Associated Press/Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast

Churches should stay away from the MLB way


A couple weeks ago one of my favorite podcasts, Gleeman and the Geek, disappeared from iTunes. But within a day or two it was back, with hosts Aaron Gleeman and John Bonnes explaining that iTunes, had removed it without any notice or warning. As they dug deeper they found out that Major League Baseball had demanded iTunes to remove several podcasts that infringed upon MLB trademarks. In Gleeman and Bonnes’ case it was because “Minnesota Twins” was a part of the podcast’s title. Once they removed that phrase the issue was resolved, but it points to a more significant issue.

Major League Baseball is known for it’s strict protection of content and brand. The only place to look for current video is MLB.com, not YouTube or Vimeo. This fits with an ongoing penchant throughout MLB toward aggressive traditionalism, whether it’s in marketing or in the use of advanced statistics (think Billy Beane and Moneyball). MLB is a case study in alienating younger generations, and the church should take note on how not to do things the MLB way.

Lesson 1: Refuse to share your content. In MLB’s case this is largely about money. In the church’s case it is often tribalism or fear of the message being changed. But making a message or product widely available is good for the brand whether it is baseball or ministry. Social sharing creates awareness and a positive reputation. It draws people, especially younger people.

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Lesson 2: Build a fence around your brand. MLB seeks to wipe away any “misuse” of their trademarks. Legalities aside, they’re protecting the wrong thing. To have dozens of podcasts talking about baseball teams and the game of baseball is good for the league, but all MLB saw was a trademark infringement. They missed the forest for the trees. The church must be careful not to build fences to keep out the “unwanted.” In fact, if more of those “unwanted” went away talking about our churches positively it would be fantastic.

Lesson 3: Refuse to try anything new. Whether it’s social media, podcasting, or the use of new statistical measurements, MLB is grindingly slow to make adjustments. The rest of the world has passed them by and they’re still holding fast to “the right way to do things.” Churches do this, too, and it’s the quickest way to become irrelevant.

Baseball is a wonderful game and will continue to be so no matter how MLB mismanages its image. The church is a magnificent place, too, the design of God to reach the world. No matter how we botch things, the gospel will still hold true and save people. But that doesn’t mean we should stick to our guns on old, ineffective ways of doing things and refusing to advance. If we do, while truth will still be true, fewer people, especially the young, will hear it. 

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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