My NFL Guest Experience

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.

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  1. Steve Billingsley

    October 30, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Interesting point. So much of the church growth literature of the 80s and 90s focused on “small ball” issues like greeters and visitor parking. I think getting those kinds of details right are a good thing – but at the end of the day I think it gave many church leaders and excuse to not focus on the main thing. The biggest reason people come to a church the first time (particularly if they are unchurched) is that someone invited them. The biggest reason they come back isn’t because the coffee is good or someone opened the door for them and smiled. It is because God was present and they experienced His presence. And the funny thing is that for some people, that is exactly the reason they won’t come back. But if you get the big things right, the smaller things become smaller.

    BTW, I like good coffee and someone opening the door and smiling at me. But being touched by God in worship, the Word and ministry is a lot better.

  2. Hello Pastor Brady, Okay, so my commentary on football from my perspective as a little girl who so wanted to be with her daddy, that yes, I would watch football just to be close to my dad, though I really liked I Love Lucy which competed with football on Monday nites. I would scout with him on hunting trips wandering through rugged mountain territory, and learned archery as he practiced for hunting season. I learned to canoe on quiet mountain lakes near Cottonwood Pass just to be with my daddy. I would work along side him on projects, handing him wood and nails to build a corral for a horse he was going to purchase for us. I would ride on the back of his motorcycle and spend hours at counters that I couldn’t see over at auto repair stores just to spend a Saturday with him. All to say, I would do most anything to be with my dad… It is amazing what we will endure for the sake of being with people we like or want to deepen a relationship with. Jesus’ followers forsook all to follow, to be with Him. I pray I will remain flexible, resilient, open and vulnerable to change, to the new……and willing to move into areas that are less comfortable and familiar for the cause of Christ and for expansion of His Kingdom reign….So love my football brothers…..Just saying!

  3. I just finished reading Psalm 149-150. It’s awesome! It reassured me I am in good company with my God! Am I a ‘Drama Queen? You bet I am! I get it from my Father in Heaven! God is a drama King!
    HE IS GOD!…and
    HE IS JESUS, “Y’shua” (and to think HE loves me!!!)

  4. This blog post got me thinking…

    One of the things it reminded me of is the work of Andy Crouch and specifically his book Culture Making (winner of Christianity Today’s 2009 Book Award for Christianity and Culture and named one of the best books of 2008 by Publishers Weekly, Relevant, Outreach and Leadership). Crouch breaks down the meaning-making of secular liturgies, in many ways much like what you’ve done with the NFL Guest Experience.

    A few of the questions I often ask myself in reflecting on institutions and their rituals are:

    – How does it begin?
    – What gets the center?
    – How does it end?

    In the NFL game day liturgy, it begins with a couple different things. There are the handshakes among the captains and a coin toss. Both happen at centerfield. In the handshake, perhaps symbolized is a commitment to sportsmanship. In the coin toss, there is a sense of fairness. Earlier in this NFL season when there was the referee lockout, perhaps much of this sense of fairness was being lost from the center of the game’s essence. Storm drains and cigarette smoke on the periphery is one thing but a loss of the sense of fairness causes on uproar on ESPN.

    Then at the end of the game, often at centerfield, there’s another handshake too. Or at least there should be. I remember a couple years ago Chiefs’ coach Todd Haley refused to shake hands with Broncos’ coach Josh McDaniels. It’s a breakdown in the sportsmanship and fairness that many of this think this game–beyond winning and losing–really *ought* to be about.

    You compare the NFL Sunday morning liturgy to the Christian church Sunday morning liturgy. And it’s more than a freebie coffee or gimmie-gift in considering what it ought to be all about. Again…

    – How does it begin?
    – What gets the center?
    – How does it end?

    Traditionally, it begins with an invocation–that Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit would be welcome and worshipped in our midst.

    Traditionally, it’s an altar and sacrifice or table and meal that gets the center–that there’s a Eucharistic reflection on how I might be called to be like Him in self’s sacrifice and in living in Resurrection’s hope. Given I’m not an orphan or slave but a son, perhaps this unique kind of Christian sonship is in the following of the paths of Isaac with his father up to Moriah’s summit or with Jesus with His Father up to Golgatha’s perch. Beyond the “overrated and overstated” of the commercialization of the sacred, is there a centrality of the understatedness of what a cruciform life like looks like?

    And traditionally, it ends in benediction, in the sending out into the world for a common good–of our city, of our land, of our world.

    A few years ago, Richard Dawkins visited us. He mocked us.

    What he saw at the center of a theatre-in-the-round was an “exuberant” rock concert and “swaggering” authority that he likened–in a hyper-offensive way–to the personality cult of the Nuremberg Rally. (Can these things even be openly discussed?)

    People will overlook lots of challenges for things they believe are important. After all, what might be more important than pondering what might be the nature of God and how we come to be made right with that?

    In football, at the center, it may be sportsmanship and fairness.

    In faith, at the center, it may be the mystery of ourselves and Christ in union of self’s sacrifice for the world’s service.

    Perhaps it may be that everything else is a circuitous route lined with potholes and souvenir vendors.

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