Accompanying the dog days of August come the absolutely worthless pre-season college football polls. Before the first kickoff has been received these polls rank college football teams from best to worst, thus providing college football fans, who have little of substance to discuss anyway, an opportunity to argue over who will be Number One in the world of pigskin glory.
Why should college athletics be the only game in town when it comes to ridiculous polls? If these worthless guesstimates ratchet up fan interest, could similar value be gained in creating a Religious Intensity Poll (RIP)?
Such a poll would cover certain months of each church year, say from the First Sunday in Advent to Pentecost Sunday, roughly a seven-month season (December–June). Churches could be placed in various “leagues” according to congregation size so that smaller churches would not compete against mega-churches.
Criteria used for the weekly poll could include statistics/measurements such as size of weekly offering divided by the number of attendees, number of worshipers under age 21 versus number of worshipers over 65, and the number of times the preacher uses incorrect grammar or tells a stale joke versus the percentage of congregants who remain awake during the entire sermon.
Other measurements could include whether the choir members hold sheet music in their hands or sings from memory, the percentage of congregants who actually open their mouths (not counting yawns) to sing the congregational songs, and how many worshipers (using the Grimes Major Complaint Scale) bellyache when an unfamiliar song is employed during worship.
Whether the lead pastor seems like a “normal” person or feels like a fake, how long the morning prayer lasts, whether the congregation spends most of its offering on itself or on others and whether the congregation is trending towards growth or decline could also influence the polling.
Two polls, one with clergy doing the voting and the other with laypersons, would make things fair, especially since clergy are infamous for over-reporting attendance figures. Computer rankings would not be used because some congregations are still using mimeograph machines.
A play-off system could be devised for the seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost: a preach-off, sing-off, memorization contest or church night supper cook-off, at the end of which one congregation in each size classification would be crowned world champion for that year. Then would come a five-month off-season (called “Ordinary Time” in liturgical churches) when congregations could recruit new preachers, train new liturgists, beef up the tenor section of their choir, identify friendlier ushers, put Sunday School teachers on the injured reserve list, call up volunteers from Vacation Bible School or revise the order of worship in preparation for the next season.
Some congregations may find themselves in a “rebuilding mode” for multiple seasons while other congregations may make drastic, wholesale changes, sacrificing an entire season in exchange for the possibility of climbing to the top of the RIP the following year.
If you think this is a really bad idea, here’s another idea even worse: rating religion columnists on rational thinking.
Creede Hinshaw is a retired Methodist minister from Macon.