MLB’s Faith and Family events can expand our view of evangelism

MLB’s Faith and Family events can expand our view of evangelism August 25, 2023

When the Los Angeles Dodgers held their first Christian Faith and Family Day since 2019 a few weeks back, the event was noteworthy for a number of reasons. Actor Chris Pratt threw out the first pitch, a number of prominent Dodgers—including future Hall of Fame pitcher Clayton Kershaw and manager Dave Roberts—stayed after to speak, and musician Jeremy Camp performed for the fans in attendance.

Given the controversy surrounding the team’s decision earlier this season to invite, then uninvite, then reinvite the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence—a group of LGBTQ+ advocates who mock Catholic rituals and nuns as part of their work—many saw the Faith and Family Day as an olive branch to the Christian community in Los Angeles. In fact, it was largely in response to Kershaw’s prompting that the team bumped up their announcement of the event.

But while the Dodgers’ Day was perhaps the most noteworthy this season, they are far from the only team to feature an event dedicated to creating space for Christians to come celebrate their faith at the ballpark.

As Bobby Ross Jr. notes, there are eighteen Major League teams—60 percent of the league—who host similar Faith and Family nights. And while the details can vary from place to place, they continue a decades-long tradition, one that still has a lot to teach us today.

The origins of Faith and Family events

Paul Putz, the assistant director of Baylor University’s Faith & Sports Institute, found that the Baltimore Orioles started the trend with the first “Inter-Faith Night” in the 1950s. From there, it expanded to other cities but never caught on league-wide.

The modern iteration traces its roots back to 1991 when Judy Boen organized the first Christian Family Day after a St. Louis Cardinals game.

Christe Boen Mirikitani, Judy’s daughter, described how her mom “loves Jesus with all her heart, and she loves Cardinals baseball—that’s a close second. I had been babysitting for a bunch of different baseball players, and my mom knew that a lot of them had a faith in Christ.”

She notes that it “was a big step for some of those guys” to join the event. “But then it kind of paved the way for the rest of the players in the years to come. People felt comfortable in doing that.”

However, Brent High, who helped start a similar event with the Atlanta Braves in 2005 and has continued that work with other teams in the years since, cautions that there is a right way and a reckless way to go about it. He advises against what he calls “ambush evangelism” where Christians “start interfering with the fan experience.” Essentially, it’s all right, and even expected, to be public with your faith at such events, but it’s important to understand that most of the people in the stands are just there to watch baseball.

Still, such events do provide us with a unique opportunity to share the gospel with people we might not encounter otherwise. And, as Scott Lincicome writes, those opportunities are likely to continue getting harder to come by.

Socioeconomic segregation is increasing

In a recent article, Lincicome examined a study by Maxim Massenkoff and Nathan Wilmers that found our culture is becoming increasingly segregated along socioeconomic lines.

It turns out, if you want to meet people who live, think, and experience life very differently from you, church, school, and other “communitarian” places are among the worst to go. In fact, your best bet is to head to Olive Garden, Chilis, or IHOP—full-service but relatively low-price restaurants that “hit the sweet spot for socioeconomic intermingling.”

It’s important to note, though, that our increasingly siloed society is not the result of maleficent forces or the purposeful desire to seclude ourselves from others. Rather, in most places it’s just a natural byproduct of having so many of the things we need relatively close to home. Life is just easier that way, and the basic principle often extends to our churches as well.

Martin Luther King Jr. once observed that “11 a.m. Sunday is our most segregated hour,” and, generally speaking, he was right. Many of our churches do lack anything approaching the kind of diversity we will one day have in heaven.

But while there is much to gain from worshiping in community with people who experience life differently than you, we shouldn’t try to force it. After all, it’s natural for people to go where they feel most comfortable, which will often—though not always—result in churches looking a bit more homogenous than we might otherwise desire.

And that is where events like MLB’s Faith and Family nights can help us.

How churches can become the church

You see, what events like Faith and Family nights do so well is create low-barrier opportunities for people to unite around something they care about and honor God in the process. That doesn’t have to stop at baseball, though.

What if the best solution to the lack of diversity in our churches is not changing how the services look on Sunday but rather being more intentional about who we partner with to do ministry on the other days of the week? What if our churches started to see other communities of faith as potential partners rather than rivals? And what if we looked well beyond our own little slice of the city in the process?

If you feel like the Lord is calling your church to become more involved in college ministry, for example, don’t just assume that God wants you to rush off and start a Bible study aimed at bringing university students to your church. Likewise, if there seems to be momentum for helping the homeless or providing food for those who need it, is there another church or ministry already working in that space? Maybe one that is located closer to those communities and better positioned to provide for their other needs as well?

Ultimately, God’s word tends to speak about the church as a whole far more often than it speaks about individual churches, and one of the main reasons why is that we are meant to see our communities of faith as a small part of the much larger body of Christ.

So remember that whether it’s a baseball game, a food pantry, or anything in between, we can often serve God best when we don’t serve him alone.

With whom does he want you to serve today?

NOTE: Our culture’s confusion about sexuality makes headlines every day. In our latest book release, Biblical Insight to Tough Questions Vol. 12, we tackle a central question to address such confusion: Is gender binary? To read more, request your copy of Biblical Insight to Tough Questions Vol. 12 right now.

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