If your church feels like it’s nearing its expiration date, try pickling it. By that, of course, I mean, try pickleball.

When I was in college, a few of my friends took a pickleball course while I took racquetball. I thought they had picked an irrelevant and honestly, inferior sport. Racquetball is intense, athletic, and enduring. I couldn’t imagine a world where I would regret choosing racquetball over pickleball. But for the last eight years I’ve lived in a place where the nearest racquetball courts are about ten miles away and require a membership fee to be able to play. So even though I have the equipment and the willingness to play, I have not played racquetball for several years.

But over the last few years, I began to hear a long forgotten word spoken in ever increasing frequency and enthusiasm–pickleball. And then I noticed a consistent crowd at a town park just down the road from my house. So one day I decided to drop in and see what was going on. The scene I witnessed just might be life-changing.

I saw young adults, older men and women, children and youth. I heard a few different languages being spoken. I saw expert players and obvious beginners. More than that, I saw kindness, encouragement, and plenty of laughter. Some had expensive paddles while others had paddles that were cheaper than a fast-food meal. All social distinctions had fallen away until it was just a community of humans enjoying their shared love of a game.

Several differences between a lively pickleball court and a church gathering are good and should be maintained. For example, calling attention to yourself when you are about to serve, while required on a pickleball court, would be distasteful in a congregational setting. Keeping score is essential to any meaningful pickleball match, but such a practice too frequently deprives a church of all meaning. Friendly banter and even some light heckling adds to the joyful atmosphere of a pickleball court, but I’m afraid most preachers would find the practice somewhat distracting.

Setting aside these important differences, there are other distinctions that are more lamentable. Few churches foster the level of intergenerational engagement that is typical of a pickleball court. Few churches are so expressive of joy. Few churches are blessed with the kind of diversity that is so common on our local court. How did the church come to be this way? It wasn’t always the case

I have been reading Mark Love’s It Seemed Good to the Holy Spirit and to Us (the topic of an upcoming podcast episode). At the end of chapter three, Love makes this observation:

From its inception the Christian movement has been multicultural. It is not a mono-cultural movement, expressible only in one language or set of embodied practices…Not only does this make Christianity a universal faith, but also insists that no single cultural, or national expression of Christianity can be termed normative.

And yet, modern congregations are frequently mono-cultural. I was recently blessed to have a conversation with Rick Atchley (another upcoming podcast episode) whose congregation has made significant strides toward being truly multicultural. In that conversation, he made the observation that, even congregations that have a diverse membership are often guilty of making a single cultural expression of faith normative while expecting others to accommodate to that norm. This should not be.

I think our churches have much to learn from this humble sport. What better way to learn than to convert some unused parking space for some pickleball. Until then, find a local court. Watch. Listen. Learn. Love. And if you’re so inclined, grab a paddle and join in the fun.


Drew Baker of Lewisville, North Carolina is ridiculously blessed to be married to Sarah and to have his son Jude and daughter Rowan. He is grateful and excited for the opportunity to serve CGU as the Associate Executive Director. He is a part-time minister at New Story Church, adjunct professor for Abilene Christian University, and is a photographer. He has also recently published a book on church leadership titled, The Duct Tape Letters. Drew hold a BS, MDiv, and DMin from Abilene Christian University. Drew is a native of West Texas, he loves all the outdoor activities North Carolina has to offer along with indoor activities such as reading, writing, and eating.