EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.
COLLEYVILLE, Texas (BP)–Barrett Upchurch is the starting centerfielder on Grapevine High School’s junior varsity team. But before accepting Christ at a Super Bowl party, he fielded more trouble than baseballs.
“Before … I wasn’t doing very good,” the 15-year-old freshman said. “I was skipping out on school and wasn’t doing the things I was supposed to do…. Then I just changed.”
Upchurch is one of 66 teens who found a new life through accepting Christ as their Savior at a Super Bowl party Feb. 5 sponsored by First Baptist Church in Colleyville, Texas.
Upchurch, of nearby Grapevine, was one of 10 people who was baptized during the third quarter after an evangelistic talk at halftime by Keith Harmon, student pastor at the Dallas/Fort Worth-area church.
“I started crying and just felt I was a new person and got lifted on the inside,” Upchurch described his rebirth. He followed almost immediately in baptism, “Being baptized, everything felt right. I wasn’t nervous or anything.”
Harmon said only 24 of the 66 new Christians attended a church prior to the event, which saw more than double the number of conversions as last year, when the party was held for the first time. More than 400 students attended the party, which was publicized by members of First Baptist’s youth group distributing free tickets at their respective schools.
“When we have something like a Super Bowl party, we want to have a good time,” Harmon said.
“But our whole purpose is at halftime, to see them come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you can get lost students there and they hear the Gospel, they will accept Christ.”
A week after the game, Harmon baptized another student, with more baptisms planned in the next few weeks.
Harmon said he started working on Super Bowl parties 11 years ago as an intern at First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., and continued the practice as a youth pastor at churches in Missouri and Georgia before coming to the Colleyville church 15 months ago.
First Baptist’s party included numerous games and giveaways, such as four television sets, eight DVD players, Christian CDs and other prizes.
Although the youth department budgeted $1,500 for the event, church members’ donations more than doubled the total value of the prizes.
Although some Christians might question linking up with a worldly attraction, Harmon pointed out First Baptist takes a different approach.
“When parents find out we don’t play the commercials or watch the halftime show, most push their kids to come,” Harmon said. “They want their kids to come because they feel it will be a safe place to watch the game.”
Chad Reeves, the church’s middle school pastor, added, “I believe the same way Paul used pagan literature to spread the Gospel, we can take something like the Super Bowl and use it to share the Gospel. We use it for God’s glory.
“It’s always fun to see changed lives in what we do,” Reeves said. “We don’t always get to see the end result of our ministry. Seeing lives changed makes us see this isn’t in vain.”
Zach Schroeder, First Baptist campus minister who regularly visits 44 middle and high schools, said the party sparked widespread discussion on campuses and among parents.
“I got an e-mail from [a youth group leader] the next day, saying, ‘… [W]hat happened up there? What did you do?’”
Schroeder said he enjoys the party because it brings in newcomers whom he might not meet on campus or through students at First Baptist.
However, the interaction with teens doesn’t end with the big game.
“We try to build relationships with the kids we don’t know and show them that we love them and care about them more than at the Super Bowl,” Schroeder said.
Harmon attributes their success to youth group members, who he said design the party games and tell their friends about the party.
“If the [youth] don’t buy into it, the students aren’t coming,” Harmon said. “The youth group understands we’re going to have a good time, but there’s so much more.”
Ethan Hinson, 16, a junior at Grapevine High, shared in the excitement felt by First Baptist’s staff.
Hinson spent most of the night running errands, serving food and getting to know newcomers but stopped to listen to Harmon’s halftime talk.
“I was sitting in the room when Keith gave the invitation and when I saw the number of hands that went up, I was amazed,” Hinson said. “It made you proud you were involved and could change people’s lives. A lot of my friends felt the same way.”
For Upchurch, his baptism was only the first step into his new life. The weekend of Feb. 10-12 he attended a Disciple Now weekend at First Baptist, giving a testimony to the church about his experience.
“It was a jumpstart to get me into my Christianity,” Upchurch said of the discipleship event. “It showed me a lot.”
In the same way, First Baptist Colleyville is showing there are more important things in life than crowning a National Football League champion.