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Churches mix faith, football


Outside the Bible Belt, some congregations use football watch parties to attract visitors. As the NFL playoffs approach, members of the Springfield Gardens church in New York City set up two giant, fan-blown lawn decorations heralding their city’s teams, the Giants and the Jets.
Members pass out flyers inviting the community to watch the games. As many as 30 visitors have attended, minister Bill Johnson said.
“We’re blessed with several chefs in our church family who prepare better meals than most sky boxes in Giant Stadium,” Johnson said.
The food and football have led to conversations about faith with non-members, Johnson said. “We’re waiting for God to give the increase.”
The church in Hurricane, W.Va., has hosted youth devotionals on Super Bowl Sundays before showing the game on a big-screen TV in the church auditorium, said former minister Stephen Kenney. But most attendees were church members.
“I do not think that watching the game at the church building can seriously compete with the local sports bars for the first-time or otherwise non-connected, non-disciple,” he said.
But such get-togethers provide fellowship opportunities and allow members “on the periphery” to build relationships with fellow Christians, he said.
COLLEGE GAMEDAY FOR CHRIST
In college towns across the nation, churches reach out to students on football game days.
In Columbia, S.C., a football player assists in outreach.
Marvin Sapp, a linebacker for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, is president of the Church of Christ student organization. Sapp, a second cousin of Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp, started the school year by speaking to students during a Sunday worship service at the university, campus minister Randy Gore said.
“I have to say that football is not what makes his presence in our ministry the real blessing,” Gore said. “It is his genuine faith and dedication to Christ and his unassuming kindness that make him a joy to have in our student church family on campus.”
The Kirksville, Mo., church reaches out to the football team and the college community at nearby Truman State University, elder Barry Poyner said. The church recently hosted an on-campus meal for the team. Willie Franklin, a church member and former NFL player who speaks to churches and college students across the nation, was the featured speaker.
Church members also invite members of the football team to Sunday night meals at the campus ministry house. A few players have attended worship services, Poyner said.
FANTASY LEAGUE EVANGELISM?
A number of Churches of Christ use the country’s growing obsession with fantasy football as an opportunity for outreach. The Internet game allows players to act as managers, drafting real-life players onto their teams and earning points based on their performance.
For about seven years, members of the Kingfisher, Okla., church have sponsored a fantasy football league. The league has a dozen teams, and half of the players are non-members, minister Ken Richter said.
Participating in the game has shown the non-members “that we like to have fun and do share some common interests,” he said. “We also are able to model clean discussions, concern in times of need and friendship.”
Modeling Christian values can be tough in competitive games, including fantasy football, said Kenney, now minister for the Crittenden Drive church in Russellville, Ky. He’s played in fantasy leagues before and said members must avoid the temptation to make preferential trades, a key element of the game, only with other church members.
“The inner circle of Christians needs to be very sensitive to how it feels to be an outsider,” he said.
Church members also must realize that such leagues are only a means of introducing Christ to non-Christians — not a substitute for evangelism, he said.
“There are no gimmicks or techniques that will substitute for prayer and the ministry of the word,” Kenney said. But church members can form what he called “affinity evangelism” groups to introduce non-members to Christian life.
“Football, baseball, softball leagues, scrapbooking, reading clubs, fishing, gardening — the list is as long as the hobbies of your members,” he said.

Filed under: People

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