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Churches in Jacksonville using Super Bowl to share Christ

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–On a day when three-quarters of a billion people worldwide will be glued to their televisions watching Super Bowl XXXIX, hordes of Southern Baptists will take to the streets in Jacksonville — the site of the game — to ensure that everything goes like clockwork.

And though some plan to catch at least part of the excitement of the Feb. 6 game, many will be working as volunteers to set up the stage for the halftime show, to serve as casting directors for the pre-game show, to greet visitors and to transport guests and NFL officials and workers to and from their hotels.

One pre-game event, the Convoy of Hope, will place volunteers side by side with NFL dignitaries and celebrities.

“The eyes of the world are going to be on Jacksonville … and there is a tendency of the church to run away, but this is our time to shine,” said David Garrett, director of church and community ministries for the Jacksonville Baptist Association.

Garrett said he believes Florida Baptists have an unprecedented opportunity to be salt and light to an expected 100,000 visitors to the city and to countless residents.

“Doing what’s right and in right ways can in itself be a ministry,” Garrett said. He and others on a specially created task force suggested churches “don’t run away,” but instead find ways to involve their members in community and church-based activities.

In other words, Garrett is calling for believers to be the “church dispersed” in Jacksonville.

“First Down First Coast,” an evangelism effort encompassing more than 30 projects, was the result of a task force on which Garrett and local pastors serve with David Burton, director of evangelism for the Florida Baptist Convention and Tim B. Knopps, founder of the Timothy Institute for Evangelism, based in Oklahoma City.

Garrett, the project’s coordinator, told the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper that the association’s churches are not planning big events that will attract masses of people, but instead will be involved in a number of outreach activities. As a member of the Jacksonville 2005 Super Bowl Host Committee, Garrett also has urged churches to stay involved by enlisting church members to help in a variety of sanctioned events, rather than to try and go it alone, given such a large task.

First Down First Coast ultimately has committed to mobilizing about 20 percent of the 8,000-9,000 volunteers needed to staff events such as the NFL Experience and other Host Committee-sanctioned events. A list of First Down First Coast projects shows five Baptist associations involved in the various projects: Jacksonville, Halifax, Black Creek, St. Johns River and Northeast Florida.

Burton told the Witness he is treating the Super Bowl like any big evangelism project and has procured tracts and soul-winning materials, along with marked New Testaments and 25,000 copies of Sports Spectrum magazine with resources made available by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

“This is like a foreign mission trip, only the people are coming to us,” Burton said. “I feel that we need to aggressively take advantage of the enthusiasm in the air … and instead of spending money, effort and time to go and do missions, we are seeding the Gospel and leading people to Jesus on the streets of Jacksonville.”

Burton said that Christians outside of Jacksonville can pray for those in northeast Florida — especially in the Jacksonville area which includes nearby communities such as Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, Green Cove Springs and the Jacksonville Beach areas — where Super Bowl related activities will draw crowds.

Churches can also host their own Super Bowl watch parties, Burton said.

“Every pastor has to decide whether he’s going to ignore it and do his worship and let everybody be involved in Super Bowl activities before and after services, or is going to try to blend the day when I believe the majority of people’s minds are on the Super Bowl,” Burton said.

As for Jacksonville, Burton is unwavering in his belief that believers should be intentional about their witness.

“I encourage all of our Southern Baptist volunteers who are assisting the host committee in Jacksonville to pray and prepare themselves before the venue that they serve, and depend on God to put words in their mouth at the very moment they need it to speak about Jesus,” Burton said, citing Luke 12:12.

“Random acts of kindness ought to be rampant,” Burton said. “We ought to see random acts of kindness all over this city. Assist people, help people, love people — and people will see the Gospel salt and light.”

Knopps, a long-time evangelist and former staff member of the North American Mission Board, told the Witness he is also excited about the possibilities, but also grateful for the opportunity to serve Florida Baptists as a consultant.

No newcomer to Super Bowl-sized challenges, Knopps has been called on by big-event organizers for the College World Series, the Boston Marathon and America’s World Cup Soccer Championship. His task? To help enlist the many volunteers a host city needs to brighten its image.

“Southern Baptists have a great pool of people, of assets and locations, and they really have a heart for reaching people for Christ,” Knopps said, explaining why most of the projects are limited to church members and their guests. “… [I]f we dilute it too much it changes the dynamics.”

That doesn’t mean that some of the sub-projects sponsored by First Down First Coast are not being done in cooperation with other church groups. First Coast Christian Outreach — a group of churches of various Christian denominations — is joining forces with First Down for activities, including a March for Jesus, Feed the Children, Convoy of Hope and Souper Bowl of Caring.

Knopps said he has encountered some resistance to his approach to evangelism but is confident that each and every project he consults on has as “part of its protocol,” instructions on how to build witnessing relationships.

“If you can’t do evangelism, you can’t do the project,” Knopps said he advises the churches. “That’s just the rule of the game.”

For one project that requires volunteers to help move stage equipment for the Super Bowl halftime show, Knopps said he advises “huddles” of five, made up of 2-3 church members and their guests. That would encourage the volunteers to ride together to and from the rehearsals and the event — giving the church members time to share about why they attend their particular church and what Jesus means to them.

Knopps said he expects to see, in a 10-day period, 200,000 pieces of witnessing material distributed, 2,000 Christian volunteers utilized, 200 watch and block parties, 125 churches participating, three or more local associations involved and “one Savior glorified.”

In addition to the benefit of community involvement, Knopps said a signed agreement has been made with the Super Bowl Host Committee which provides reciprocal benefits, including the insertion of First Down First Coast materials into 80,000 gift bags. Two NAMB semester missionaries are also provided as interns to the Host Committee.

One project that likely will receive much attention is a “worship bus” equipped with a state of the art stage, jumbo speakers and a drum-set on board. Bryan Turner, music minister at both Parkwood Baptist Church in Jacksonville and Nocatee Community Church in St. Augustine, debuted the bus during the Christmas season — driving it into suburban neighborhoods where carolers distributed candy canes and shared the message of Christ.

Turner told the Witness he hoped to receive final permission to park the bus in front of a garage leased by a Christian businessman who is operating the NFL gift vendors throughout the stadium area in downtown Jacksonville. The location is at the edge of Alltel Stadium, the site of the Super Bowl.

“I think it’s awesome because we will be able to be out there where a whole mass of people will be entering into the stadium,” Turner said. “The chance for street witnessing will be out there and the chance to share the Gospel is absolutely awesome.”

Neptune Baptist Church in Neptune Beach, Fla., hopes to build evangelism into the congregation’s involvement with the Super Bowl. Church members have enlisted unchurched friends to work with them in both faith-based and secular events.

“We want to use their passion for football to share our passion for Christ,” said Tanya McAvoy, minister of education/evangelism.

Student and children’s classes, along with adult groups, have planned more than a dozen Super Bowl watch parties.

Adult members have volunteered to move equipment and scenery during halftime, and high school and college students are “stuffing the stadium,” placing gift bags in every seat. Middle schoolers are serving in the Helping Hands food and clothing ministry and collecting funds for the ministry in the Souper Bowl of Caring. During each event, volunteers will engage unchurched friends and neighbors in Christ-centered conversations.

“We want to build relationships through the world’s interest,” McAvoy said. “We have a plan.”

Nick Phoenix, pastor of North Main Street Baptist Church in Jacksonville, said his church will join with more than 3,000 volunteers from churches of several denominations to minister to Jacksonville families during a massive event on the Super Bowl XXXIX calendar, the Convoy of Hope, Feb. 5.

Phoenix said he believes the project is one of the largest faith-based events in Super Bowl history.

“It is so big that I can’t get my arms around it,” Phoenix said.

He is a member of the event leadership team and in charge of the event’s food distribution. He and First Down First Coast volunteers expect four semi-truck loads of donated food to be given to needy families.

The Convoy of Hope leadership team, which Phoenix said has grown from five to 80, has amassed volunteers and donations from more than 100 churches to man entertainment venues, Kid Zones and ministries ranging from free haircuts to health screening.

Celebrity and musical guests are scheduled to appear on the events’ three stages. Phoenix said the more than 20,000 anticipated visitors will gather at Brentwood Park in north Jacksonville on the day before the Super Bowl from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

For information on how to help support these projects or to volunteer, e-mail David Garrett at the Jacksonville Baptist Association at [email protected]. For information on how to procure evangelism resources, contact David Burton at [email protected].
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, available online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com. With reporting by Carolyn Nichols

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  • Joni B. Hannigan