Declining Church Attendance and Super Bowl 49… It Is Never the Last Play that Loses the Game

In reflection, I believe these three iconic moments will describe Super Bowl 49:

  1. Katy Perry’s Halftime Show
  2. A Dead Kid’s insurance commercial
  3. The Seahawks’ decision to pass on the last play

Media and fans alike have been obsessing over Seahawks’ coach Pete Carroll’s decision to throw the ball on the one-yard line and the resulting interception by a little-known Patriot defender. With arguably the league’s best short yardage rusher in their backfield, a player known as Beast Mode, and momentum solidly on their side, the Seahawks saw their hopes for a second consecutive championship crushed in one poor play call.

Except that the Super Bowl was lost before that play.

It is never the last play that loses the game.

The Seahawks had already allowed the Patriots to come back from a 10-point deficit with one quarter left to play. Seahawks defensive misalignment and poor tackling marked the fourth quarter. The Patriots had practiced defending a short yardage “pick” play all week.

While it is the last play that we will scrutinize and remember, the Seahawks lost Super Bowl 49 in the 14 minutes before that pass.

In the church, we often treat failure in a similar way, placing blame – for unmet expectations and less than promised results – on programs, ministers and marketing, rather than seeing a larger pattern of decision making over a longer period of time. Or, even worse, in church it is easy to celebrate something as a win – more people, more buildings or more money – and miss the ACTUAL loss of no new congregants connected to vision or no advance in discipleship.

It will not be the last program, the last pastor, or the last marketing piece that continues the decline of your church.

It will be the lack of spiritual preparation.

It will be the focus on discipleship as a product, study or theory and not a process of individual spiritual development.

It will be the insistence on answers that are quick, easy and safe for everyone in the congregation.

It will be forgetting what you are called to do and trying every next “trick” to grow your church.

It will be wishing for different leaders and failing to lead the ones that God has already provided.

It is never the last play that loses the game.

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