News Articles

Super Bowl ‘watch parties’ yield hundreds of decisions

HOUSTON (BP)–The New England Patriots took home the Super Bowl trophy Feb. 1, but the real winners were those who gave their lives to Christ as a result of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers involved in the Super Bowl Evangelism Project.

In one SBEP initiative alone, 253 professions of faith were recorded as churches and individuals hosted numerous “watch parties” throughout the greater Houston area, supplanting beer and car commercials with taped interviews with Christian football players from the Houston Texans. Former NFL football players like Derrick Harris of the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers and Tyrone Smith of the San Francisco 49ers gave live testimonies of their experiences as professional athletes and Christians. At least 26 professions of faith were reported late Sunday night from just three of those parties.

The ICE Team (Inner City Evangelism team) of eight people from San Antonio canvassed the streets of Houston in the days prior to the big game. Tourists and locals alike swarmed into the downtown area for nightly block parties organized by the Super Bowl Host Committee of Houston and private enterprises. Looking for a good time, many revelers found something much better — a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Roy Guel, volunteer coordinator for the SBEP in Houston, said each person who made a spiritual commitment filled out a card testifying to that fact. The names and addresses of the individuals will be placed in a data bank and then sorted according to where they live. Area churches will be notified of the new believers and asked to follow up on them in an effort to get them involved in church. Also, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention has committed to sending discipleship literature to each person.

Families gathered at Joy Fellowship, a Baptist mission center in southeast Houston, to watch the game on a 12-foot projection screen. The center hosted Kids Club activities throughout the week for children who regularly visit the center as well as others who were visiting for the first time. Brothers Wilber and Alejandro Amoro, age 12 and 10, respectively, said they enjoy the playtime they get during the after-school club. They also said the Bible studies are fun.

The boys joined a few dozen other children and adults to watch the game and the specially produced watch party videos. Texans football players and team owner Bob McNair gave their testimonies in 120-second increments — just enough time to run during commercial breaks. Instead of viewing the controversial indecency incidents broadcast during the NFL halftime show, the athletes on the video presented families with the plan of salvation. Pastors and party organizers supplemented the message to make it personal to their audiences.

At U.P.T.O.W.N. Fellowship in southwest Houston, Derrick Harris spoke to the crowd of more than 100 following the halftime video presentation. He said for years he had been asking God to work for him — to get him on a pro team, to keep him there and to provide him with career opportunities. But when he was cut from the Rams during a year they would make it to the Super Bowl, Harris said he realized the life of a Christian wasn’t about what God could do for him, but how he should be serving God.

That message was given to children and adults who had come together for free food, the game on a projection screen TV and good-natured competition. One of the major goals of the Super Bowl Evangelism Project was to plant seeds and help churches learn how to reach out to their communities.

One such church is Cloverleaf Baptist Church. The 62-year-old church was on the verge of shutting down just months ago as the neighborhood became primarily Hispanic and lower income while the congregation had stayed predominantly white. With few, if any, new members from the new demographics, Cloverleaf Baptist was dwindling in number and its membership was aging. As of last fall there were no children attending the church.

But sponsorship from Sagemont Church in Houston breathed new life into the congregation, and bivocational pastor Alan Hughes is pleased with the results. The children’s worship hour now has 18 members, and eight of them have made a profession of faith.

The SBEP, with assistance from Sagemont, gave the church a reason to reach out to the community in a big way. Revivals were held Jan. 28-30. A children’s carnival drew kids and their families from the neighborhood Jan. 31, and a watch party under the big top of a carnival tent capped off the week for the members and guests at Cloverleaf.

“As a church it challenges us,” Hughes said, adding that it gets members involved in ways they might not have been otherwise. “I’m excited about this because we want to give back to the community.”

Although the primary focus of SBEP is seeing people come to Christ, it is also about sharing the love of Jesus in a tangible way. SBEP director Tim Knopps of the Timothy Institute in Oklahoma said that is why, for the second year in a row, he partnered with the Feed the Children foundation in Oklahoma to organize a food distribution during Super Bowl week. Two tractor-trailers full of food and toiletry items were unloaded across the street from a Houston homeless shelter called The Star of Hope. More than 500 families received food the week prior to the Super Bowl, Knopps said.

Dave Garrett, director of church and community ministry at the Jacksonville Baptist Association in Florida, helped entertain children during the carnival at Cloverleaf. Jacksonville will be the site of Super Bowl XXXIX and the next Super Bowl Evangelism Project. Garrett, who will head the SBEP efforts in that area, said what he and his band of volunteers had seen during the week prior to this year’s Super Bowl will be helpful in planning next year’s events.

Garrett said he wasn’t sure if his community is prepared for the onslaught of humanity that accompanies a Super Bowl. Houston’s infrastructure and population of 4 million people can more readily absorb an additional 100,000 to 200,000. But Jacksonville, he said, is one-fourth the size of Houston, and the influx of people could be overwhelming. That is why he had been researching and investigating how to best organize SBEP prior to this year’s events.

“This has been real good,” Garrett said. Plans are already underway to pool resources in the Christian community, he said. The approximately 220-church Jacksonville association will join forces with the First Coast Christian Outreach, an evangelistic association of churches. “We just want to work with the body of Christ.”

Garrett said a website regarding next year’s SBEP should be up and running soon so that those who wish to volunteer for the Jacksonville Super Bowl Evangelism Project in 2005 can log on and register.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: GOD AND FOOTBALL, TESTIMONY FROM A VETERAN, PLANNING WHILE PLAYING and CELEBRATING DECISIONS.

    About the Author

  • Bonnie Pritchett