A Turn for the Worse? Maybe.

December 9, 2005

I apologize in advance to a section of this blog’s participants. Many of you are from outside Sacramento and Northern California, and therefore my regional comments are going to seem distant. Second, just as many of you are not basketball fans and today’s blog subject may be lost on you. But I hope to apply my observation to a much larger arena (no pun intended) than basketball and Sacramento.

Right now, the local basketball team, the Kings, are awful. I mean, they are embarrassing to watch. Three seasons ago, they lost only 2 of their 41 home games. Last night, they lost their 7th game at home out of 13. They sit in last place. This morning on the sports radio station the callers were blaming the coach, the players, the general manager and even the League. I believe two groups were not blamed that need to share it: The fans and the owners. Why those two?

The fans cause problems for their team because of such high expectations. Kings fans have had six playoff seasons in a row and the fans expect the same this year. As they begin to lose at home, the pressure builds near the end of the game. As the fans get nervous, so do the players. During last night’s loss to Houston, a television announcer commented (when Houston was losing by 13) that all the Rockets had to do was get close and the pressure of the fans would cause Sacramento to implode. That is exactly what happened. I predict that the Kings will put it together next time they go on a long road trip, believe it or not.

But the owners also must take responsibility. They have spent the last four years going on the cheap for new players. They are so preoccupied with building casinos and purchasing companies that they haven’t wanted to lose money with the Kings. After all, the team sells out every game, so they have scrimped and saved by only paying for five good players at a time. Now, they have no decent bench players at all. They also have no star to rely on in stressful times (one of maybe four teams in the league without a legitimate go-to-guy).

I am curious to see how their demise affects this city. For the last five years, as the Kings have been winning, the city has also seen unprecedented growth, both in terms of people and property values. Most home values have tripled since 1999. During that time, the number one value in town was “success”. This affected the religious community as well. Every church in town has been compared with the other churches in town to see who was the meteoric star on the horizon. Now, the housing market has collapsed. Now, the Kings are collapsing. Now interest rates are rising, so no one can re-mortgage their home again to buy more toys with. Now, Sacramento has to live like the rest of the world again. I will be surprised to see if it has a positive affect on the community.

As you look at your community, you will see seasons like this. Seasons when everything that had been going right suddenly takes a turn for the worse. Usually, three things happen during that time. First, those who were only there for a good time will leave. Fair weather Kings fans won’t renew their seasons tickets. People will grab whatever equity they can and move. Second, some will begin to complain bitterly about how much they hate the town. They won’t move, but they will make others miserable by their comments. Third, a much smaller group will decide to start making a difference in the areas that matter the most. This is usually when prayer champions and new, important ministries are often born.

I wait to see what will come of this downturn. I hope it is the release of new God-things.

UPDATE: You might find this blog entry from Internet Monk interesting on this issue I bring up here.


  1. I like your corrolation between people’s moods/behaviors and the success of their sports team. I’ve noticed this same thing in other communities, as well as, smaller groups of people. These are groups who allow their state of mind to be attached to or synchronized with a “shining star” of some sort; be it a person or a sports team. If this team or person is enjoying success, the group is happy and light-hearted. If the “star” is unsuccessful or falls out of the spotlight, the group becomes unhappy, depressed or even agree. The latter is seen when sports fans, who just witness their team lose, go out and start fights or abuse their families. I guess the lesson there is to not “attach” ourselves to such temporal “shining stars”.

  2. You are absolutely right about the way that some cities can go berzerk when their team wins!? I can’t imagine how a person’s emotions must be so screwed up as to allow themselves to lose total control just because they got what they wanted. It begs the question, “What is it you really want in life”

  3. Good comparison. As a California native I’ve seen this cycle before, albeit without an NBA team to blame. Years ago, during construction of Shasta Dam, the local communities exploded. People came from all over the country to work on the project. When the dam was finished, people moved on and the communities fizzled out. About the same time we saw the rise and fall of the timber industry in Northern California. Then, Commercial and recreational fisheries from San Francisco to Crescent City saw their feast to famine cycle. Mare Island in Vallejo was once a busy shipyard where the Navy built and serviced ships and submarines. Vallejo boomed during the Mare Island years, but it became a depressing place when the shipyard closed. Even Marine World, when it came to town, was unable to completely restore the community. The same thing happened in Sacramento when the decision was made to close McClelland and Mather Air Force Base. I remember the anger and sense of betrayal felt by the surrounding communities affected by the closings. Real estate has also had its highs and lows, but now there are no more bargains to be had in California. And look what happened in the bay area as a result of the dot.com bust; there has been a quiet exodus of jobs and people. All of these communities seemed to lose their purpose, or their soul, when they lost the reason for their success.

    This cycle has been happening in California since the trend was set in the gold rush days. People come here hoping to find a fortune. Few find it, yet the spirit of the 49er lives on so people still come. They come from parts of the country where winters are harsh, or the humidity is oppressive. They are in love with the fantasy of sunny California and the beautiful people they see in the media. They’ve heard the rags to riches stories. But what attracts many is the promise of a freedom to do and be anything. The laid-back California lifestyle beckons. Unfortunately, things have changed; people now work two or three jobs, commute long hours each way to and from work, spend much of their time away on business, or share housing in order to get by in this high cost of living paradise. Pursuing success, California style, cuts deep into time spent with family, friends, and the church.

    So, how does all this affect the church when community success falters? I suspect the church will suffer, to some degree, along with the community. Tough times can last for years so those who remain should not count on a quick fix to restore success. The community will come back, it might come back different, but it will be back. My heart tells me those who remain will need perseverance and a heart that’s willing to make adjustments and join God in whatever He is doing in the community, even if that means doing things differently in the church.

    What areas matter most? I don’t know, but I hope the Lord reveals it to us. I know it’s not the Kings; that’s the path of vicarious living no matter how fun they are to watch. I think the Lord made us for our own adventure purpose, and that’s what I’m looking for. If the church has a purpose that transcends community success, what is it?

  4. Seraph: I suspect that you are very correct in your analysis of what the problem is. We buy into the ideal of sunny California, the home of the perpetual “gold strike”. If Narnia was the place where it was “always winter and never Christmas”, then maybe people come to California hoping it will be “always Christmas and never winter”. I think individual churches will be affected to the degree that they reflect the attitude of the community. A church that is very set on success meaning money, attendance and a snazzy building will go through bust and boom with the rest. The church that seeks to be God’s agent in a world that at times has messed-up values, will ride the storms with a level of effectiveness.

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