America’s pastime is one of the least popular sports on national television, and one of the lowest attended major league sports. Why?
It’s often just not that fun to watch.
The particularities of the statistics and rules of the game mean that often the best strategy for winning is also the most boring to watch if you don’t understand the careful math behind it (I am among the many who don’t).
When Jesse Cole bought a minor league baseball team called the Savannah Sand Gnats in 2015, he knew that small crowds, slow games, and low interest were just part of the ballgame.
So he changed the game.
The Bananas are Born
The Savannah Sand Gnats became the Savannah Bananas and set on the course to become one of the most beloved teams in baseball. The team sells out every game and has a 15,000-person waiting list for tickets. The Bananas have more followers on Tiktok than the New York Yankees and are a tourist draw for the city of Savannah itself.
How did Cole and the Bananas do it? By rethinking every possible element of the experience with the goal of killing all of the golden calves and making it as fun as physically possible. Much of what has kept MLB in its current pattern is its deep connections to its traditions. As “America’s pastime,” it can feel constrained to the true anathema of innovation – the way things have always been done.
The Bananas don’t feel that pressure. As a (formerly) unremarkable minor league team, they had the freedom to do whatever they liked, and what they liked included dancing players, coordinated chants, a 65 and over female dance team called the Banana Nanas, and Cole himself, in a bright yellow tux and top hat, at every single game.
People love the Bananas not because they’re a great team but because Cole understood that people come to sporting events not just for the athletic performance but for the fun of hot dogs and being part of something alongside everyone wearing the same colors and cheering. Cole understood the true product his team sold, and instead of leaning away from what people loved to provide them what he thought they should love, he leaned into it as worthy and celebrated it with them.
Being the Bananas
In the church world, we can easily get sucked into our traditions, into the way things have always been. We can also quickly get into the mindset that it is our role to give people what we think they should want, being dismissive of what they love. As a youth pastor in my day job, I have heard many peers and older adults lament young people only come to church to hang out with their friends. What if we could take the Bananas approach?
Yes, your friends are here! And we are going to do fun things together! Maybe we’ll even make new friends! Why is the spiritual discipline of joy, fellowship, and community inherently less worthy than disciplines of self-denial and study?
Suppose your ministry comes most alive during coffee hour, and people are late to bible study because they are having a donut. Why not embrace that the best ministry your community does is over donuts and coffee? Why not buy the excellent coffee and celebrate that time as sacred and work your congregation is called to?
What standard of seriousness are we holding ourselves to, and to what purpose? Does that sense of solemnity serve God, or do we have more to learn from Jesus, who went to parties, drew in the dirt, and was deeply unimpressed by the properly done religion?
What would it look like to go a little bit Bananas in your church context this summer? What silly ideas deserve a bit more sunlight? How could you give yourself the distance from the seriousness of the major leagues to embrace the goodness and joy already in your midst to provide them with the space they deserve?
Learn more about the Savannah Bananas here, and let us know how your team is going to go a bit bananas this summer!