Rick, a fellow youth leader, contacted me a with a great question:
I am trying to merge most of what we do into a more missional approach. I have a question which is probably really stupid but you seem like the guy to ask. How would you do a missional Superbowl party? I really don't like the Superbowl party idea but I let the students vote and they wanted to do one. I hate the idea of giving a message at half time and all. So, I was checking out your blog to see if there was anything. I didn't see anything and maybe there is a reason for that. Anyway, any thoughts on this?
Rick's observation that I haven't posted on this topic was right on target for one simple reason: I'm not a fan of youth group Super Bowl parties. For one thing, I wouldn't know a Patriot from a Giant unless one is carrying a musket and the other is really, really tall! For another thing, I think it's a stretch to claim that sitting around watching competitive football and TV commercials is a good use of precious youth group time. All that aside..is a missional Super Bowl event possible?
In our book Missional Youth Ministry: Moving from Gathering Teenagers to Scattering Disciples, I write: "When we dare to think about youth ministry holistically and to incorporate the spirit of the Way of Christ into everything we do -- from lock-ins to mission trips, from game nights to campfire worship-- we're inviting young people to experience a missional way of life in which God's Spirit is evident in all they say and do." (p. 149) It is my firm belief that we shouldn't be leading any activities in youth ministry that don't clearly connect to our understanding of the wider mission of the church. For me, being "missional" means measuring all that we do against the degree to which it helps us participate in God's mission of peace, community, love, grace, forgiveness, and justice. Can a Super Bowl party really do this, or is it just an excuse to set aside youth ministry for one night and submerge ourselves in popular culture? What might a more missional approach to a Super Bowl party look like? Here's a few ideas:
1) Participate in the Souper Bowl of Caring: It's simple. Just encourage your youth to bring canned goods or monetary donations to your gathering and make a plan to deliver them to a local food outreach ministry or organization. Even better, challenge your congregation on Superbowl Sunday morning to drop their donations off at the youth gathering later that evening. Feeling really intrepid? Skip the half-time show and go out into your local neighborhood and solicit canned food donations door-to-door. Download the "Tackle Hunger" sign from the Souper Bowl website, invite your teens to write their own messages about food inequality on the signs, photograph them, and upload the shots to the Souper Bowl website, Facebook, or wherever else you might be able to raise the awareness of others.
2) Send Greetings: Watching the game together can simply be seen as a means to a different end. With everybody in one place at one time, take advantage of the opportunity to set out a table of blank greeting cards and invite all of your youth to help you fill out greetings to your home bound elderly, anyone who is in the hospital, church members in the military, college students away from home, teens who haven't been to youth group in awhile, and so on.
3) Promote Community: Sometimes the most "missional" thing you can do is offer ways to help your youth strengthen their bonds of fellowship and their identity as one body in Christ. Promoting fellowship can be tough if everyone is just sitting around staring at a TV. Why not provide a variety of activities besides watching the game? Set out board games, art supplies, or even create a quiet space where youth can sit comfortably and chat with each other. Speak with your adult mentors in advance of the evening and ask them to take advantage of the unstructured time to talk with as many of the youth as they can, catching up on their lives and needs.
4) Share the Gospel: I'll admit one problem I have with elevating the Super Bowl to the center of attention for a youth ministry gathering is the fact that it celebrates competition and for me competition is antithetical to the gospel. We don't compete to be #1 in the Kingdom of God yet the Super Bowl puts a great deal of emphasis on winners and losers (including the competition to present the best commercial!). Why not take some time during the event to ask your group: "This game is being watched by millions of people. What sort of messages do you think are being presented to all of them during this broadcast? If our group could afford to buy commercial time in the Super Bowl and send one simple message about the gospel to all those millions of people, what might it be?" As an extension of this conversation, perhaps encourage your teens to make a large banner with that message that can be posted in front of the church or challenge them all to text that message to their friends right then and there or add it as their status update on Facebook.
5) Invite Guests: You can turn an inwardly focused youth group party into an outwardly focused opportunity for mission by challenging your youth to bring guests to the event -- in particular, youth who do not have a church home but really need to belong to a community of care and nurture. Hopefully, the teens in your group feel like it is a place where they are loved and accepted as children of God. Ask them to invite other teens who need to know that experience for themselves and make them the guests of honor at your event.
6) Prepare and Eat a Meal Together: Sure, you could just order pizzas and sub sandwiches. But there is something about preparing a meal together that strengthens community (maybe this is why Jesus hangs around with so many people at mealtime!). So make pizzas or sandwiches together from scratch before the big game. For an added challenge, connect the entire group by using yarn to tie their wrists to each other so that they have to practice give and take to both cook and eat. I've done this before with youth with great success. I finish by sharing this favorite metaphor about the difference between heaven and "hell." (Here's video and photos to show you how one person approached this very idea!)