"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.
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."
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.
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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.