America was captured, even enraptured, with baseball in the early 1900s. The love for the sport grew decade after decade. Giants of the game emerged over time with new and amazing record shattering statistics. Fans flocked to the games from little league to the minors to the major league. Boys and girls took up gloves and made baseball diamonds in backyards, sandlots, even parking lots. Baseball influenced generations.
Would this American icon ever wain? ‘Never!’ some may shout. Yet we cannot deny baseball has at least diminished in the last thirty years. Fewer people are making their way to the stadiums, just look over the empty seats as the TV cameras pan around. Aside from the steroids and ginormous salaries which plagued the game a few decades ago, a new game came to town. Football. Through the 1970’s this game began to garner much attention. In the 1980’s and 1990’s it became a fixture throughout America. Stadiums were full. The Superbowl was the goal. Fan’s flocked to the NFL like they used to for the MBL.
While both games have avid fans and both games still have grass roots replicas, the attention of the fans has been being divided with other major league sports in recent years, such as NBA, soccer and hockey. The point is spectators are wooed by the up and coming, the excitement of something new, the feeling of belonging to something larger and to be cool with the ‘in’ crowd. We have seen this same process with The Church in the last 100 years.
In the early 1900’s people went to the church on the corner because it was where everyone in the neighborhood went and it was close when distance travel was not too feasible. By the 1950’s each community had more churches, but those churches were the center of the community. Nonchurch events were scheduled around the events at church. Then America ‘broke free’ of a lot of things in the 1960-1970’s, which included a movement away from the local church. The communities no longer, generally speaking, revolved around the church. People went to church but it was not as exciting as the new groovy happenings in the community.
Increasingly since the 1990’s people have other things to do besides church. American culture offers entertainment in a multitude of venues. In many communities the location of a church is not known by most residents. Society has pushed the local church further and deeper out of the center. People for many decades in the 20th century did more than come to church, they worked in the church. From cleaning, to construction, to kids’ programs to community outreach. People sensed a responsibility to be the church and willingly gave of their time, resources and themselves.
No one would have ever thought the local church would wain in American favor. Why has this happened? As illuded to earlier, people began to replace the local church. The church’s focus was on others and the community itself. It also required lots of people to work in order for ministry to be accomplished, which people willingly used to do. The replacements became sports, other organizations with polarized causes, school events, personal hobbies, etc. which have a self-focus and need much fewer people to collaborate.
The growing celebration of the few exceptional people who could do any of those things fantastically fed a spectator mentality. Now days, people prefer to just sit and watch. This has crept into the church also. Too many want to be entertained or served in the church, to the point of demanding it or they will go to another church. Searching for a new church looks identical to shopping at the store. Many church shoppers are looking for the right music, their type of preaching, programs that are convenient, services that are tailored, easy location access, small time commitment, etc.
The consumer mentality combined with a spectator mentality is heavily weighing upon the local churches’ attendance and survival. The birth of the mega-church paved the path for thousands of people to get church without being the church in many circumstances. In contrast, the small to medium churches were viewed as too up close and personal as well as ‘needy’ for volunteers. As a result, people have left and thousands of churches close their doors annually.
This trend can no longer be ignored. Christians need to be reminded of their Biblical charge to be the church. 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” If Christ has rescued you from your sins and you are born again, then you are indwelled with the Holy Spirit. You have been adopted into the family of God. As a son or daughter of the King, you have a role and responsibility to the kingdom. Romans 12:4-5, “4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
Belonging to one body, though different roles, we have a common cause. 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, “17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Therefore, we must be more than spectators. The Church is purposed for discipleship and the building of one another up. No Christian should ever be idle in either of these charges. 1 Thessalonians 3:6, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.”
If your prayerful evaluation has found you as a spectator Christian, seek forgiveness for the disobedience and hastily make your way to the pastor to offer your servanthood to the local body. Follow Christ’s example of serving others for the benefit of the Kingdom of God. Let us end the spectator sport of church and witness the Father pour out revival.