I’m a big soccer fan. I’m also a big USA fan. These two facts make a frustrating combination. Traditionally the USA and soccer have not been close friends. To put it frankly, we’re just not any good. We can’t control the ball, we can’t attack, we can’t defend; at least not on the same level that the rest of the world does. We even had to hire a new head coach who comes originally from a different country to lead our national program. Why can’t we do better?
I recently heard a plausible answer, and it comes down to money. The United States is the only country in the world where soccer is a ‘rich person’ sport. Picture most Saturday morning soccer programs and you might imagine a bunch of mom’s drinking Starbucks as they drive their Nike cleated kids to the immaculately groomed fields in their SUV’s. In the US we charge fees to play at the youngest levels. Unlike basketball, football, and baseball pick-up games that are played in streets and parks by groups of self directed kids, soccer is planned and scheduled by adults. In the US soccer is a ‘rich kid’ game. In the rest of the world soccer is played by any kids who can find enough material to make their own ball and a space wide enough to make a few passes. No fancy cleats. No shin guards. No painted lines and well strung nets. Just the enthusiasm of a bunch of kids and the dream to use soccer as a means to move from poverty to sustenance.
It is a very possible reality that the wealth of the US has actually hindered our ability to compete on the world level in a powerful and effective way. Our talent pool is limited by the fact that only a specific percentage of people are capable of affording the beautiful game.
I find it a fascinating conversation, and would love to make soccer more accessible to the masses with the end result being a run at the World Cup in my lifetime for the USA; but I’m even more interested to find out if there is a parallel in American Christianity. Is American Christianity a middle class sport? Even more specifically is my denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, limited by class divisions?
My own experience tells me that we thrive in middle/upper middle class environments and we struggle to effectively minister in both high income and low income contexts. Are we limited by our social class? How can we more effectively reach out with the Good News of Jesus to people who are different from us economically, both in higher and lower social brackets?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What is your experience? Have you read any good articles or books that speak to the idea that social status shapes congregational life experience? Where would you go to learn more about this?