Double Bogie: Golf and Church

On Labor Day Colleen and I played in a charity golf tournament against Colleen’s will. It was Colleen’s first time to play golf.  Yes, we have been to a driving range and one corporate course (par 3 course), but the first time on a golf course playing a full round of golf.  BTW she did great.

I’ve always wanted to play golf with my wife.  As the years of being “empty nesters” are getting closer, I’m thinking about what I have in common with Colleen.  The fear of us doing our own thing, eating at the dinner table with no conversation, and then retreating to our own corners of the house until bed time, only to kiss goodnight, turn our backs to each other and go to bed, is not the life I want to live with my spouse. Golf if my answer for us to spend quality time together.  On the way home from the tournament Colleen said, “That was fun, but ‘golf is too expensive, takes too much time, and is too hard.” That night we came home and I watch Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO. In a conversation about golf Bryant Gumbel told us that golf is in decline because, you guested it, “Golf is too expensive, too time consuming and too hard.” I continued to watch the story (video above).

What I saw has an incredible parallel with what I’m hearing from most of the church leaders. In the church world today, I have read many articles about the decline of the church.  (I might add, I don’t read too many on how to fix it.) The decline of the church is present and it is the concern of those that are in leadership.  On Real Sports, Gumbel starts our by saying, “sport’s leaders these days are trying desperate measures to deal with golf’s desperate times.”

When Tiger Woods came on to the golf scene, the golf industry boomed, but now there is an average of a golf course closing every 48 hours. According to a Barna Group Study, there are on average nine churches that close daily in the United States. Maybe golf doesn’t have it so bad. I’ve always said that one of the effects of World War II is that men saw that “war was hell” and didn’t want to spend eternity there, so they came back home flooded the church and the church grew.  Much like the golf courses being built in the Tiger Era.

In both, the church and golf world, the focus in on rebuilding looks toward the generation of 18-35 year olds.  In this HBO story Mark King, TaylorMade President, says,”18-35 year olds playing golf are down 35%.” That is also the focus of the church on how to rebuild. King continues saying, “Golf is shrinking to the point where you are going to have only traditional people play.” Where Gumbel then adds, “making it an elite game again.”  Just pay attention to the words “traditional” and “elite”.  Do you know anyone that would like church to be that way?

There is a yearly golf convention or summit that normally focuses on new products and success stories, but this year Gumbel’s story reveals “where they normally celebrate, Mark King tells them that their house is on fire.” It is my feeling that this needs to be the next discussion at the United Methodist Church’s General Conference, but it seems that other topics will take greater value.  King says, “If we don’t progress, we will die.”

King continues by saying that golf has lost five million golfers in the past ten years and research tells them why: they are not having fun.  The HBO story then tells how golf courses are changing the game to make it more fun, i.e, free beer, larger 13” holes, . . . . Like the church, change always has opposition.  Curtis Strange, pro golfer of twenty years ago, said, “I don’t want to rig the game and cheapen it.”  To where Mark King rebuts, “There is a theme to those hanging on to the new and those hanging on to the old.”  New church starts and churches making changes to get people in the door have heard about discipleship plans being too shallow and that we are making, “baby christians”, “christianettes”, “not true believers” . . . .  Authors like Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor at Princeton, writes and speaks on the subject of youth programs in churches not discipling students and therefore, the church is becoming weak. The associate professor of Christian education at Princeton is frustrated, “while youth pastors are better trained than ever before,” she says that “kids’ faith is less sure, less widespread, and less influential.” Other “authorities” are saying that youth ministries are too much fun, so when they grow up and go to church, as adults, they find it boring.

In the Real Sports story Gumbel asks Jack Nicklaus, “arguable the best golfer ever”, is the game for the immediate gratification generation (18-35 year olds) too hard? Nicklaus answers, “Yes it is. It needs to be the game for the masses.” Gumbel then asked, “Do the changes being made, have your blessing?”  Nicklaus answers, “What difference does it make if it brings them into the difference to the game.”  This could be echoed through the halls of the church.


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