In just a few short days, The Summit Church will descend upon the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) for Church at the Ballpark. This is a unique opportunity for us as a church, since we normally meet in several locations throughout Raleigh-Durham. But on September 15th, we will come together as one church in one location.
If you were at DBAP when we did this in 2011, you know that it was an amazing and encouraging experience. But many of you may still be wondering, Why? Why go through the hassle of meeting at a baseball stadium? Why drive the extra 30 minutes away from my campus to be with thousands of people I don’t know? Why have big church events like this at all?
I admit: we don’t do this because it’s easy. The logistics of pulling off something like Church at the Ballpark make my head spin. But we believe that events like this are worth it. Here’s why:
1. The church is an assembly.
I often hear arguments against the multi-site strategy from people who insist that the essence of church is assembly. The essence of a New Testament local church, however, is not assembly but covenant body. Otherwise the church would only exist when the members were gathered together. Covenant, not assembly, is the essence of the local church.
Even though assembly is not the most central feature of church, it is still a much-needed function. In Greek, the word “church” (ekklesia) actually has the connotation of an assembly, a gathering. The local church is not merely an assembly, but it is an assembly, and assemblies . . . well, they assemble.
We have no business calling ourselves a local church if we never gather as one body. Think of the church like a family. We meet with our immediate family most often, and may not see our cousins or great aunts very often. But even the largest families get together for special occasions—Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings, funerals. Church at the Ballpark is our family reunion.
2. The church is a movement.
At its inception on the day of Pentecost, the church was a movement built around the conviction that Jesus had died and risen again from the dead. It was not a place to go for worship services, but a movement people belonged to, a movement that grew exponentially from the very beginning.
The church today is still a movement, rallying around the message of the gospel and taking that gospel to our families, our neighbors, and our world. And as a movement, it is powerful to see a physical manifestation of what God is doing. As John Piper says, “Worship in larger gatherings with other believers whom we don’t know personally can be powerful—the way a whole battalion gathered before battle to hear the commander’s challenge is powerful even though the soldiers don’t all know each other.”
One of our plumblines as a church is that we are not an audience, but an army. Gathering as one body invigorates us for the mission, because it reflects the energy that our movement already possesses. Two years later, people still tell me how powerful it was for them to experience our last Church at the Ballpark.
3. Events like this are evangelistically effective.
On the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, 3,000 people got saved and were baptized. Jerusalem was not a huge city in those days, so there is no way that sort of event could have been hidden. That first church service caused a stir and people noticed what was going on. Imagine how anti-climactic it would have been had they scheduled all of those people to be baptized in people’s houses over the course of the next several weeks!
Gathering at a baseball stadium—or a comparable venue—is simply something that the city cannot ignore. It is a public witness to our city that God is at work. Again, I have had numerous conversations with people who came to Christ because they were intrigued by our last event like this.
And let’s face it—inviting someone to church in a baseball stadium is a lot less intimidating than inviting them to your normal church service. Especially when there are hot dogs involved.
 John Piper, “Treasuring Christ Together, Part 2” Lessons in Love from 1 John, September 14, 2003.