I went to a Denver Broncos game with some friends this past weekend and had a great time cheering for the home team. We arrived about two hours early, paid $10 to park in a lot that almost two miles from the stadium and navigated our way with a throng through a circuitous route lined with souvenir vendors and potholes.
Once I arrived at the main gate, a security team waved a wand around me looking for hidden weapons, scanned my ticket, but not one person smiled or greeted me warmly. There was not even free coffee or a free gift for first time visitors.
The food was pretty good, but terribly expensive. My seats were certainly not spacious but there was a cupholder, so that was nice. The music blaring overhead was a mixed bag of 70’s rock-n-roll and modern pop hits, and really loud, even for me.
Once the game began, there was tremendous unity among the fans, most of whom were dressed in identical orange apparel. At key moments, like third down plays, the entire crowd anxiously stood to their feet and no one seemed to care that things were getting a bit emotional. Everyone, it seemed, came ready to engage and participate. They really cared about the details of what was happening. People were asking questions, debating strategies and even dancing in public when the Broncos scored. It was an authentic worship experience for many.
As the 75,000 fans exited the stadium, they cheered wildly all the way back to their various remote parking lots, this time dodging storm drains and spilled food in the dark of night. No one seemed to mind the five hour gathering, the crowds, or even the cigarette smoke billowing from the masses.
All this confirms to me that the “guest experience” at our local churches may be a bit overrated and overstated. It seems that passion for what happens at the gathering trumps any inconvenience. We all seem to give a lot of grace to the imperfections of institutions or traditions that we admire or respect.
We should be intentional about communication, super friendly, and provide worship space that is clean and comfortable. But the NFL is proof that people will overlook lots of challenges for things they believe are important.