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NFL ban fuels church’s growth

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Even though Fall Creek Baptist Church couldn’t host a 2007 Super Bowl party, pastor John Newland said the National Football League did his church a favor.

The Southern Baptist congregation found itself at the center of a national furor last February when the NFL told the church its gathering would constitute a violation of copyright regulations regarding the game’s telecast.

Besides curtailing the event in the home city of the champion Indianapolis Colts, the dictate led to the cancellation of parties planned at churches across the nation.

The NFL is maintaining the same stance for the next Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2008.

Greg Aiello, senior vice president of public relations, said the league has no objections to churches or other groups hosting viewing parties as long as they don’t charge admission and use a type of television commonly found in homes — a maximum of 55 inches.

“We are simply following copyright law and have done so consistently over many years with regard to schools, museums, hotels, theaters, arenas and other such venues,” Aiello said.

Ironically, since canceling last February’s party, Newland said growth at Fall Creek would make it impractical to consider hosting one for the upcoming game.

Newland said over the past year his congregation has grown from 275 to 350 in average attendance despite losing 75 members to job transfers.

Members drew inspiration from the last-minute cancellation last February, the pastor said.

“They got busy inviting people to church and said, ‘We’re not going to let the NFL stop us from doing what God called us to do,'” said Newland, pastor of Fall Creek since 2004. “It became a rallying cry for our church.”

The church already is gearing up for the next Super Bowl, when members of its adult Bible fellowships will host in-home parties aimed at building relationships with non-believers, Newland said.

Members did a trial run Nov. 4 when the Colts played the New England Patriots, with more than 300 people attending parties. Newland said hosts snapped photos of the gatherings for a slide show the following week at church.

“Satan can throw up obstacles, but with God’s Spirit we can’t be stopped,” Newland said. “Maybe we’ll get more people than we would have here.”

Other churches are planning a similar emphasis in light of the NFL’s crackdown.

Tim Shamburger, associate pastor of discipleship at Parma Baptist Church in suburban Cleveland, said his congregation decided to take the in-home route before it learned of the NFL’s ban on large-screen showings.

“Our goal is to have several homes that have parties going on, with the goal of developing relationships with people not going to church,” Shamburger said. “I don’t see how the NFL can tell me a Sunday School teacher can’t have a party in [his or her] home.”

Shamburger said he won’t encourage the use of evangelistic videos at halftime. If unsaved people get an invitation to watch the Super Bowl, they expect to watch the game instead of a Gospel-based message, Shamburger said.

“It’s a matter of not beating people over the head,” he said.

Because it learned of the policy just a few days before the last Super Bowl, Simpsonville Baptist Church in Simpsonville, Ky., still hosted a party for more than 250 people, pastor Steve Boyd said.

This time the church is encouraging in-home parties, which Boyd said will be publicized in its January newsletter.

“We’re not going to contest it,” Boyd said. “We may do better and reach more people if we go into homes. Sometimes if you have a fellowship at church, you may have some guests, but you may just have the inner circle and people who come all the time. And then you’re just having a party for yourselves.”

Other churches threw in the towel, such as First Baptist Church in Summerfield, N.C.

Pastor Richard Odom said last February’s cancellation cost the church more than $500 for prizes and supplies that it couldn’t use for the gathering members had planned for their suburban community north of Greensboro.

The effect of a large-scale gathering the church traditionally held in its gymnasium with hot dogs, popcorn and other refreshments gets lost in a small, home environment, Odom said.

“As a tool, we lose it as a mass outreach event because we don’t have home groups,” Odom said. “I think it’s absolute nonsense. Churches have been doing this for at least the 15 years I’ve been a pastor and there was never a peep about the NFL not allowing that until last February. They allow bars to do it, so I guess if you can sell beer, you can do it. It’s frustrating.”

Although Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., still held its party last February by adjusting screen sizes to fit the NFL’s policy, associate pastor Jeff Ballard said attendance dropped from the customary 500 to about 300 people.

Whether the controversy affected attendance or some people decided they might not be able to see the game that well, the singles minister said the church decided that hosting another party wasn’t worth it.

“We’ve let people know in advance so small groups can plan their events,” Ballard said. “It won’t get the ministry publicity it has in the past.”

Some congregations still plan to host large-scale parties, and among them is Second Baptist Church in Indianapolis.

Pastor David Greene said the church, part of the National Baptist Convention, hosted a party for about 500 people last February and intends to do so again for the 2008 Super Bowl.

While they didn’t show any evangelistic videos at the last gathering, the pastor plans to obtain one of Tony Dungy, the Colts’ coach, presenting his testimony for the next Super Bowl party. Greene said he also will get copies of Dungy’s best-selling book, “Quiet Strength,” for distribution at the event.

The pastor said he hasn’t tried to hide his intentions and he sent a letter to the NFL after the last Super Bowl suggesting ways of building a better relationship between the league and the faith community. Greene said he never heard back from league officials.

“I’m struggling with why they wouldn’t want people to come together in a family setting in a church and enjoy the game, especially with the millions of dollars they’re making off this,” Greene said. “We’re not making any money.

“Our young people are at stake,” Greene added. “[Our party] keeps people off the street, helps keep people from getting drunk and hitting each other. Let’s eliminate that.”
Ken Walker is a freelance writer based in Huntington, W.Va.

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