Golf has always clung to strict standards and a rich tradition. But, as reported by The New York Times recently, golf may have become a victim of its own image and hide-bound ways. The Times quoted a National Golf Foundation estimate that golf has lost 5,000,000 players in the last decade, with 20% of the existing 25 million golfers apt to quit in the next few years.
People under age 35, according to The New York Times, have especially spurned the game, saying "it takes too long to play, is too difficult to learn and has too many tiresome rules." The new goal, says The Times, is to alter the game's reputation in order to recruit lapsed golfers and a younger demographic.
At this point in the story, I thought I could already see some parallels between the plight of modern golf and the plight of modern churches like CPC. Hoping to find some "silver bullets" for churches, I took a closer look at what golfing changes were being proposed.
Advocates of change, The Times said, have focused on adopting to the busy schedules of parents and families. In recent years, golf courses have encouraged people to think of golf in a potentially shorter format ---- perhaps six-hole or nine-hole increments. The Times says about 30 golf courses across the country have become test cases for a system of punch-in-punch-out time clocks that assess a fee by the minutes spent playing or practicing rather than by 18- or 9-hole rounds.
Golf is one of the top ten recreational sports in the U.S., so not everyone will favor changes to encourage it to be more participatory. Some say they do not want to rig the game and cheapen it, even for beginners. Many golfers believe that the charm of the game is a single set of rules for beginners as well as for skilled players.
I think I have heard some of the same discussions at CPC as we tried to recruit lapsed members and a younger demographic. It was interesting to see the substantial attendance recently at our Christmas services. At other times of the year we usually have only 150 - 200 people attending worship at our 10:00 a.m. Sunday service. Just as with golf, participation could be better. National golf tournaments draw thousands of spectators and a TV audience of millions of people, but where are the 5,000,000 players the National Golf Foundation says are not golfing participants any more? Later, what will become of the people who fill our church pews at Christmas?
Changes CPC has already gradually introduced in hopes of increasing participation, include more music offerings, but not just the old-time favorite hymns ---- now we also have contemporary praise music at least once in the Sunday Sanctuary service. That service is now followed at 5:00 p.m. many Sundays with a "contemporary" service in less formal surroundings, which we call "The Wave Service."
And we have done other things at CPC to make it easier for people to get to know us. In the old days, it took a number of classes before one would be ready to become a new CPC member. Today, membership can come after a brief Sunday morning meeting with the Senior Pastor and an expressed desire on the new member's part. Today, Bible study is of less interest, but short-term mission engagement is actively supported. Today, the time available for church participation in anything, even in worship services, must compete with many other community and school activities. Somewhat like the golfers, those seeking involvement in CPC offerings are faced with the already tight daily schedules of themselves and their families.
As in golfing, there are some church members who have habits and expectations formed many years ago. They may not understand why church practices must change. But, there are outside social and cultural forces at work which simply require us to be flexible and see the good possibilities in practical changes that keep us relevant.
For us at CPC, our daily practices of faith may change form, but the fundamentals of our faith stay the same ---- just as in the game of golf.
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal spiritual growth this winter at CPC.________________________________________________