I’d be curious to know if there are any men in West Coast churches on Sundays during football season. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself how thankful I was that I live on the East Coast where NFL games begin at 1:00 on Sunday, versus 10:00 (!!!) on the West Coast. Maybe that’s how the recent trend of Saturday night services began. It was the only way to get men into West Coast churches during the fall.
But even if you preach on the East Coast, you know by now that your congregation isn’t safe either from the overwhelming popularity of the NFL, fantasy football, and perhaps even online gambling. And many of the men who may be physically in the pews Sunday morning mentally checked out . . . well, whenever it was they last set their fantasy rosters.
It may seem all kinds of wrong, but if the individual, physical church believes they are in competition with football, then I’m sad to say it—it’s going to lose that competition just as badly as Tim Tebow lost the third-string quarterback job for the New England Patriots a few years ago.
Come football season, it doesn’t have to be church versus football, God against the NFL. What if instead of dreading football season, or trying to pit your congregation against it, you actually embraced America’s obsession with the pigskin and looked for ways to use it to further the gospel in your community? Here are three simple ways I would encourage any pastor or church leader to use the NFL to their advantage in reaching the men in their communities:
- There’s no avoiding the time conflicts on Sunday mornings, especially for those not on the East Coast, and by no means would I suggest that service times be adjusted to fit the NFL schedule; but at the very least, look for ways you can incorporate football stories into your sermons. There are plenty of autobiographies from former Christian athletes and coaches to pull from that would definitely pique the interest of those in your congregation who are looking at roster updates on their phones and checking for scores. Face it—their minds are already on football. Instead of trying to pull them away from it, how can you meet them there?
- Don’t be afraid to talk about your passion for the game too and to acknowledge that you are looking forward to a specific game that day. Maybe you’ve set your DVR to record it and you jokingly ask that no one give you any updates about the game. The men in your congregation would be proud to hear their pastor breaking down the local team’s offensive struggles or complaining about how his starting fantasy quarterback is out for the season. Not only that, but they would perhaps be more willing to invite their football-crazy coworkers or neighbors to the church if their pastor was just as fanatic about the game they love as they are.
- If you’re not already in one, join a fantasy football league…and talk about it! In fact, why don’t you start one up for the men in your church? You’d probably have so much interest you’d have to have multiple leagues within your church: Faith Community Church league 1, league 2, league 3… And depending on the church’s typical weekly schedule, you could even host football parties for the league members during the games on Thursday, Sunday, or Monday evenings. How amazing would that be for a community’s largely visible church to be hosting fantasy football leagues and game-watching parties for non-members to be able to be a part of?
Sundays in the fall don’t have to be church versus football. That’s not a battle you want to be on your side of. Why don’t we make it church and football? Jesus said to “go,” and on Sundays in the United States, that means to “go” to the football fan, meeting them where they already are.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Need to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.