Last summer, my parents introduced me and my wife to a European board game called The Settlers of CatanThis award-winning game has become wildly popular, especially among college students.

But Settlers is hard to play. The game is expensive. The rules are complicated. Each game requires more than an hour.

To do well, you must master the art of trade, strategic planning, anticipation of loss, and clever surprise. The game is difficult, but people can’t get enough of it.

For most, the difficulty is the draw.

In recent years, we have seen a number of TV dramas that eschew the traditional formula that leads to a neat resolution by the end of each episode. Instead, shows like Lost and 24 demand that the viewer stick with the program for its entire run.

Plot lines have become complicated, introducing dozens of main characters and a story line that taxes the memory and the stamina of the viewer. And yet, these shows are rated highly each year and have garnered millions of fans.

Is it not odd that the entertainment industry (whether through board games or television shows) is seeing success when it places high demands on the consumer? Fans of Lost talk about how nice it is to watch a show that actually expects something of the audience. Fans of Catan talk about how much more satisfying it is to win such a difficult game.

What can the church learn from this?

Maybe our expectations are too low.

In most churches, membership requires little more than a public declaration of faith and a quick trip through the baptistery. After meeting these requirements, members hear vague notions about being involved in stewardship, discipleship, and service.

But usually, there are no consequences for members who rarely attend or participate in anything. The Rotary will kick you out if you don’t attend meetings or pay your dues, but many churches won’t even communicate specific expectations, much less establish consequences if those expectations are not met.

Perhaps we are cheating church members.

We assume that most church members won’t evangelize, so we’re happy to stick with the very few who understand the mandate.

We assume that most church members will not get involved in a demanding Bible study, so we water down our teaching to appeal to the masses.

We assume that many church members will never tithe or give of their time in service to the community for the glory of our King, so we budget accordingly.

At best, we hope that people will act on our suggestions.

Our churches don’t know what they’re missing:

  • The thrill of leading someone to Christ.
  • The excitement of discovering God within the pages of his Word.
  • The satisfaction of making an impact in the community in the name of Christ.
  • The joy of giving cheerfully to the local church.

There are plenty of simple TV shows out there. There are plenty of simple card games. But winning Uno does not give one the satisfaction that winning Catan does. Watching a formula show is not nearly as memorable as following the storyline of Lost.

The higher the demands, the higher the payoff.

As Christians, we tell a Story much more engaging than any TV show. We live in a fallen world where the stakes are much higher than any board game. Our expectations should be high because of the transformational power of the gospel.

Perhaps we should stop designing worship services, discipleship programs, and youth events for the “average Christian” (aka – the Christian we don’t expect anything out of). Instead, let’s refocus on our church covenants and clearly communicate the expectations for being a disciple in the kingdom of God.

We receive little because we expect little. And church leaders, church members, and especially a lost world – we all miss out because of our low expectations.