John Newland, the senior pastor at Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis, received the "cease-and-desist" letter from the NFL that led to many churches canceling Super Bowl outreach events in 2007. The NFL has announced it will allow church viewings.
How did you feel when the NFL reversed its call?
We were gratified because common sense prevailed. The NFL flagged us because our website asked members to donate money for food for the event. They were not prohibiting us from sharing our faith; they were prohibiting us from showing their product in the way we wanted to show it. So we met in homes in smaller groups.
We learned two things. One, God clarified for our country an event that churches all across the country were doing and what the purpose of it was. And two, our church was challenged to be more aware of copyright law.
What are you doing this year?
Our Super Sunday outreach event will have a lot of free food, giveaways, and games, and will have a gospel presentation and personal testimony at halftime. We have scrutinized the NFL's policy change and will make sure we are in full compliance. For example, the NFL has taken away the restriction on the size of the screen, but it has to be in your normal place of worship.
What makes the Super Bowl a better outreach event than, say, the season premiere of Lost?
It crosses so many lines of community and brings us together in a way that has mass appeal. We try to take advantage of things that draw people's attention across socioeconomic, political, and cultural lines — the things that divide us in this country.
Any advice for other churches hosting Super Bowl outreaches?
First, define your purpose. Second, find out what's legal and what's not legal. Free is the key. And be careful with your use of the words Super Bowl. Understand that if you are using somebody else's product, you have to follow their rules. Churches cannot cut corners. We must be above reproach.
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GetReligion.org posted a piece on how the NFL, although trying to clean up its players' image, is ignoring their faith.
"God on the Gridiron," and "Sacramental Football" (from Re:generation Quarterly) address idolatry in sports.
Also see Play Ball, an occasional Christianity Today column that examines the relationship between sports and faith.
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