Last year at this time, a fellow youth leader contact me to ask if I thought there was a way to make a Super Bowl party missional. He wasn't really enthusiastic about hosting such a party but it's what his students wanted. He noted that I'd never talked about Super Bowl parties before and so asked my opinion. Here's what I wrote:
The 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 in addition to 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.