yay! A Blazers fan! I’m so glad you understand. I want church to feel more like a cooperative learning classroom (but that’s probably pretty scary feeling for a lot of folks). I hope you find a church home (whether it’s at your current church or a new one) where you feel as if you belong.

  • Amy

    Oh how I pray that I can be the church member that makes others comfortable enough to join in. That I would be one that shows His love and compassion.
    Amy recently posted…Belong {Five Minute Friday}My Profile

    • Amy, I’m pretty sure that if I walked into your church you’d make me feel at home :). Without people like you, I’d never go. I’m such a twitchy, attention-span-challenged person that I sit through a sixty-minute sermon wishing wistfully that I could have some interaction with other people to keep me awake and make me feel as if I participated in some way ;).

  • Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve often heard people lament that we can get so excited about sporting events while being complacent about church, but I really like how you addressed the contrast. The root of the issue *is* the sense of community that is built in having a common interest and being in an environment where you’re free to let your passions shine. So often, church is not like that at all – far too polite to be real.
    Michelle recently posted…Five-Minute Friday: BelongMy Profile

  • I love the analogy between church and a Blazers game. There is more intentionality in a basketball game than there is in church and I agree that we could learn a thing or two from a sports arena and the way they handle bringing people in and apply it to church. Great post! Loved chatting with you last night at the Twitter party and getting to know you more here at your place! Blessings!
    Mary Geisen recently posted…Five Minute Friday – BelongMy Profile

    • It was nice meeting you, too, Mary :). I think church people need to look around at successful organizations and study what makes them a success…and then work at change (which is NOT an easy thing to do, unfortunately!).

  • Donne

    I concur with you. I have long felt that the God some churchgoers claim to know is too small; that He is so small that He cares if I wear everyday clothes to church, how loudly I sing, whether I raise my hands to the heavens or even sway (gasp!) while singing his praises, or whether I have my head covered. The God I serve is above that. He calls us to come boldly before His throne (Hebrews 4:16) and to praise Him (Psalm 150:6) and to make new disciples (Matthew 28:19).
    The coach of the Blazers did not dictate that every attendee at the game should wear red, white and black, nor did he say that everyone should participate in the ‘wave’ or scream themselves hoarse. No. People did that of their own accord because they wanted to show their allegiance to the team. A healthy congregation should allow church attendees the same leeway. Don’t try to ‘fix’ everyone by dictating the outward appearance of belonging; let people come to know God and begin to express their allegiance to Him in a fashion of their own devising. It will mean so much more to Him when it comes from the heart.

    • Well said! In education, we learn all about creating community and a learning environment–maybe it’s time for pastors and deacons and elders to get in on the secret…

  • This is a great post! Very thought provoking.

    I saw Clyde “The Glide” Drexler play in a tournament game in 1983 when he was in college. I saw him jump over a player. You can see the play here: http://youtu.be/XGwHWnsFUC4 It was amazing. The place went wild! I can only imagine what it would be like if church was like this!!
    Mary recently posted…To whom I belong…5 minute FridayMy Profile

    • That’s one amazing glide! How cool that you got to witness it :). And I concur–what if we went wild like that in church each time a sinner chose Jesus?

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