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Originally published January 11, 2013 at 8:39 PM | Page modified January 11, 2013 at 8:51 PM

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Some churches shift Sunday services for Seahawks game

Some churches are changing their schedule of Sunday services so Seahawks fans can watch the team's televised playoff game in Atlanta, which starts at 10 a.m. Seattle time.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Pastor Barry Crane, of Edmonds, knows some people disagree with his church's decision to rearrange Sunday's schedule to accommodate the Seahawks' playoff game.

"It's not that we're putting football first," he said. "But this is an opportunity to reach out to the broader community."

A number of churches around the Puget Sound area have at least considered changing their schedules Sunday so parishioners can be home to watch the 10 a.m. game against the Atlanta Falcons. Other churches across the country have faced similar decisions, and the question is sometimes posed: Is that reaching out to popular culture — or pandering to it?

At Crane's North Sound Church in downtown Edmonds, the schedule of three Sunday services has been replaced by an 8 a.m. "12th Man" free tailgate breakfast, open to the community. After breakfast, a one-hour service is planned in which Crane will show Seahawks video clips, draw on football as a metaphor, and even shoot blue and green giveaways out of an air cannon. And the whole congregation gets home in time for the game.

Not everyone approves.

When the church's plan was posted on the My Edmonds News blog, it drew more than two dozen comments, some from people who said the church had misplaced its priorities.

"If you have a church full of people who can't put God above a local sports team, how in the world are they going to put God first when a real temptation comes along?" one commenter wrote.

But another praised the church for "extending a creative model of care and grace ... to proclaim the goodness of God."

In Bothell, Eastlake Community Church is holding earlier services that will finish before kickoff, followed by a football watch party. The church has done this for other big games, "and we get crap from other churches," Pastor Ryan Meeks said. But he sees no reason that services must be held at a certain time each week.

He said his church is full of Seahawks fans, and adds, "The point is, I want to watch the game."

Eugene Cho, a pastor at Seattle's Quest Church, said changing his service to accommodate the Seahawks game was tempting, but ultimately he decided against it.

His congregation, multigenerational and multiethnic, is full of Seahawks fans, many of whom he knows he won't see Sunday. For those who do come, he'll give occasional score updates from the game but won't show it.

"As much as we love Seattle and Seattle culture and sports, our worship community and time together is an important time," Cho said.

Reach Church in Kirkland faced an unusual dilemma: Sunday is its inaugural service. The new church is trying to create a community, said Pastor Brian McCormack, so he moved the service up to 9 a.m. and will screen the game afterward.

McCormack doesn't want to make a habit of switching services for sporting events, but said this is a special occasion. So far, he said, people seem to support the decision.

"Too many churches are scared of culture," McCormack said. "I love that this is an opportunity to make a statement about who you are."

The church-vs.-football question may not typically get much attention in the relatively unchurched Seattle area, but it has been faced by churches across the country.

In Granger, Ind., just a few miles from Notre Dame University, lead Pastor Tim Stevens at the Granger Community Church noticed that attendance at Saturday services dropped dramatically whenever Notre Dame was playing.

So this season he invited people to watch the games at church on a big-screen TV and attend worship services just before or after the games.

Stevens quotes Scripture, noting that the apostle Paul became "all things to all people" to connect with as wide an audience as possible.

"You adjust your ministry to reach out to people in the most effective way in their culture," he said. "Just like you'd do if you were a missionary in a foreign country."

Sarah Freishtat: 206-464-2373 or sfreishtat@seattletimes.com

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