The Rays attendance and ministry in a tourist town

Tropicana Field, empty

Tropicana Field on a weeknight

No shock, no surprise here; I am a huge Tampa Bay Rays fan. I have been to a game in every season of their existence, beside 2. And as a Rays fan who lives outside of the Bay Area, I get asked a certain question over and over again.

“Why is the stadium always empty?”

Any time I try to go into all of the details about the situation, people's eyes glaze over. They don't want to hear about the fact that the staduim is in another city, 45 minutes from Tampa. They could care less about the psychology of “crossing the bridge” for Tampa residents. They don't want to hear about camera angles and the price of the seats behind the bullpen. Most of my explanations fall on deaf ears. But since moving to Myrtle Beach, I have found a question that usually makes sense to people. When they ask me about the Rays, I reply with a question of who their NFL team is. They will always reply with the Eagles, Steelers, or Browns. This makes me wonder, “why not the Panthers”. They are quick to explain that they have always been Steelers fans and always will be. Not the local Panthers.

It makes sense. I won't give up the Bucs or Rays. They are my team. In Florida, this isn't just a sports thing, it's a community thing. Check out this article on the “Cincinnati Factor”. The term refers to people who have moved to Florida from Detroit or Toledo or Cincinnati and still maintain their identity as residents of those other cities. I am incredibly proud of my heritage as a 6 generation Tampa native. But I have only met a handful of other people, in my life, who have longterm roots in the Sunshine State. Most folks go back no farther than the '50's.

And so it is no surprise that they are all still Yankee, Tiger, and Reds fans.

I feel the Rays pain as they attempt to create a community of fans from the crowds of people. Because, by and large, the crowds aren't interested in community. They want to be left alone to watch their team on MLB.tv.

The same is true of ministry in tourist towns. As I have been in Myrtle Beach for over 5 years now, I have been amazed at the routine lack of involvement of people in the community and life of the church. This is South Carolina; we are the buckle of the Bible belt. And yet people are more interested in soccer or a good tee-time or going home to see the folks every other weekend. No one is from here and their lack of commitment to this place and to a church has created stunted, immature Christians.

Even the best are more interested in whats going on back in West Virginia or back home in the little town they are from than what is going on here.

The Rays have been smart though. They have been aggressive in pursuing younger fans. They have killer social media programs and great giveaways for kids. It has worked in my case. My boys are being raised Rays fans. The past few years, the crowds at the Rays games have been younger than any other stadium I have been to. But it is going to take time.

The same is true of ministry at the beach. The one thing that I have seen consistently draw people to the church is solid children and youth ministry.

What about you? Does your church have the same problem? How do you overcome people's lack of interest in community and commitment?

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About futonreformer

I am a pastor in the PCA serving in Myrtle Beach, SC. I am a sixth generation Tampa native and I love the Rays and Bucs!

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