bears-packI used to be heavily invested in professional football. I watched every game I could. I watched the highlight shows and read the magazines. I knew almost all the players. I ran a fantasy league with my friends. I loved football. Playoffs were always a highlight of the New Year once the Holidays had passed. The Super Bowl, while not always the best of games, was a great time for food, friends, football, new ad campaigns and a feeling that I was really participating in the wider culture. I loved it, and looked forward to it every winter.

I loved football, but once we had kids it became harder to watch all those highlight shows. I had to give up my sports magazines because they were just piling up unread. My fantasy football friends also got busy with their kids and other things, and so one year we just didn’t have a draft. My wife and I would DVR a game we wanted to see – especially if it was the Bears or Packers. We might watch it later, but if we did, we would fast-forward through much of it until watching a game longer than an hour became tedious. I still enjoyed the playoffs; but generally started missing more and more of it. Our kids will join us for the Super Bowl – but it’s become more about the snacks than the game.

Football is a very small part of my life now. It is there in the background – not entirely faded, but I couldn’t tell you ten players on the Bears, or even fifty players in the league. I used to be invested, now I’m a cultural football fan at best.

It wasn’t because of scandals in the league that caused my disinterest. I had that experience as a baseball fan. I used to love baseball. I knew the players and I followed my team. But after the greed I saw play out in the 1994 strike; it was difficult for me to go back.

Football is different for me though. My growing indifference is not about scandals or greed. I still really like football. I simply just moved on. I spend my time in other ways. I have found other interests.

After having made this discovery in myself recently I started wondering if this is not the same experience people are having with “organized” religion today. For some, their separation from religion is like my experience with baseball: the scandals, the perceived hypocrisy, the institutional self-interest has soured it for them. But for others – many others have gone through what I have experienced with football: it just doesn’t inspire them or hold their interest anymore. They may not be anti-religion; they might still come to worship at Christmas or Easter for example – but the reality is the institutional religious life is simply not a part of who they are anymore, and they are OK with that.

We wonder what it might take to bring them back to our faith communties. I’ll start by asking: What would it take to bring me back to football?

I don’t think this is a marketing question or about proper program implementation as much as it is a relational question. When I was in High School, College, and Seminary – my friends and I talked passionately about football all the time. We would comment on highlights, articles, and statistics. We would play out in a field or on our NES, Sega Genesis or N64. We recruited others openly to join us. One winter when Tammie was laid up after a surgery, she sat next to me as I watched the Vikings go 15-1. As she sat on the couch recovering, I talked about plays and formations and penalties. Now years later, it is she who talks to me about the things her Packers do with excitement in her voice.

In the end, I don’t think I will become an active participant in the NFL again by watching more ESPN, or by blocking out more Sunday afternoons. No, the only path back is to connect with others who have a real love for the game.

The same is true of our faith communities. We lament over the declining numbers, and grieve the people who have left. We fight over our likes and dislikes and often we show up on Sunday morning just to muddle through.

But is there any passion? Are we making connections with others? Do we talk about God with any excitement? Are we sharing our stories? Do we show God’s love wherever we go?

There is a difference between faith and religion. Faith is life-changing. It gives us a way to positively view and impact the world. It provides meaning and purpose in our lives. It offers real hope to those wandering into the wilderness. If we want to renew our ministries we need to focus on faith. This is a focus on people not programs; on relationships not marketing; on stories of significance, on God and not ourselves.

The NFL playoffs begin this weekend. I know my family is excited about the Packers playing the Giants. I’m sure we will watch. I’m sure there will be snacks. But most importantly the people I care about will be there. I believe that’s the way to go about re-investing in whatever it is we should hold dear but seem to slip away from so easily in this fast-paced, busy, easily-distracted world. We need to think first about relationships, and put our focus there. As we enter a New Year, especially in our houses of worship, let’s invest in people. Whatever happens after that we will take as it comes. Will life-change happen? God willing, yes.



About geoff sinibaldo

Follower of Jesus, Husband, Father, Son, Friend, Change Proponent, Goofball, Seeking Faithfulness in the 21st Century
This entry was posted in Church & Mission, Church by Perception, Discovery, Faith Everyday, Thinking About Church Differently and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Wally Nass says:

    Hi Geoff That was a terrific article. It sure is something to do and think about. You sure have a way of putting into words with what is going around us. Love dad

    Sent from my iPad


  2. I like this a lot, Geoff. It has put me in mind of something my mother had written in her collection of personal meditations on the Ten Commandments entitled *Sabbatical Reflections.* That book, published in 1978, included as its chapter on the Second Commandment a reflection on the sacred gift of language as she had experienced it in her immigrant struggle in the space between her native Swedish and her incompletely mastered English. There she included this paragraph:


    “Many Americans ask me why Swedish churches are so empty. I give them sociological reasons because in most cases I think they are the most valid: people don’t go to church simply because it no longer is the thing to do the way it once was. Only a small minority has made a conscious choice either for or against the church; among these most have come out against. Very few would say, “I have struggled with this for years; I can no longer believe.” Rather, they drift away. For instance, they move to a new community and then come to the conclusion that they are more comfortable without ties to the church so they don’t look it up. They are freed from something about which they felt vaguely ashamed.”

    My mother continued then:

    “Sunday after Sunday the Swedish church celebrates in a stiff and almost nineteenth-century manner. Year after year the same slow hymns, the same solemn intonation of the liturgy, the same reading of texts, the same pretentious style of preaching, the same enormous gaps in the pews between people, and the gulf between people and minister. To go to church in Sweden was often an ordeal for one’s soul: in boredom one had to manipulate one’s spirit into activity, whether in browsing through the hymnbook, studying the paintings on the walls and windows, concentrating on one’s own problems, or contemplating some mantra. And then coming from church one had to defend one’s having been there to suspicious friends who thought, even if they didn’t say it out loud, “You don’t believe that stuff, do you?” It was a matter of two different languages. And no qualified interpreters.

    “Who knows how long I would have stood the subtle social pressure had I not come to the Lutheran Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Suddenly everything was new, although it was familiar. I heard the hymns, the texts, the prayers in a new way. Since I had to translate it all back and forth, the words came alive. The texts were just wonderful, dreadful, but full of life. Since I could not follow the sermons (it took me almost a year before I felt sure that I could follow), I had a great deal of time for contemplation, supported by the texts, the new colors, and by the throng of people. In short, there was a music in church which had been completely lost on me before. Of course it had been present in the Swedish churches, but I was—as most others were—deaf to it.

    “For a precious period in my life I was released from thinking how much I believed, how far I could participate, how long I could stretch my loyalty. I had the opportunity just to sit and take it all in. It was like reliving the world of my childhood in a new dimension. In the Old Testament lessons all the stories came back, but now they no longer came back as stories but as metaphors and archetypes, rich in implication by sheer economy of words. The Psalms, Job, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes all excited me with their beauty of language and poignancy. The hymns made me giggle at times over the nineteenth-century piety. I had a wonderful time exploring and discovering this new world that had been mine all along but that I had been. too timid, too ashamed to let myself enter.

    “When I finally reached the point where I could follow and respond to the sermon, I was again gratified; the minister himself [Henry Horn] was also developing. Every Sunday there was something that had clicked for him and that he made us hear and think about. His sermon was not a finished or polished work; rather it was a baby he entrusted to us to nourish. I began to look forward to going to church, because it meant a drawing together of my whole world, cleansed by divine light. It was thus that I found out that there is nothing in the world as potent, nothing as creative as the Word. Could that have happened without the change of language? Maybe, but it would almost have demanded a drastic experience, something earthshaking that called for my interpretation. This happened to me now slowly, like walking in the country in the early morning through the dew-drenched fields, cleaner and greener than ever, and filled with unexpected webs and signs of life.”

    from *Sabbatical Reflections: The Ten Commandments in a New Day* (1978) by Brita Stendahl

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