The movie Hoosiers is based on the true story of a small-town Indiana high school basketball team that won the state finals in 1954. The finals were played at the Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis, at the time the largest basketball venue in the world, with more than 15,000 seats.
The team had never played in any venue like this. They had never even seen a venue like this. Upon arrival at the arena, Coach Dale took out a ladder and a tape measure and had his players measure the height of the goal and dimension of the court. The dimensions were the same as in their little high school gym, the game was the same as they had always played, but the venue was very different.
For your church, the rules of the game never change. But the venue certainly changes. Many churches do not understand the real nature of the venue in which they play.
When my dad was beginning his ministry, leading a Baptist Church was a bit like The University of Kansas playing EVERY game at Allen Fieldhouse. They still had to get on the court, compete and play the game. But everyone in the stands seemed to be rooting for them. They had a big home-court advantage.
By the time I begin my ministry some 40 years ago, it was a bit like the University of Kansas playing every game at a neutral site. Maybe half the crowd was rooting for us.
Today we have to become fully aware that doing ministry in our current context is often like the University of Kansas playing every game at North Carolina. We’ve lost the home-court advantage, and we often play in front of a hostile crowd.
A lack of home-court advantage is not a hindrance to the gospel. It’s not a hindrance now, and it hasn’t been a hindrance in the 2000-year history of the church. But it is different for many churches who are used to playing on their home court in front of their home fans.
To put it plainly, many declining and dying churches do not grasp the context in which they are now doing ministry. They long for the old days when everybody was rooting for them. They want to return to the days when they were popular in the culture and they could simply put on their programs and people came.
Churches today have to spend time understanding their context. They must spend time learning about the concerns, the pains, and the life patterns of those in our community.
The degree to which you understand, and embrace with gospel compassion, the venue in which you exist is directly connected to the degree of success you will experience.
Gather all the demographics you can, and get help from professionals to interpret that information. Engage your community in events geared toward getting into the lives of those in your neighborhood rather than being focused so much on getting them into your building. Find out who is out there and the needs that are pressing on them.
Your community is changing at an increasingly rapid rate. Visit the convenience store nearest your church. Observe the people as they come and go. If they do not resemble the people in your pews, you may have a problem. It is not enough to know how to engage in church activities and ministry. We must learn how to engage our communities. Knowing those you’re called to reach, and learning all you can about them, is a key to getting back in the game.