Their beloved Seahawks were to take on Denver Broncos on Super Bowl Sunday, but the Seattle-based megachurch Mars Hill went ahead with its evening service, knowing well that many would not show up.
"Today we collide with an unofficial U.S. national holiday: the Super Bowl," Pastor Mark Driscoll wrote in an email to the pastors across Mars Hill churches on Sunday. "For those of us in the Great North Left, today is of particular interest because our beloved Seahawks are playing. Go Hawks!"
Those who come for the evening services will be "uniquely crushed," the pastor acknowledged. "And it's ok. I love football and would love to watch the game. So I will record it and catch it after I preach the 4 p.m. service at Mars Hill Bellevue."
Driscoll, whose church has expanded to 15 locations, had realistic expectations. "I fully expect it will feel like we missed the rapture, as many saints will not be in the room. But it's ok. It's more than ok. Anyone who shows up is so important that Jesus died for them. The least we can do is welcome them and serve them on his behalf."
The pastor recalled Super Bowl Sunday 18 years ago when the church was in its beginning stages.
"I don't think even 20 people showed up – including Grace, me, and the guy I would pick up every week because he was pretty much house-bound after a brutal motorcycle wreck," Driscoll wrote. "We did not have a band, but instead someone who could kinda play the guitar but sang like one of the comedic American Idol auditions. The sermon I preached was awful, and when I counted the offering it was a grand total of $137 for the week – mostly in $1 bills."
But it was "anything but super," he said.
Eighteen years later, the pastor added, "if we get more than 20 people and they give more than $137, it's a big win, as we've made some big progress by God's grace."
Congregations across the nation canceled or moved their services so as to not compete with the game.
"We know the game is important so we're moving the service times to better fit your schedule," said NewSpring Church in South Carolina. "This will allow us to reach more people that week and give you more opportunities to invite your friends and family."
A church should meet together, according to the Bible, NewSpring Senior Pastor Perry Noble wrote in a blog post. "However, there are not any verses mandating a Biblical time for worship," he said. "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."
North Point Community Church, led by Pastor Andy Stanley in Atlanta, Ga., also canceled its 6:30 p.m. Sunday service.
Driscoll, meanwhile, told his pastors it is a great day for the ministers to check their hearts. "Are we only excited about crowds and numbers, or do we really care about people and faces? Is there a number too small for us to consider worth our time and energy?"
The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos, 43-8, winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history.