This is my favorite time of the year. Not because I expect great things from my alma mater this football season, because unfortunately the University of Virginia hasn’t been a top team for quite a while now, and there are too many question marks entering this season to get my hopes too high for the Hoos (UVa’s unofficial nickname) this year. But I will be cheering for Virginia during every game, and wearing my logo clothing and sporting the V-sabre logo stickers on my vehicles. Each season brings new promise and the hope of “maybe this year.”
Plus I just love college football…the passion, the excitement, the rivalries. These guys are playing because they love the game, not because they are making the big bucks like the pros (well, most of them anyway). College fans are diehards. They paint their faces, tailgate for hours, scream in the stands until they’re hoarse, and spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars year after year on tickets, gear, and “donations” to their college (to have the “privilege” of buying those tickets). But all that emotion, activity, time, and money is expended on something that ultimately is meaningless and provides nothing of longterm social value.
And no sooner than the last second on the clock runs out in the final game of the season then diehard fans begin the countdown to next year. These fans continue to discuss their team to anyone who will listen and among themselves on their favorite message boards, reliving the big wins and agonizing losses, and arguing about who got the best new recruits or which coaching changes are needed. What creates such devotion, excitement, and loyalty, and why are the activities of a bunch of 18-22 year olds so important to us? I think a lot of it is simply a desire to belong to a community and to a larger tribe that shares a common connection.
What if we could get people that enthusiastic about the Gospel and that excited to become part of the community of believers at our churches? After all we’ve got the biggest star “player” in the universe in Jesus, and with over 2 billion Christians worldwide we’ve also got the biggest “fan base” in the world. So why are college football stadiums packed every weekend while many churches struggle to fill the seats on Sunday? I think it is partly due to a lack of genuine “community”. Too many churches are just where you go an hour a week to cross it off your stay-out-of-hell checklist. Plastic smiles, Sunday suits, a few songs, and a 20 minute lecture doesn’t create a sense of community. Creating environments where people want to come together and where there are intentional spaces inside and outside the buildings that provide opportunities for connections to occur is a key element that is missing from most churches.
But beyond the facilities, and community building opportunities at the church on the weekend, every church, whether big or small, needs to intentionally provide community group programs which are designed to help churches of any size remain “small.” These “life groups”, “small groups”, “cell groups”, or whatever you want to call them are the life blood of growing churches. Think of it this way: community groups are the equivalent of the weekly tailgate party. This is the close community of friends within the overall tribe that helps take care of the needs of each other…visiting each other when they are sick, providing meals when a new baby comes, being a shoulder to cry on and a friend to celebrate with. These small groups also have the chance to expand their sphere of influence and their impact by reaching out to others in need in their community in personal ways that the larger “impersonal” church can never do in a weekend service.
Churches may never fill stadiums with millions of diehard fans every weekend, but just think of the good that could be accomplished by millions of diehard Christ followers living out the commandments of Jesus to love their neighbors? Poverty and injustice could be all but eradicated. Disease, hunger, and dirty water could be thrown on the ash heap of history. Now that’s something to get fired up about. That’s a goal worth fighting for and celebrating at a weekly tailgate party! That’s something that will be meaningful to billions and have an eternal and infinite value.
What are you doing at your church to turn it into your community’s biggest tailgate party? Oh, and by the way, GO HOOS! This might be our year, after all we’re still undefeated…at least for a few more hours.