The Church: Learning from German football?

Remember when German football was shite? No? Well ill tell you.  For those of you under 21 it was the Summer of 2000. Anyone much older than that will know that Germany/West Germany have nearly always been good. Except that the team of 99-2001 was a rare vintage, they were poor. In 2000 they finished bottom of the group at euro 2000, losing to Romania, sweden and more embarrassingly Kevin Keegans England.
The German FA decided to adopt a new philosophy,  one that would start by changing how football was coached and played, all the way from junior level to the national team. They identified that those 7-8 yr olds in 2000 might only be successful if the system of football was different.

At the top, the rest of the world didn’t see this, at least not yet.

In Oct 2000, Kevin Keegans England lost 1-0 to Germany, old Wembleys last game, kevin keegans last game.
In 2001 England did something new too, they appointed a non English manager, Sven. They also heralded a golden generation. Needing to avenge that result from still fairly rubbish Germany , Sven took england in sept 2001 to the olympic stadium germany. England were purring, the world looked on, at HT it was tight, 1-1, by full time england won 5-1.  Both teams qualified for the world cup in 2002.
England that night.. that team: seaman, g neville, Campbell,  ferdinand, cole, becks, Scholes, Gerrard, barmby,heskey , owen. Give or take an aging keeper were young, vibrant and set to win. Nobody knew what the germans were up to.

Englands system has barely changed. The best it got for that golden generation was that win in germany, save the qf in portugal 2004.

5 managers in 14 years for England,  none of them having much longer than 3-4 years.

What happened to the germans? In 2010 an almost unheralded crop of teenagers turned up at the world cup, thrashed ageing england, and lost in the Sf, but no worries, even though they lose their manager, they keep the brains behind the overhaul of the system as head coach and then just go and win the ultimate prize in 2014. German football is on a high.
Yet this was unlikely in 2000.

So, what can the church community learn from the german football team?
Here’s a few thoughts….
1. Does the national church have a philosophy of youthwork practice that looks like germany circa 2001-2014 or England?
Its fair to say that the church is in the doldrums, all but a few denominations are shrinking, and many local groups are in funeral management mode. Yet what is often the response to a failing church (or england team)- get a new manager/vicar at the top. Theyll change things, theyll get us back to the halcyon days of ____ ( insert appropriate date pre 1970)
What will the vicar do most… spend time with the golden, ageing generation.  The baby boomers whove stayed faithful,  clinged onto power and influence but are now in retirement. Some are still there…just…
Some of the old guard of german football had to be removed or re educated to create the right environment and vacuum for the new.

Sometimes there’s a golden generation of young people in our churches too. When say 3 families move into the area and all of a sudden theres 8 12 year olds, who stick around and grow up together. Yet those 8 mask the generation above  (the 25 yr olds who only attend churches in university towns) and the generation below, or the generation of those outside. These few form the focus for a short while… and what then…?

2. What needs to change to make it more likely that every 8 year old in the country has a decent opportunity to become part of the Christian community? And continue to be accepted there in 14 years time?
Is this not the plan? Yes of course its difficult- but should the church not at least attempt it?
But how…..
Its one thing teaching an 8 yr old to play football differently. Yes but what if every church had a plan to engage long term with every 8 year old, and their family in its local community? For the next 14 years…

Just like the 8 year olds that the German FA decided to start investing in.
I guess where its done well, messy church is helping.
But how is this part of a new philosophy? What happens 5 years on to those young people whove outgrown, but got used to church that looks like messy church- whats the plan then? Does a seperated youth ministry cut the mustard anymore to them when theyve had 4 years of craft and games… or 4 years of being part of an inclusive community suitable for them and what next. .

Yet what would a 14 year plan look like, starting with the 8 year olds in the local community?
The church needs a new narrative in its philosophy of working with young people.  It needs to think that one day the 8 year olds in its community are the fresh , saved by grace, vibrant leaders now and will be in 14 years time. And in working from scratch with them, gives them opportunity to stretch their faith ( not just reveive it) , doubt it (not dismiss questions) , be challenged (not dumbed down) and more than ever, be listened to and learned from.

Sometimes on detached we meet some streetwise 8-9 yr olds, some want to show you their new bike or something theyve learned, like a gymnastics trick or their new mobile phone. Some 8 year olds never leave the house (Unless driven by their parents). Some 8 year olds are in your sunday school groups.
Yet at 8 they want to learn, discover, question, please.. dont they? so how will the church make them leaders – not just recipients, allow them to enquire and be inquisitive about faith – not just given it…

Can the church afford not to invest in the current groups of 8 year olds as people made in God’s image, both now as children and throughout the next 14 years.  What might need to change in the same philosophy of children/youth work/ministry to ensure, not just the future of the church, but a kingdom community where todays children and young people are central not the added on extra that get token resources.

What can the church learn from the german football team.. believe that one day the world will see todays 8 year olds flourishing in the community of the church and flourishing in the community- full stop. And what institution is in the best place to ask this vital question, with the holistic well being of young people in mind? – the church should be…the church has human flourishing in mind, or at least should have- and so how might an 8 year old flourish in the church today? tomorrow? or next year?  what might need to change , die or be addressed for this to happen?

oh and dont just appoint a childrens/youthworker…

As an addition, the german team that won so convincingly was made up not of of one superstar and several also rans, but a collective group that didnt really have one star, a messi or ronaldo or neymar. According to the @nomadpodcast german culture and corporations are leading a change in reduced hierachical dependancy in organisations, more team than leader and in some way a model for an egalitarian leadership in emerging church. However for a better view of this listen to @nomad interview with Dave Andrews.


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