(Photo: Reuters/Eric Thayer)
Congregations across the United States, including megachurches like NewSpring in South Carolina, have canceled or moved their worship services to allow families to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. The churches say this is neither worldly nor sinful.
"We're moving service times for the Big Game," reads a bold message on the NewSpring Church website.
"We know the game is important so we're moving the service times to better fit your schedule," says the megachurch, which canceled Saturday night services at four locations and won't have night services at all on Sunday. "This will allow us to reach more people that week and give you more opportunities to invite your friends and family," it adds.
The North Point Community megachurch in Atlanta, Ga., has also canceled its 6.30 p.m. Sunday service to let the congregation watch the Seahawks take on the Denver Broncos. "Enjoy the Super Bowl," says its website alongside the cancelation notice.
Some Catholic churches in Tacoma area in Pierce County, Wash., have also canceled evening services, throwing big-screen viewing parties and adapting schedules in other ways, The News Tribune reports. Among those churches are St. Charles Borromeo in Tacoma and St. Andrew in Sumner.
"Because no one will attend the Mass at 5:30 p.m., Father (Jack Shrum) canceled it and told people to go to other Masses," Monica Rodrigues, pastoral assistant for faith formation at St. Andrew, tells the Tribune.
Sound Life Church in Tacoma has planned a Championship Sunday Party in its gymnasium with a high definition 16-by-9-foot screen.
However, Mars Hill Church in Tacoma hasn't moved any of its usual five services Sunday, although Lead Pastor Bubba Jennings expects attendance will be down for evening services.
But NewSpring believes it is not wise to let service timings clash with the game. The church has posted a link to a blog post written by Senior Pastor Perry Noble on its Facebook page, answering 10 questions about the Super Bowl weekend.
"Is this sort of move worldly, sinful and a compromise of the Gospel?" reads one of the questions. The answer is, "Nope!"
"I think it is, why am I wrong?" reads the following question.
A church should meet together, according to the Bible, Pastor Noble writes. "However, there are not any verses mandating a Biblical time for worship," he says, acknowledging that Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most watched events on television every single year. "Our job as a church is not to try to make a POINT by competing with culture, but rather to make a difference by leveraging what is going on in culture to reach as many people as possible."
The megachurch will reach far more people on Saturday night with the Good News about Jesus than it would have if it were to press ahead with services on Sunday night, the pastor argues. "And more people hearing about Jesus is always a win."
The church's move "provides an opportunity for our groups to get together and have FUN!"
This is not the first time NewSpring has moved or canceled its services.
Last year, Perry wrote that the church had existed for 12 years and "anytime we've tried to compete with the Super Bowl…well, it just hasn't gone well. We've tried different approaches to remedy this, but nothing has worked, people just have NOT came to church." The pastor quoted influential pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., as saying that one of the things the early church was obsessed with was making a difference and not making a point.
The church, therefore, decided in 2011 to "not try to make a point but rather make a difference!"