For many residents and visitors to cities like Cleveland, and Kansas City, football fills their Sundays in the fall. For churches and faith leaders in those areas, the focus creates a unique opportunity to share the gospel and engage their community.
Read what two United Methodist congregations offer football fans. Then, if your community is home to professional or semi-pro sports teams, consider what your church might do.
Hope United Methodist Church in Bedford, Ohio, recently offered “Tailgate Church,” a new kind of worship experience in the Municipal Stadium parking lot (Muni Lot) where pre-game tailgating is a proud tradition among Cleveland Browns fans. The Rev. Andrew Scott explains how his church decided to hold a service in the lot, inviting tailgaters to join them in prayer and Holy Communion.
“The idea behind Tailgate Church was to take the good news to a group of people who might otherwise be ignored by the religious people, and also to create inroads into the Muni Lot community with potential for future ministry opportunities,” said Scott.
The service began with music followed by a sermon by Scott about the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Afterwards, he invited people in the lot to join his group in receiving Communion.
“The most notable moment of the day though came when a gentleman, dressed in his best Browns’ gear, came up for Communion but then engaged me and some of the gathered laity in a time of conversation and prayer,” Scott said. “The gentleman was going through some difficult times in his life, especially related to his faith life. After a good time of conversation, Hope UMC layperson Bill Cook prayed over this gentleman and his struggles.”
Hope is not the only United Methodist church leading worship before NFL games.
Staff with Arrowhead Stadium invited United Methodist Church of the Resurrection to become the host for worship services in the Truman Sports Complex parking lot prior to Kansas City Chiefs games. The Chiefs had heard about a series of sermons the Rev. Adam Hamilton, Resurrection’s senior pastor, preached entitled “Faith and Football.”
Resurrection hosted its first pregame worship on Sept. 22, 2019, and drew 170 people attended. The services include music from a Resurrection band, testimony from a Chiefs’ player and a sermon – usually by one of the church’ pastors. Recently, however, the Chiefs welcomed Great Plains Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. who delivered the message before the Sunday morning game on Oct. 13.
“As a church passionate about reaching non-religious and nominally religious people, we see a huge opportunity to connect with football fans who may not have a church family,” Hamilton said.
Evangelism and outreach begin with reaching people where they are and inviting them into relationship with Christ and a community of loving disciples. Remember that Jesus’ first miracle happened during a wedding party, not a service in a synagogue. Celebratory and informal occasions can offer great opportunities to share the gospel with those who might not make it to church Sunday morning.
Philip J. Brooks is a writer and content developer on the leader communications team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
First published on ResourceUMC.org on October 14, 2019, this article is based on stories were originally published by the East Ohio Annual Conference Newsletter (Oct. 2, 2019) and the Great Plains Annual Conference (Oct. 3, 2019).
Read the full story on Hope UMC’s tailgate service
Read Rev. Hamilton’s announcement on Resurrection at Arrowhead