Super Bowl Sunday is an unusual day for ministry.
Sundays are usually busy days for church leaders. It’s pretty common that I’ll have some kind of meeting before our weekly worship gathering. The worship gathering itself takes up a couple hours in the middle part of the day. It’s also pretty common that I’ll have another meeting after the worship gathering (sometimes more than one meeting). And then, in our particular church context, Sunday evenings are typically set aside for coaching and equipping leaders.
Super Bowl Sunday breaks up the routine, however.
I used to think the church could just ignore the Super Bowl. Pretend that it’s a regular Sunday. “Business as usual,” right? I figured that even if our numbers might be slightly diminished, it would still be worthwhile for those who aren’t into football. In practice, though, the Super Bowl dominates American culture. Even for those who never follow the National Football League… Even for those who say they’re “sure” they won’t have plans that would interfere with regular scheduling… Something happens on Super Bowl Sunday. People disappear. They get a last-minute invitation to some watch party somewhere — and it’s understood that good Super Bowl plans trump all other plans on Super Bowl Sunday.
Our church has also tried turning the Super Bowl into an attraction. A way to bring others into Christian community. It makes sense, of course, that the church is well-equipped to organize people and invite others to find a place to belong. To be that last-minute invitation to someone looking for Super Bowl plans. And this strategy for Super Bowl Sunday does work, to some extent. We’ve hosted church-wide watch parties in Bowman 133 (where we typically have our worship gatherings). We’ve hosted Life Group watch parties in people’s homes and in public spaces on campus. But to use some common H2O Kent parlance, I would say that these gatherings tend to be 95 percent inward, 5 percent outward, and 0 percent upward. That is: they mostly help Christians to feel like they have a place to enjoy the Super Bowl with other Christians. That’s certainly not a bad thing.
But to be honest, Christian Super Bowl parties can feel pretty lame.
The die-hard football fans make their own plans for the game, so they don’t show up. The snacks just aren’t as good, when there’s no kitchen to serve as the focal point. It does not work well to try inject a presentation of the Gospel at halftime. It does not work well to try and provide a moment of worship or reflection amidst all the noise (literally and figuratively) that comes along with the Super Bowl. So in the end, it can feel like a lot of time and energy to pull off an event that ultimately accomplishes the same thing that a majority of our regular church programming is designed to accomplish, anyway.
So what other options are there for a church on Super Bowl Sunday?!? Personally, I’ve become more and more convinced that scattering might be the best option for the church on Super Bowl Sunday. The philosophical basis for such a strategy is illustrated beautifully in Luke 10:1-11, where Jesus instructs his followers to deliberately make themselves the minority in order to bring the peace and presence of God to those who aren’t already a part of the church.
Our Life Group has studied Luke 10 over the last couple of weeks, and we decided to try a scattered approach to Super Bowl Sunday by encouraging the people from our group to actively listen for invitations to watch parties where they would not be bunched up with other people from H2O — but instead be the minority in another community’s space. To make the Super Bowl, in effect, a “road game.” Now, it’s probably good to point out that we actually encouraged each other to avoid the whole “Pronouncement of Peace” or “Wiping Off the Dust of the Unresponsive Village” thing — at least on an explicit level. But we prayed that we might get opportunities to know our neighbors and develop relationships that could lead to deeper heart connection, depending on what God might have prepared for us.
For our family, we decided to help organize a Super Bowl watch party for our literal neighbors. Basically the people who live in the four houses closest to us. We get to see and interact with each other regularly during the summer time, when we’re hanging out in our yards and on our porches. We’ve gotten to know each other decently well over the seven years that we’ve been living on the same street. But we don’t get to see each other much during the winter months.
And if I do say so myself, our neighborhood Super Bowl party was lovely. It gave us time to catch up on what’s been happening in each of our lives. Problems we’ve been working through… Grief we’ve been processing… Hopes for the new year… The kids played with marbles in our Family Room and footballs in our attic. We stayed together, in one spot, eating and drinking what we gave each other. And it was delicious!
I don’t know if we’ve really stumbled across any great secret. It’s pretty simple and intuitive. But that’s kind of what makes it so great. So Super. Worth repeating for Super Bowls to come, I think.