Monday, August 25, 2014

Fantasy Evangelism (2014 Revision)

Fantasy Sports are a huge part of the sports industry in the United States. Various estimates I read value the industry at $2-5 billion per year. Most of that is advertising revenue on the various fantasy sports websites. Last weekend I attended a Buffalo Bills preseason game and one of the four scoreboards seemed dedicated to giving fantasy updates from around the league... for PRESEASON GAMES!!!!!!

So I got to thinking about how churches could use fantasy sports that so many of our male members are involved in as an evangelistic tool.

I can't believe this is a real thing!!!!!!!
In 2013 I worked in a couple of leagues to build community by having weekly awards. They were both ESPN leagues. At first I tried to use the message feature built in to the ESPN website, but it didn't work very well. I think guys go to the website to work on their team, not chit-chat about the season.

My other league was a 20 team league, which was a bit crazy. But another player started a Facebook group for the league members to discuss trades and trash talk. It had a lot more interaction. I suspect this worked better because people come to Facebook to chit-chat so are more willing to engage.

Within in the Facebook group I published weekly "awards" that I felt met my goal. It's not like all 20 guys commented on the post each week, but the awards created some continuity. They helped us keep track of how other teams were going. And they provided an opportunity for some more trash talk.

Here's the list I used:
  • Most Points Scored (Season)
  • Most Points Scored Against (Season)
  • Worst Winner (Weekly winner with the lowest score)
  • Biggest Loser (Losing team with the highest score)
  • Blowout of the Week (Matchup with the greatest winning margin)
  • Keeping it Close (Matchup with the smallest winning margin)
I also tried to include a weekly Trivia Tidbit. For example, "3 teams have an 8-3 record. 3 teams have a 7-4 record. 3 teams have a 6-5 record."

You may come up with different ways of creating relationships. It's my hope that my experiences might spark your creative juices. Just keep in mind that fantasy sports can be about a lot more than just winning.

Here are 10 Fantasy Football Commandments that I came up with last year that might also help out your fantasy league be an evangelistic tool.

  1. Use your imagination when inviting people to your league. Perhaps the unchurched husband of your members would like to get involved. Have you met a guy at the local diner or coffee shop who might like to get involved?
  2. Make sure you have a draft party. I know most drafts can be done on the computer, but remember the goal is face-to-face time. So take the time to get together and write it out. It's more work, but it will be worth it. Maybe use the church building or even better for building relationships would be using someone's home.
  3. As commissioner work hard to keep the emails and online comments (trash talk) going throughout the year. It's so easy to just let the league run on auto pilot. Community will only be built through intentional interaction.
  4. Do you have a church Christmas party or special event you can invite the unchurched participants to attend?
  5. Develop a list of awards so everyone still has an interest in participating. 
    1. Have a vote for the most creative team name.
    2. Keep track of the biggest win by an underdog.
    3. Longest winning/losing streak.
    4. Highest and lowest weekly scores over the course of the year.
    5. Team with the most injuries.
    6. Team with the most single digit losses.
    7. Anything else you can think of.
  6. Have physical trophies for the winner, runner-up, and maybe consolation winner. This will provide continuity from year to year. You could even have a plaque somewhere in the church if you want to go all out.
  7. You MUST have an end of season awards night. Bring everyone together and eat lots of guy food.
  8. Plan to watch a final or the Superbowl together. Many people have standing plans for the Superbowl, but it could work great for an earlier playoff game. 
  9. NEVER have a league prayer meeting for your fantasy teams!!! Did I need to include that?
  10. FOOD! Involve food whenever you can. It just makes all the get togethers work better.
If you can apply most of these suggestions, there's a very high likelihood that you'll know these guys a lot better at the end of the season than the beginning. Only God knows where that relationship will go from there.

I'm always looking for additional ideas, so please leave a comment if you have any.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Room to Grow

On Sunday Rory McIlroy won his fourth major golf championship: The US PGA Championship. In doing so he out played crowd favorite and winner of multiple majors, Phil Mickleson. He also staved off another up and coming young golfer in Ricky Fowler, and withstood a charge from world #4, Henrik Stenson.

McIlroy has now won 3 consecutive tournaments including two Majors. He is undoubtedly the hottest golfer on the planet and deservedly the #1 player in the world.

McIlroy is a golf prodigy and has had consistent success since first swinging a golf club at age 2. This photo montage by the BBC does a good job of tracking his career to this point.

In total, Rory has now won 4 Majors, joining Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Bobby Jones as the only players to win 4 majors at the age of 25 of less. As Tiger Woods has now not won a major since 2008 Rory looks like the player most likely to assume Tiger's spotlight. This article and it's graphs provides a good summary of the immense challenge that lies ahead for Rory if he's to catch either of them.

Tiger won his last PGA Championship in 2007. At that time Rory was 17. He was a talented golfer who already had an impressive list of accomplishments, but he didn't even turn professional until later in 2007. As Tiger lifted the trophy at Valhalla in 2007 no one thought a 17 year old amateur golfer in Northern Ireland might have a legacy to one day match Tiger and even Jack Nicklaus.

But there were some people who believed in McIlroy's potential. His parents, his coaches, his friends all supported his dream of becoming a champion golfer. They invested in his career at an early age. They spent money on him. The spent time on him. They passed on their experiences and helped him improve areas of his game that had deficiencies. While Rory appropriately gains all the credit for his play and accomplishments the culmination of his practice, focus, and skill, it's intriguing to consider how much of this would have been possible without the support and encouragement he's received throughout his life.

I wonder if sometimes our expectations for young people in our churches are too low. Look around your church. Is there a chubby faced 17yo who might one day make a mighty impact in this world for God? Can you see that person? Is anyone spending time with that person and helping them grow? I wonder how many 17 year olds we leave to find their own way in life because we don't purposefully pass on our experience and help them improve life skills where they have deficiencies.

Many churches invest heavily in their youth and have vibrant youth ministries run by fantastic youth ministers. But I wonder if you, the reader of this blog, make a spiritual investment in the lives of any young people? Are you more likely to ask a teenage boy about trying out for the football team, or his backswing, than you are to pray with him? Do you ever pray with him?

Young people in the church need to know that they're valued. We do this not just by throwing money at them, but by letting them know that we care about them and believe that God has a role for them in His mission. We equip them and help them identify their spiritual gifts. We give them opportunities to participate in the work of God now as training for the rest of their lives.

Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.  Ephesians 4:12-13

BONUS MATERIAL: Since I started writing this post news has broken of Robin Williams death. As a tribute, here's his explanation of the origins of golf. :-)

Monday, August 4, 2014

That Wasn't Me ... Or Was It?

Ray Rice is one of my favourite NFL players not playing for a team I support. He's a dynamic playmaker and I try to get on my fantasy football teams whenever I can.

But that's changed.

In February, video emerged of Rice dragging his unconscious fiance (now wife), Janay Palmer, out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino. They had both walked onto the elevator but then Janay was dragged out unconscious.

Even Rice's lawyers at the time conceded that a "physical altercation" had occurred, although they chose to describe it as "minor".

So let's call a spade a spade. Although we don't know exactly what happened in that elevator. Ray Rice pushed or hit his fiance that whether as a result of the blow or from hitting her head on a hard surface she was knocked out. The not-so-technical names for this behaviour are: domestic violence and assault.

There. is. no. excuse.

Throughout his first six years in the NFL, Rice had no record of any off field bad behaviour. In fact, Rice had been the public face of anti-bullying campaigns in and around Baltimore.

This track record makes Rice's behaviour in that elevator appear very much out of character. However, the physical and emotional damage to Janay is still very real whether it's typical or not. We should not underestimate the hurt that one act can cause.

Last week the NFL announced that Rice would receive a 2 game suspension for his actions that night. This means that he will sit out the first 2 games of the 2014 season against division rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

On Thursday Rice held a media conference and publicly apologised to his wife. Without going into specifics (and he doesn't need to) he acknowledged that his "actions that night were inexcusable". He needed to do this.

One thing Rice said several times that I have heard other public figures say when making public apologies is the phrase, "That wasn't me."

I think Rice is doing a lot of the things that are necessary to redeem a bad situation. I wish him well in the future. I hope he continues in counseling to address the issues that lead to that violent outburst.

But I know this. Until Rice (or anyone needing to change behaviour) can own up to the fact that it was him that night, he's not going to make much progress.

I think what he means is "That wasn't typical of me. It wasn't characteristic of me. It was against my beliefs and expectations that I and others have for myself. I don't want to ever do it again." And those are excellent thoughts that I hope are true.

But it was him.

He has to own up that he was angry and violent. Maybe there were other factors such as alcohol involved. I don't know. But that was him.

Acknowledging our weaknesses, our struggles, and our darkness creates room for God to enter our lives and work his transformation. Dismissing them as mistakes, or a moment, or not the real me, means that we ignore them and continue through life not knowing how we'll react the next moment that particular fuse is lit.

For that sake of his wife. For the sake of his son. For the sake of anyone else close to him, I hope Rice can say, "That was me, but it's not who I am anymore."

This type of transformation is a key element of God's presence in our lives. In Colossians 3:7-8 Paul could write to the church and remind them, "You used to walk in these ways in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips."

A few lines later in v 12 he continues, "Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience...."

Paul thought it was helpful for us to remember and own who we were. Only then, with God's help, can we become the man or woman God wants us to become.

(For another perspective on Ray Rice that picks up on the same phrase, I appreciated this article on