For Churches Playing KC Royals-Style Small Ball

I’ll admit, I’m no baseball fan. But I’m a huge sucker for a good underdog story, especially if the underdogs break a few conventional rules along the way. Did you know the Kansas City Royals had the worst home run record of the season?! And yet, they’re now headed to the World Series. How is that possible?

They decided to play small ball. They gave up swinging for the fences and decided to focus on getting–and keeping–players on base. In other words, power isn’t the only thing, and it isn’t the most important thing.

I think it’s working. And I think that’s encouraging for those of us who attend small, shoestring budget churches who couldn’t play the home run game of power even if we wanted.

Here’s what caught my attention this morning. It was this one sentence from Time’s article “The Kansas City Royals are the Future of Baseball:”

In the post-steroid era, the game is going through a remarkable transition.

The Church is heading toward a post-steroid era too, and in many ways,  of course, it’s already there. Think about it. We don’t have a predominance in the cultural story of Christendom anymore. People no longer go to church by default. Denominations that have always had money are finding themselves facing a threadbare future. Ten years ago many pastors were going to conferences to figure out how to grow fast, how to become a satellite church, how to mimic the success of the mega-churches. Not so much anymore.

And all the while, in the quiet fringes, small churches have been building something else entirely; something based not on what has been conventional church wisdom but on something not unlike the strategy of small ball. Forget finding a flashy senior pastor and hire a team of part-time co-pastors instead. Forget buying a building and spend that money serving the community. Don’t track growth in numbers, but encourage meaningfulness.

What do you do when you’re a church with minimal resources? Forget the fences. Just put the ball in play. You may go a good number of seasons without any playoff action, but we’re about the long game, right?

The Church is going through a big transition in this post-steroid era. Regardless of the size of our congregations, I think our focus is shifting away from some of the “conventional” metrics of the past and turning instead toward one, primary thing: health. I think that’s really, really good news.

Big or small, healthy churches are where it’s at.

Steroids are out. It’s time to hit the gym and focus on what we’ve got going for us. If that’s a big brick building with community clout, awesome. Use it wisely. If that’s twenty dollars and a handful of impassioned young adults, awesome. Let them loose.

I think Jesus is a fan of small ball. I’m not sure what else you call him and his twelve raggedy disciples living in a small fishing village in Galilee. We should trust that we’ve got what we need, even if our stats aren’t that impressive. Whatever our size, let’s play his game and not ours. Deal?


  1. Thanks Danielle. Like the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA finals, it is great to see teams defy expectations and re-define success — what it is and how to get there. A number of commentators have reflected on the absence of the top ten baseball teams with the highest payroll from post-season success this year. You might enjoy this blog about the KC Royals on the road and kids rooting for the opposing team.

  2. What a GREAT article, Richard! I love that. I love that the kids said it was hard to hate this team. Wow- if people say that about our churches, we’d be doing something right.

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