HOUSTON (ABP) — The Super Bowl has spring-boarded many athletes to international fame, but Baptists regularly use the event to point people to something even greater.
Several thousand Baptists, primarily from Texas, sought to share the gospel with non-Christians by holding sports carnivals, witnessing, volunteering in game activities and throwing watch parties in the area during Super Bowl XXXVIII, which was held in Houston Feb. 1.
A large portion of the Baptists helped behind the scenes of Super Bowl-related events and looked for opportunities to share Jesus' message. Some assisted National Football League officials. Others stuffed evangelistic material in bags that were put on seats in Houston's Reliant Stadium. Still others worked at the NFL Experience, a pre-game exhibition that draws thousands of fans, many of whom never actually attend the Super Bowl.
Eleven East Texas Baptist University students took digital photos of people enjoying the weekend festivities. They downloaded the pictures to a website, where individuals can retrieve their images — and read an evangelistic message.
The effects of the cooperative effort will live on in changed lives long after the hoopla of the Super Bowl fades, according to Wayne Shuffield, local church evangelism consultant for the Baptist General Convention of Texas Center for Strategic Evangelism.
“A game brings the world to Texas, and Texas Baptists have stepped up in a united way to carry the message of Christ throughout the Houston area,” Shuffield said. “That's impressive to me.”
Several volunteers said the uniqueness of ministering around the Super Bowl presented an opportunity they could not miss. The massive influx of people from around the world offered a chance for workers to have a worldwide impact.
The Super Bowl Evangelism Project, as the outreach effort was called, also allowed volunteers to experience the atmosphere around the game.
“I'm doing it because it's fun, and we're serving the Lord,” said Rebecca Adams, an ETBU sophomore. “It's the Super Bowl. It's something to remember.”
But workers remained focused on their evangelistic mission as well. They commonly spoke of wanting to share the gospel and impact people around them.
“We enjoy working with the community,” said Rachel Moss of Autumn Creek Baptist Church in Houston. “It shows we care, and in turn shows them God cares.”
In all, more than 75 area BGCT-affiliated churches held a Super Bowl-related evangelistic event or had members volunteer. Those efforts saw nearly 300 recorded professions of faith. The churches distributed about 90,000 pieces of Christian literature.
In addition to spreading the gospel, church leaders also felt they were breaking stereotypes by showing non-believers that Christians can have fun. Aaron Dallas, minister of evangelism at Brookhollow Baptist Church, said he hopes the church's block party modeled Christian ways to celebrate.
“We're trying to reach those in our neighborhood and we're trying to show the children how Christians get together and have a good time,” Dallas said. “A lot of people have their preconceived notions of church being a stiff-necked place. We're here to show them we can have fun.”
The party, attended by more than 1,500 people, also allowed the congregation to knock down beliefs that churches are judgmental places rather than caring environments, said. DeMonica Smith, who serves as one of the church's ministers of recreation.
“It's important for them to see we are Christians. We love each other,” she said. “We have fun.”
A day-before-the-game block party at the Gano Baptist Mission Center provided an event tailored for children, said Kit Lowrance, who directed the gathering. The effort also served as a lead in to a Super Bowl watch party the next day at an affiliated mission center.
“We're using this to jump start our Super Bowl party tomorrow, when the gospel will be clearly presented during halftime and decisions will be made,” Lowrance said.
Leaders of Cloverleaf Baptist Church in Cloverleaf, just east of Houston, used a similar method in their work. The church held a three-day revival followed by a Saturday sports carnival and a Sunday watch party to reinvigorate their congregation and evangelize people around them.
The congregation's Sunday attendance has dwindled to about 45 after drawing 600 in the past. Some residents in the surrounding neighborhoods told ministers they did not realize the church is still functioning.
The flurry of activity sparked the community's interest as about 200 people attended the church's Saturday party. Children's smiles and laughter filled the brisk winter day.
“I hope it lets the people in this area know we are reaching out,” Allan Hughes, the church's pastor, said. “It seems like the rest of the world has forgotten this place. God hasn't forgotten this place.”
— Photos to available from ABP.