4 Things Your Church Must Learn from the Super Bowl Fail

February 3, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII was a huge disappointment to the faithful in Denver and the legion of Peyton Manning fans everywhere. The Seattle Seahawks trounced the Broncos 43-8.

This anticlimactic result isn’t unique. The Super Bowl is always a letdown, no matter who plays or wins. That’s inevitable, given the spectacle it has become.


Many people find church a frustration too, and for exactly the same reasons.

Everything about the Super Bowl is over hyped and over done. And every year fans seem to spend more energy critiquing than enjoying it. The game was lousy. The ads were stupid. There was too much controversy in the halftime show. There wasn’t enough excitement in the halftime show. The lights went out. The fireworks weren’t as good as last year.

People who try your church and don’t come back harbor similar complaints, and for the same reasons. I know this because I nearly gave up on church once myself.

Here’s why people watch the Super Bowl, which is also why they hate it. These are the same reasons people love to hate church.

1. It’s the Big Game

However, most people don’t care who wins or loses. Only two of the 32 NFL teams are playing, so most spectators don’t have a true rooting interest. Sure, it’s important. But only a few people care who wins. To most viewers, it’s irrelevant.

The same is true at church. A few of the faithful will come because “it’s the most important hour of the week.” Most people, even most Christians, won’t.

You fix that by making worship meaningful, not merely important. People won’t come back to your church because there supposed to. They’ll come back if they experience something meaningful for their own lives.

2. It’s the Big Party

But the Super Bowl makes for a lousy party. People who want to watch the game are frustrated by the talkers, who are there to hang out. The party usually splits into two groups. Hardcore fans commandeer the living room; talkers hang in the kitchen. During ads, the roles reverse. The partiers want quiet to watch the commercials, and the fans want to talk about what’s happening in the game.

Many churches are divided in exactly that way, into two groups with different ideas about why they are there.

Pick a purpose for your worship and stick to it. If your worship is a re-creation of church as it should be or the true worship of heaven, then wear your vestments, sing your 500-year-old songs, and don’t give an inch. If you see worship as a life transforming experience for everyone, including newcomers, then sing your contemporary songs, wear your cool jeans, and don’t apologize to anyone.

3. The Ads Are Entertaining

Advertisers pay so much for the airtime that they feel they must produce a mini spectacle to garner attention. But after 48 years of one-upsmanship, the bar for getting noticed is quite high. Most ads are a fail. And there are too many of them. People who want to watch the game resent the interruption, and those who tune in for the ads often find them blasé.

Churches make the same mistake by loading up worship services with comedic announcements, inside jokes, and funny videos. The bar for getting noticed is high, and most congregations don’t have the technical savvy to get over it. The result is a boring distraction.

Streamline your worship. Take out everything that doesn’t lead people to God or communicate his Word. Pare it down to essentials, then give them everything you’ve got.

4. Halftime Is Spectacular

Except that it’s not. Everyone knows it’ll be a mashup of some artist’s greatest hits combined with an over-the-top light show and some fireworks. This “spectacle” is now so predictable that people are wowed only if there’s some controversy.

A football game is a lousy place to stage a rock concert. It cheapens both.

Churches make this mistake when they resort to entertainment to capture attention. Entertainment is any element of worship done for its own sake—in other words, as a performance. And that applies to more than music. The sermon, the video announcements, or just about any element of the service can be done to entertain.

Don’t confuse entertainment with worship. Don’t divide your audience’s focus between engaging God and looking for the wow. Humor, music, and video all make excellent techniques but lousy centerpieces.

Many readers will disagree that the Super Bowl has lost its way. They like it just the way it is. More power to them.

But can anyone deny that worship in many congregations has become a ritual in search of a purpose?

What’s your advice of keeping the main thing the main thing?

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.