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I was listening to Home Plate with Jim Memolo and Steve Sax on MLB Network Radio as I was driving between appointments on Saturday.  At the point in the conversation, they were talking about the declining participation and interest in baseball, particularly from the younger generation.

They were talking about baseball and youth in today’s society.  And the question they discussed: How do we get kids to play baseball?  Participation has dwindled through the years, especially in urban areas.  They talked about how baseball is not a game that kids just pick up and play.  You don’t see a lot of sandlot games any more.  The expense of travel baseball has hurt lower income families, and they turn to more inexpensive alternatives.  Baseball is not passed down from generation to generation as much either.  Even kids that played through high school have backed away from baseball in recent years.

I love baseball.  I’ve already watched/listened to parts of at least seven Cardinal games this Spring Training alone.   Growing up, I would go outside for hours, hitting wiffle balls in the backyard, throwing a tennis ball against the side of the barn to work on fly balls and grounders.  I loved playing Little League.  I still play softball on a regular basis – even planning to play on two teams this summer!

But I have talked to a lot of people who just don’t get into baseball.  I was having a conversation just yesterday with somebody who said that he went to a baseball game and felt bored.  He just wasn’t that interested in it because he says there isn’t much going on.  I think he was vocalizing what many people are going through.

I came across an article in the Washington Post (click here to read it) that also addresses the issue.  In the article, it is mentioned that the average age of 50% of baseball’s viewers are 55 or older, according to Nielsen ratings.  According to ESPN’s annual report of the top 30 favorite sports stars, for the first time, there wasn’t a single baseball player on the list.

Through all of this, through all of these conversation, statistics and articles, one thing came to my mind: this is a familiar conversation.  It’s a familiar conversation, not because it’s been going on about baseball for the last several years – although, it has.  But it’s a familiar conversation because it’s one that the Church has been having for decades.

Participation and membership in the Church has been in decline in America for quite some time.  And the conversation is always centered around: what can we do to attract younger generations?  And so, you saw the rise of the “fun” youth group – the attractional model was the way to do things if you wanted to see increased numbers: throw a party, have lots of crazy games, turn up the volume on the music.

I’m not saying that these are bad things, but ultimately, what we have seen is that they are ineffective in the long-term.  Yes, you may have an awesome youth group with a ton of youth, but what has happened?  Church came to be a place where they were entertained, not discipled.  And the drop-out rate once youth graduated from high school was staggering… it is staggering.  I’ve seen statistics ranging from 70-90% of teenagers drop out of church after high school.  That’s a lot of people who are losing interest in the Church.

Just a quick search will turn up all the answers, supposedly.  Millennials want this from the church; no, they want that instead.  Millennials want the church to look a certain way, or think a certain way.  But the answers are rarely that simple.

Here’s what I do know, and I don’t claim to have all the answers, but people want something of value in their lives.  If it feels like a waste of time, they will look for other ways to spend their time.  I believe that people will stick to something as long as they see the value in it.

For me, the value in the Church is not that my ticket to heaven gets punched, but that it gives me an opportunity to build relationships with God and with other people.  For me, the value in baseball is not that it’s the coolest sport, but that it gives me an opportunity to think about the game that I grew up loving and marvel at those who play it so well.  Those are the reasons, the purposes I have for two of my greatest loves in life (you know, besides my beautiful family).

And maybe that’s what baseball and the Church need to understand.  Do they understand their purpose?  Do they understand why those who love it do so deeply?  At its core, what is baseball about?  At its core, what is the Church about?  When we can answer those questions, then we can begin to articulate the value to the next generation.

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