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Football fever

July 2002 | by Jonathan Skinner

An Evangelical Church in Bristol videod England’s recent World Cup match against Sweden, which occurred during a Sunday service, and then invited the local community in to watch it later on a big screen.

Other churches have even been cancelling services and inviting people in to watch the football live.

John Smith, the UK Director of the Evangelical Alliance, which represents churches from many denominations, wrote a letter to member churches stating:

‘I am writing to Alliance church members in England to ask whether they would consider opening their churches in order to screen all or some of England’s World Cup matches this June.

‘As the final takes place at 12.30 pm on Sunday 30 June, this represents a particular opportunity, straight after the morning service.’

Opportunity?

The letter continues: ‘When we consider that many local people rarely, if ever, set foot inside our church buildings this could be an excellent opportunity to meet the community, pray with them if they wish, and even extend invitations to return for services.

‘You may have seen in the press that pubs are now allowed to open and serve alcohol during World Cup matches, despite the problems this decision might cause.

‘Giving people, especially children, a safe, welcoming alternative venue where they may watch the games is in our opinion a worthwhile thing to do.’

Local community

Some churches have, indeed, used this opportunity to re-establish contact with their local community. In and of itself, this seems no bad thing. But it does rather beg the question as to why they lost contact with the community in the first place.

Many local churches enjoy a continual relationship with their local community without recourse to such gimmicks.

Members serve the community as nurses, teachers, policemen, voluntary workers, school governors and local councillors.

Many run Parent and Toddlers’ Groups, Youth Groups, and Home Bible Study Groups in the locality. Some have ‘soup runs’ for the homeless and a plethora of other activities.

And most church members are themselves part of the local community because they live and work there.

Above all, a gospel church serves the community in the best way possible – by proclaiming Jesus Christ and his gospel.

Wrong message

For churches to use their premises for showing football matches could, in fact, be counter-productive. If a church is not already part of the community, the action will appear opportunistic. And if they are involved in the locality, it will be not be necessary!

Again, screening football matches could communicate the wrong message. Although there is nothing wrong with football matches, this is not what churches are about.

Surely, the fundamental work of the church is to restore and nurture people’s relationship with God. The local church should be a dynamic community, witnessing to the gospel, learning together and praying together.

It is a matter of focus. Should newspapers dabble in health insurance, or hospitals market time-share apartments? It is not that these things are wrong – it’s just not their job.

And this is something the unbelieving world knows. Churches that offer distractions and confuse the public as to what they are really about, should expect a cynical reaction.

Hunger

Football has its proper place in our society – but that place is not the church.

Church is about connecting with the deep needs and desires of people who are estranged from God. Secular activities and entertainment will never satisfy these needs.

In spite of their ungodliness, many people around us have a spiritual hunger, a gnawing dissatisfaction with materialism, a craving for an inner life.

Most feel there must be something more to life than just staying alive. But they are spiritually blind and only God can open their eyes.

He will do so only through the gospel of Christ, as it is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. The World Cup is not on God’s agenda.

Deep questions

Most people seldom think about the ultimate questions of life – or death for that matter. There is too much else to occupy them.

Their minds are taken up with far more mundane things – the routine ebb and flow of life; jobs, money, clothes and holidays; homes, food, relationships – yes, and even football.

But when a person does begin to ask deep questions, and seeks to probe and explore spiritual things, church is a good place to start.

But a church that shows football matches?

Anyone seeking answers to their spiritual needs might be advised to look elsewhere.