Growing up in the religious South, serious believers were expected to attend church three times a week:
- Sunday morning (which included both Sunday School and regular service)
- Sunday evening (either for another sermon or kids program), and
- Wednesday evening (another short sermon or kids/youth program)
This, looking back, astounds me. Both from a “how much are we asking people to come to a church building to sit and listen?” perspective and a “how many sermons do we expect a pastor to give each week?” perspective. It felt very normal growing up, but it seems terribly inefficient for being a community of believers who are actually a part of each other’s lives. Many churches seem to be moving away from this model (I think, wisely).
(But I digress…this is another topic for another day.)
Regardless, Sunday night is still a sacred cow for church programming in many ways. Many local assemblies still have something going on during this time frame (our church hosts 2 of our 4 identical Sunday Gatherings on Sunday nights).
So when something as culturally pervasive as the Super Bowl comes around, it begs the question: what do we do?
Growing up, I thought the answer was: “You use it as a litmus test for how much people love Jesus, duh…”
There was this posture that, if you were serious about your faith, wouldn’t you forsake watching a silly football game and come hear (yet another!!!) sermon on Sunday evening instead? Surely this would win you brownie points in heaven.
That sentiment that I held for years was not only silly and anti-gospel, it also completely and wholly missed the point. It was an attitude ready-made for Pharisees who walk around saying, “Thank you Lord that I am not like other weak-willed men who skip church to watch something as fleeting and unimportant as a football game.” (Certainly this is not a default attitude for anyone who goes to a church service during the Super Bowl–there are many who simply do not care about football–but this was a sentiment I held for many years and heard perpetuated by other believers).
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The way this idea entirely misses the point is this: what’s the point of the church? Is it for us to be a holy huddle gathered away from culture, or is it for us to be a community on mission to our culture?
If the latter, then what could be a better use of the winter evening that the Super Bowl falls on?
Not (yet another!!!) church service–but a party. A genuine, real-life, your-neighbors-would-want-to-come-to-this party.
Because everyone watches the Super Bowl. Even people who hate football watch it for the commercials and the half-time show. I don’t personally care much for professional football, and I still watch it religiously. No one wants to be left out of the water-cooler conversation the next day about all of the hilarious (and not-so-hilarious) commercials.
What an incredible opportunity for mission this could be! Like a giant tee ball, just sitting there plump and obvious, waiting for you to swing the bat. Waiting for you to buy some good food and create a fun atmosphere and send out some invitations (or simply join in on the party your neighbor is already throwing).
How many relationships could be started? How effective could the church be on mission this one particular night if it didn’t have church programming to compete with it?
For this reason our church, though we have to do 4 identical Gatherings each Sunday to fit everyone in, cancels PM Gatherings on Super Bowl Sunday every year. We cast vision for this and tell our people that our calling as the church is to press outward, not inward. We ask our small groups to throw great parties that their non-believing friends, neighbors and co-workers would want to come to. Our pastors and staff are at these parties (or throwing them) instead of running a service.
We find that it is a wonderful and culture-setting use of one particular Sunday evening a year. And men who tend to shy away from all things church? They love it. Because they see we are normal, everyday people who enjoy a funny Super Bowl commercial as much as the next guy.
I am, of course, not saying that if your church hosts programs during the Super Bowl you are wrong. That would be going too far, and there may be contexts where it would be helpful. But what I am saying is that I’d love for us all to think deeply about our calling and our mission, and how we can be a people on mission most effectively. Sometimes, especially in the name of “this is what we’ve always done,” it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.
Christ calls us to give up a lot of things, but watching the Super Bowl probably doesn’t fit on that list–especially when we can do so on mission with Him.
Don’t be mistaken. Next Sunday night when the Patriots and the Seahawks meet, the church I help lead will be meeting. We just won’t be at our building.