I’m going to the football for the sake of the Gospel—seriously!

Recently I was invited by a friend to enjoy an A­-league soccer game in the corporate hospitality suite. It was wonderful experience: food, drinks, guest speakers, and the best seats in the stadium. I had a great time, enjoyed the game, and spent some quality time with my friend.

As I left the stadium the whole experience prompted me to ponder why businesses invest so heavily in corporate hospitality. An exclusive motor racing package for the Australian Grand Prix costs $4,000 per person and includes private dining with an in­house chef, drinks, a chance to meet the drivers and networking opportunities. It is a phenomenal experience, extremely expensive and yet businesses are buying multiple packages. Why?

The cynic might call it a business junketthe opportunity for the astute person in business to enjoy life’s pleasures at someone else’s expense.

But the key rationale is building relationships. Corporate entertainment is fundamentally about cementing relationships for the betterment of the business. These relationships might be for the goal of winning a sale or keeping a client, but it’s all done with the success of the business in mind. People are more prepared to do business with someone they know and someone they’ve spent time with. And this time spent together is not simply around a boardroom table it’s shared experiences at a race track, at the football stadium, at the theatre. Etihad Stadium promote it’s corporate hospitality as being ‘brilliant for business’ as you play the “ultimate advantage” by wooing clients using their corporate hospitality (http://vimeo.com/channels/brilliantforbusiness).

It’s an accepted part of doing business in Australia. A football match has very little to do with mining, yet the BHP Billiton Code of Conduct admits that “accepting gifts hospitality or entertainment can be a legitimate way of building good business relationships”. Relationships are extremely valuable to corporations and they invest thousands of dollars in them.

There is certainly a danger that corporate hospitality can become bribery, The BHP Billiton code of conduct warns that “you shouldn’t accept gifts, hospitality or entertainment not designed to further a valid business purpose or relationship”. Moreover the business outcomes generated by corporate hospitality are never certain. Entertaining a client does not guarantee the business. Indeed, some clients still refuse business from the firm, even after a week at the Australian Open tennis.

Yet the fundamental concept is that successful business decisions are built on strong relationships. The better the relationship, the better the business outcome.

As I pondered this, I realised an immediate application to our personal evangelism. Sharing the Gospel with work colleagues and friends is also often based around relationships. It’s generally easier and more effective to share the Gospel with someone whom we know well. Our friend is not only more likely to give us a hearing, but they are more likely to listen. The stronger the relationship, the more robust the platform to share the Gospel.

Jesus also outlines this concept in the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16, where resources possessed now are used to win friends.

– Luke 16:11

Jesus speaks about a manager who was about to lose his job. He saw this certain, bleak, future and acted decisively. He used his resources to win friends so that he would gain respect and secure a job in the future. Jesus then uses the example of this “shrewd” manager to exhort believers to use money to invest in relationships, to gain friends, as a way of managing “true riches” (Luke 16:11). He suggests that in light of the future, act now ­ we should use our resources to win people to Christ.

This might be considered as a form of bribery. But we don’t generally suggest the same about buying gifts or meals for someone we’re courting! When going out with someone it would be odd to never offer to pay for the other person because you didn’t want to influence them unduly: “I don’t want to pay for your dinner tonight because you might think that I’m trying to bribe you to marry me”.

We buy gifts or meals for others because they reflect our desired relationship with that person. We want to woo them, we want a better relationship with them, hence we want to buy things for them and do things which enable us to build that relationship. One of the ways to demonstrate you care for someone is by being generous.

This is the same with our personal evangelism. We want to woo our colleagues and friends to Christ. Jesus’ parable is encouraging us to be generous in order to gain friends. So why not budget some of our income as “entertainment” so that we might be able to gain friends and cement relationships for the betterment of the Gospel?

Consider what it would mean to my work colleague to say, “Let’s go to the theatre and it’s on me”. Or “Let’s go to the football, I’d love to treat you”. They might be a little more interested in the Gospel as a result and you might be in a better position to sell it to them.

Jesus concludes his parable with the stinging challenge that the “people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light”. Corporate entertaining is about building friendships for business. Why don’t we use the same concept and use our own personal resources to build relationships to ‘sell’ the Gospel. Now that’s a great reason to go to the football. Wanna join me? It’s my shout…