Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.
The Superbowl is upon us. For your pastor and the staff, that means the headache of trying to figure out how to keep all your church family happy without looking like sell-outs concerning the importance of the local church gathering. Most churches have some sort of regularly scheduled service on Sunday nights, it might be a preaching service, some kind of discipleship or prayer service, or perhaps community groups. Something in the regular life of the church is going to conflict with the Superbowl this Sunday. What ought the church to do?
It may seem that this Sunday’s game is of mega-importance, it is the “Super” Bowl after all, but really it is a fixture of American pop culture. It has gotten so big that advertisers can’t wait to air their multi-million dollar commercials, so they are ‘pre-releasing’ them on the internet to get more bang for their buck. (Seinfeld! Ferris Bueller! Woohoo!) The Super Bowl is a pretty big, multi-billion dollar entertainment extravaganza. How can a Sunday night church service hope to compete with such a juggernaut? And should it even try?
How should the church handle this? Isn’t it true that sports in the United States have become an idol for many people, even Christians? Isn’t it true that people invest way too much of their identity in the success and failure of their favorite team? If this is the case, perhaps the church shouldn’t bow to this Baal, and they should have their regular service and ignore the hype. After all, there are those who do not care about football. There is an 80% chance that the guy who does not care is from Canada, but still there are those people at church.*
And yet, the church doesn’t want to seem cold to the hobbies of its members. After all, some enjoy football in a non-idolatrous way. Football is not a sin. It can build up the positive themes of team work, camaraderie, and teaches the importance of repetitive and difficult practice. Plus, there is the fact that if the church steam rolls ahead without a thought, those who love football are going to be absent. Should the church just ignore those folks and move on? Or should the pastor talk to them to see if their attitude about football is wrong? The church could avoid this awkwardness altogether by simply cancelling the Sunday night service and letting people do as they wish. But what message does that send?
Another way churches deal with the Super Bowl is to completely embrace it. They recognize it is an important part of the culture and schedule a party around it. They make it a big deal and invite friends from the community. Sometimes, a half-time devotion is given. In it, the person usually makes note of the fact that who wins the Super Bowl is not of great importance in comparison to one’s relationship to Christ. Everybody is happy! Well, except the folks that like the Budweiser commercials. Usually some guy is designated the “remote guy” and his job is to fast-forward through all the GoDaddy commercials and other such risque advertisements.
I trust that your church loves Christ, His Word, and is jealous for His glory. We don’t want anything to overshadow him, and frankly the attention the Super Bowl gets makes us a little jealous because Jesus deserves as much and more. But yet, we do not want to be sticks in the mud at worst, or miss an opportunity to rub elbows in a fun way with the community at best. Every church has to navigate between sending the wrong signal about the importance of the teaching that happens at the Sunday night service, and the great desire to be the type of church that folks want to be a part of.
So here is the real answer, and it so happens that this is also a great question: Why couldn’t the NFL had made this easy for us and called it “Super Bowl Saturday”?
*I’m kidding. I realize that the percentage of non-Canadians who don’t care for the Super Bowl is higher than 20%. I made that stat up. It is probably closer to 28%.