Saturday, May 30, 2009

When sport is a religion, can religion learn from sport?

Rabbi Jonathan Romain writes in the Guardian about the connections between being apart of a faith community and being a sports fan. He watched as his fellow countrymen were wrapped up in the European Champions League last week (when Manchester United played Barcelona in Rome) and reflected on both the similarities and on how faith communities can tap some of the same enthusiasm.

"In some ways." Romain says, "it is facile to compare football to faith: the former is 400 years old, limited to a rectangular pitch and lasts 90 minutes a week, whereas the latter stretches across the millennia, permeates all aspects of life and is 24/7."

Still there a interesting parallels: both have their rituals, both have their special clothing, both have their important festivals and revolve around a calendar and both are seasonal.

There are similar highs and lows: the build-up of expectation as an important match looms or as you get ready for a festival. But then your emotions can go dramatically either way: a win, especially against the odds, leads to an almost indescribable exuberance; so too at a service when you have a really good experience and emerge with a bounce in your step. The opposite can also be the case: a desperately boring game or a disastrous loss can send you home enveloped in a black cloud, rather like a service which you feel does nothing for you and from which you walk out a stranger to God.

Perhaps most amazing of all at matches is the singing, with many who are totally unmusical, not to mention shy and monosyllabic, leaping to their feet and singing their throats dry in front of thousands.

He asks clergy and congregations with empty pews to think about the following: "how to transfer the passion and commitment of those attending football matches to those at services."

A clue lies in a moment of inspiration experienced by my history teacher at school. He was at a football match after a frustrating week of trying to drum dates of battles and monarchs into children's heads, with little success. He was astounded to hear two pupils from his class sitting in the row behind rattling off facts and figures about team performances, individual players and the number of goals they had scored last season. "Ah," he thought, "so they are capable of remembering! All I have to do is enthuse them enough so that they remember what I want them to remember."

The task of those who care about faith is similar: to make religious life so vibrant as to make others want to join in. We can start by learning from football fans and doing three things:

First, greeting others who are sitting around you, even those you hardly know, and not letting them go away unnoticed at the end, but chatting away, asking if they thought today was a victory or a flop, if the minister was on form or not. It is the presence or absence of human camaraderie that determines whether people come back next week or not.

Second, by joining in the prayers and songs even if you do not feel like it at first, because getting stuck in helps create a sense of involvement, which then engulfs others too, so that you end up feeling that you are on the inside and not looking on from afar.

Third, in between attendances, reading up on the facts, mastering the customs, laws and history, so that next time you come you feel part of the team spirit - that you not only matter as much as everyone else, but that without you they are not fully complete.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

UBG Report to Lily Endowment

The report for "Mainline Evangelism Project II" has been released. Here is the link and below is the cover letter.

Dear Unbinding the Gospel Friends,

I hope your day is as gorgeous as ours is in St. Louis!

We've finished the first 15 months of our 4 year grant from the Lilly Endowment to help 1000 congregations work through the full-congregational saturation experience witih the Unbinding books. A few of you have already received a copy of this, but I will err on the side of duplicate information! Here (click on the link below) is a copy of the 10 page report I sent the Endowment a couple of weeks ago. We are extremely excited about what we're seeing in these congregations, and in what we're learning. I include many specific examples (anonymously) from congregations in the process.

The bottom line is that the books work, the coaching model is working with increasing efficiency, people are beginning to pray, to articulate their faith and to invite friends to church. (I'm hearing rather amazing reports that the term "friends" includes ex-prisoners, students, Saudis, and a few people who state of personal hygiene is not on an exact par with the typical congregant!) Staggering shifts are happening in some of these churches. i was with a Disciples of Christ pastor last Saturday who is serving a congregation whose worship attendance had increased from 90-100 to 190-195 over the course of the last 12 months. She's not a typical pastor, but we're seeing miraculous things happening in many churches.

If any of you know of churches that might be good candidates for participating in the grant process, please let me know. I would be delighted to consult with anyone interested in the exploring whether this coaching would be a good fit for them. If we determine that it is, I can help groups of churches prepare for participating in a coaching group.

Our website contains a couple of video interviews of pastors who have been part of Unbinding groups. (Courtesy of the Illinois Great Rivers United Methodists) Th report to the Lilly Endowment is also downloadable from the web site homepage ( Let me know if I can be helpful to you.


Martha Grace Reese

Read the rest here.