Most of you have never heard of Verne Gagne. If you have, then you just made two admissions. First, at some point in your life you watched professional wrestling. Second, you were born before the 1980’s.
Last week, I watched a fascinating documentary about Gagne and the AWA and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
Verne Gagne was a professional wrestling superstar in the late 1950’s through the 1970’s. He owned and operated the AWA (American Wrestling Association). He is a legend in the fake world of pro wrestling. In the real world of amateur wrestling, he was one of the best, winning state high school, NCAA, and AAU titles.
In the late 1950’s, after the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) refused to make Gagne champion (Lou Thesz was their man), he formed the AWA and operated out of Minnesota.
The AWA trained and developed many legendary wrestlers. Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat came out of Gagne’s training camps in the 1970’s. Hulk Hogan finally figured out what it meant to be The Hulkster in the early 1980’s with the AWA. Scores of others trace their success to Gagne and the AWA.
By the late 1980’s, however, after riding high for almost thirty years, the AWA began to crumble. Vince McMahon, the owner of the WWF (now WWE) signed Gagne’s wrestlers to large contracts and built a continuing empire.
What happened to the AWA? The simple answer is that they never moved on with the times. While the WWF created exciting shows with interesting and loveable characters, the AWA pushed technical wrestling (even though it was fake—funny, huh?).
Holds and counter-holds could be found in the AWA.
In the WWF, the Honkytonk Man smashed guitars over his opponent’s head.
You can imagine the difference.
People turned off the television and stayed away from the arenas. The AWA died.
Okay, I hear you. What does this have to do with anything?
Well, as I watched the story of the AWA’s fall from dominance to irrelevance, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels to the church in North America during the same years. Times changed, but churches didn’t.
The “million more in 54” campaign ended when Eisenhower was president. Roundup Days rode off into the sunset. The wheels came off of bus ministry. Saddleback Sam has become AARP Arnold.
While the truth of the gospel and man’s need for Christ never change, culture and context do.
I’m sure horse and buggy companies went out of business when Mr. Ford came along. Churches died, or are on life support, because they ignored changing culture.
Verne Gagne did not understand that he needed to build a bigger, louder, fancier product. The church made the same mistake, but in the opposite direction. We built congregations around “come and see,” instead of “go and tell.” We entertained, rather than worshipped. We became bigger, louder, and fancier when we should have become relational, reverential, and real.
Programs and events are not the answer. People are the answer.
God has placed a group of lost people around you. They may work with you, attend school with you, or share some of your DNA. You know these people and they know you.
Tell them what Christ is doing in your life. Tell them about the cross. Tell them how your sins were forgiven through the blood of Christ. Tell them about eternal life.
Nothing is more relevant than a relationship.
Do we want to see the church become the force for Christ that it has been? Do we want to see lives changed, worship renewed, and God glorified?
Go to the lost that you know. Tell them about Christ.
Let’s show them that there are no counter-holds when wrestling with the truth.