on the ball
When I was an apprentice vicar in Crawley, Crawley Town’s Broadfield Stadium was in our parish. Going there every week as a committed supporter was a great way to embed myself in the local community, to participate in the life of a well-supported (and struggling) non-league club, to find out what local people are thinking and doing and what they care about.
Except I didn’t.
It was always there on my mind. I always meant to go. I just never quite got around to it. I was, you know, busy. Now they are playing Man U (both teams nicknamed the Red Devils) in the FA Cup of course I wish I had, I wish I could claim to be a true fan. Apparently season ticket sales have gone through the roof, as that is a way to get an Old Trafford ticket. Fair-weather fans crawling on the bandwagon?
A few years ago I realised that I felt about the Crawley Town red devils the way lots of people feel about church. The club went into administration and there was a serious possibility it would cease to exist. And this made me sad. Because I thought it was great that a town like Crawley had a football team. It was wrong it was going to close. I liked driving past the stadium and feeling part of them. I mean, I even used to park for free in their car park.
a great carpark
But I had no intention of going along, of parting with my hard-earned money to keep them afloat, of screaming from the touchlines in all weathers. I wanted them to exist, but it was up to others to ensure they did. I wasn’t going to put my presence – or my money – where my mouth was.
Isn’t this how lots of people feel about the church? It is good it exists, and people often make a fuss when churches close. But they have no intention of joining in. When there is celebration to be had, like a baptism or a wedding, or a community funeral, or a summer fair or Christmas carol service the church’s long-running presence is gratefully accepted, maybe even taken for granted. A bit like a decent cup-run, people are suddenly interested, involved. Then they go.
To draw people into our churches maybe we need to tell a better story, give a warmer welcome, and – more importantly – be supporters of Jesus outside the building (stadium) as well as in it. Wear the kit, talk about what Jesus has done, invite people to be a part of it. That’s how football clubs grow. Word of mouth.
Success helps, of course; Man U didn’t get their home counties (and global) following by being a bit rubbish. When good things happen, people talk. Jesus does good things. We the church do good things. So let’s talk about them! How many of us talk about everything BUT the service we have just been at after church?! And how many football fans talk about NOTHING but the match they’ve just been in!?
I wish Crawley all the best today, they hold an affection in my heart because despite never going to a match, I loved living in Crawley, I am glad the club still exists – and I love the success of the underdog. As for my friends who did actually go and still go and did invite me and I never went with you, some of whom are lucky enough to have made the trip to the North-east – I won’t pretend to be a proper fan, I but I will crawl on the bandwagon with you, and I’ll be shouting with you!
If only I’d joined in earlier.