For a number of years, I’ve been involved in fantasy football* leagues. If you’re unfamiliar with fantasy football, you basically “draft” a team of real players, track their stats, and your made-up team wins/loses based on what the real players do on any given weekend.
In many ways, fantasy football has increased my interest in real-life football. Teams I’d never care to watch, now get my attention. Players who would be unknowns to a casual football watcher like myself, become players I root for. I watch and “participate” in football a great deal more than I ever did before my involvement in fantasy football.
I’m guessing some number crunching statistician (or an eight year kid who lives in a city without a football team) was the first to start “playing” fantasy football. Regardless, every team, every sports agency, every major television network, all devote time and resources to this game. It has become a part of football.
The National Football League understands this and so they too participate. The put out magazines designed to help men (and a growing number of women) play. They develop websites and supply fan information, a precious commodity to anyone who fields a fantasy team. They recognize fantasy football is another vehicle for building interest, fan loyalty, and ultimately revenue for the League.
Supporting the fantasy sport has real world impact.
I’ve seen a similar phenomenon with shows like American Idol.
By introducing us to, giving the impression of coming to know, and encouraging us to root (and pay money to vote) for our favorite nobodies, Idol has discovered the impact fantasy can have on reality.
By allowing the public to participate in the birth of a star, the show essentially test markets new and/or emerging talent. The Idol “winner” is the one with the most dedicated fan base. It’s really quite brilliant, especially since the fans are paying for the privilege to see their star crowned at the end of the show. And as we have seen over the past decade, you don’t have to technically “win” the whole thing to become a commercial success.
We get to fund the fantasy of fame which leads to genuine fame. It’s another example of fantasy impacting reality.
Is there anything here for the Church to learn? I think yes.
We need to help folks dream. To fantasize, if you will, about the Church. Give folks an opportunity to participate in more ways that simply watching the local team. Help people experience Church in personal ways. Allow them to invest in the bits and pieces that inspire, motivate, challenge and encourage them. Then facilitate, name, and celebrate the ways the dream, the fantasy, becomes real.
I think we can also recognize people like to participate in crafting that which brings them pleasure. They want to impact what they pay attention to. They want some “skin in the game”. That’s my “running back”, I’ve said of a player on a team half a country away. “That’s the guy I hoped would win,” I thought of the latest to be crowned music star.
In the same way, we would do well to encourage participation in creating the experience that is Church. Get folks involved in selecting, not just singing the music. Get folks plugged in to supplying their thoughts on scripture, not just listening to ours. Create space for creatives to join in and bring worship to life by engaging all the senses. Allow the passions of the people to help shape where resources are spent, where ministry takes place, where lives are transformed. Empowering the people makes fantasy football work. Giving the people a voice is what makes Idol a success. Do the same for our people and watch as the Church comes alive!
Another dimension of these fantasy-to-reality expressions bears noting; they facilitate community. Fantasy football only exists because others agree to participate. Idols winners are selected because a community of support grew up behind them. At its core, the Church is also about relationships, about a community. Helping folks and joining folks in becoming community, this may be our greatest work as a Church. Bridging the fantasy of relationship and the reality of relationship, this may be the greatest reason for the Church to exist.
Let us again fantasize about the Church. Let us dream big dreams. Let us experiment and tinker and play. As we engage in these behaviors, the “real” Church will be enriched, it will grow, it will flourish. And in the end we will find it is on earth as it is in heaven and we will celebrate a prize worth more than any fantasy football championship or musical contract.
Life is better together,
*My use of “football” here relates to American football with apologies to the rest of the world who play football, a.k.a. American soccer. I imagine a day when we’ll get it all straightened out, but that’s another fantasy.