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No Sunday Service, Sports Instead

October 31, 2005 by

It appears New Zealand is still adjusting to all the attention that came with its Lord of the Rings fame. Whether or not the beloved Kiwis are seeking more attention is unclear, but this story from the NZ Herald is certainly sporting echoes of strategic swagger.

Greerton Bible Church is replacing its Sunday morning services with Sunday morning sports, beginning November 6. So as not to eliminate all of the religious underpinnings the church holds to, its religious, um… errr… regular, service will be moved to Friday nights. “A lot of people are going to watch the [games] on Sunday morning, so we figured if we can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” said senior pastor Russell Embling.

The cool thing about this approach is that the church has invited sports celebrities to come and share their story. Says Embling, “Each of our guest speakers will also share their story of how their faith has influenced their rugby careers and life.”

I like this idea as a way for churches to reach out and attract more people. I only have one concern, and its a concern I have with nearly all of these kinds of approaches.


If the Church is more concerned with getting people in the door than getting Christ into hearts, I think we have more than a marketing issue at stake here. We have a problem with understanding what it means to be the Church. I’m not against Sunday morning sports or church buildings that provide an environment to watch them. Unique approaches like this are nothing new. Kevin has written stories on churches using everything from bikers and cowboys to dodgeball and lingerie.

I am concerned with activity or promotion that clouds the concept of what Church really is. To me, Church is a committed group of disciples in pursuit of becoming more like Jesus and demonstrating this compassion and love with those who need it.

If Greerton Bible Church is able to pull this off in the context of their sports Sundays, great! Otherwise, they walk a fine line between putting method before message. If sports (or any activity) is perceived to be more important than outreach and discipleship, we have a problem.

Post By:

Brad Abare


Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it. He and his wife Jamaica live in Los Angeles with their daughter, Miró.
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6 Responses to “No Sunday Service, Sports Instead”

  • Ron Gehrke II
    November 1, 2005

    I think this is a great idea. In my opinion the best discipleship happens outside of the church walls or traditional church activity. It is the times working together on a outreach project, dinners with friends, and late nights at coffee that have most affected me in recent years.
    This church has an opportunity to come in contact with people that they may have never met any other way. They are expanding their sphere of influence.
    The only real negative I see here is that they are ticketing the event. I’m sure that if someone shows up without a ticket they’ll let them in – as they said it was for catering purposes; however, some people who didn’t want to hassle with the extra step of getting a free ticket, may not come.


  • Michael
    November 1, 2005

    You bring up a good point. We have to be careful that we don’t become so focused on numbers that we forget why we want them to be there (and that should be to share Christ with them).
    Check out Mark Waltz’s, a pastor at Granger, comment on markwaltz typepad
    (sorry, looks like I can’t link to it)
    Sure, my task is to educate and communicate to people in and out of the church to bring them in, but that’s only the start…we must be just as strong at delivering the truth those people are searching for.


  • kevin
    November 1, 2005

    Here’s the link Michael was referring to:
    People Matter… So We Count


  • Jono
    November 1, 2005

    Wahoo! I live in Tauranga (Greerton is a suburb of Tauranga), New Zealand. We really are trying to get over Lord of the Rings. It would help if tourists stopped coming here to see the film locations! Actually no it wouldn’t help, we’d lose a lot of tourist attraction.
    I thought exactly the same thing about the sports campaign, I’m naturally suspicious when sports starts to take such an important place in people’s lives that it shifts the Sunday morning service!
    I agree though, it could be pulled off effectively, or it could be walking the fine line.


  • Russell Embling
    November 7, 2005

    I appreciate some of the cautiously optimistic comments relating to our outreach. Lsst Sunday we had 160 people come to see the Test and to hear the faith story of one of our leading coaches. Tickets are for catering purposes with no one being turned away if they come without one.
    The church is the people and not the building and our people are committed to reaching the unchurched.
    One young lady prayer walked around the church for an hour praying for God to impact the lives of people who came.
    Romans 14:5-8 tells us that some consider one day as special and others don’t. For us it isn’t motivated by the desire to fill the church per se but to reach people with the Good News. Many churches use a variety of activities from crafts to children’s music programs to get the Good News out there. That is all we have done, using Rugby, and it happens to be on Sunday morning because the games are being played in the UK, 12 hours behind us.


  • Gordman
    August 6, 2007

    This is amazing and really open minded. Inviting sports celebrities to speak in church really is a unique approach. I am not surprised to see the positive result, good for them, we should learn something here.



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