SUPER BOWL: Evangelists 'go where the fish are'
MIAMI (BP) -- A couple of Bobby McCreery's fellow evangelists climbed into a New Orleans taxi in 2013 when the city was hosting the Super Bowl.
"Well, sort of," they replied. "We're here to tell people about Jesus."
The driver's face lit up and his eyes widened. "You must be the people that all my fares have been talking about all day," he said. "They say there's people talking about Jesus everywhere, and they can't go anywhere without hearing somebody talk about Jesus."
McCreery, of Pray's Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Ga., is one of about 90 people who want to achieve the same result this week in Miami. They're part of Sports Fan Outreach International (SFOI), a ministry founded by Bill Adams, who recruits fellow evangelists to take the Gospel to major sporting events all over the world -- like the Super Bowl, Olympics, World Cup, Kentucky Derby and others.
For McCreery, this year in Miami is the 10th anniversary of his first Super Bowl, which was also held in Miami in 2010. He's been to every host city in the last 10 years for the game except for New York in 2014.
"The idea is, the fishermen want to go where the fish are," McCreery said. "They estimate somewhere in the neighborhood of a million people visit the Super Bowl host city during that weekend, so that means there's going to be a lot of people out there."
The Scripture talks about sowing the seed of the Word, McCreery said, with some planting, some watering, but ultimately God providing the increase.
"If a million people are coming in, that's a million opportunities to bring the Gospel to people," McCreery said. "The desire would be that even though a lot of people are obviously not coming in to hear the Gospel, by spreading out across the city, the Gospel would be almost inescapable to them."
Paul Harvey, a member of Capshaw Baptist Church in Madison, Ala., is also part of the Sports Fan Outreach International contingent in Miami this year. It's his sixth Super Bowl to visit as an evangelist.
"When I got saved in 2007, God really dealt with me specifically about sharing the Gospel with other people," Harvey said. "And through the course of reading Scripture, of learning more about it, going out and making mistakes, trying to get better, having some good mentoring, I came in contact with a lot of other people who had a similar passion."
The SFOI evangelism efforts take place over a three-day period during Super Bowl weekend -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each day begins with about an hour of corporate prayer, followed by a time of fellowship and teaching, sometimes by local pastors, and sometimes by SFOI participants. The theme for this year's teaching is the theology of conversion.
Then around 11 a.m. or noon, the evangelists break up into teams and spread out across the city until late in the evening. They target high-trafficked areas where they will either engage people in one-on-one conversations or preach in the open air.
"We bring 100,000 tracts every year, and I can't remember a year where we didn't get rid of 80 or 90 percent of them at least, if not all of them," McCreery said.
This is the fourth Super Bowl for Eric Kilianski, a member of CrossPointe Church in Madison, Ala. He said there's no better place to preach the Gospel than in an area with thousands of people, many of them coming from all over the country, and many of them with no Christian background.
He recalled an encounter he had with a man during the Super Bowl in Houston in 2017. His team had been sent to a somewhat isolated location, and they didn't think they were going to have much traffic.
"Literally, while we were setting up, a guy came up to us asking questions and hearing what we had to say," Kilianski said. "We just planted seeds with him, and I think the Lord led him to repentance and salvation."
While evangelism is certainly a priority for SFOI, it's not the only objective. Harvey said they are often approached by other Christians who are encouraged by their ministry. One man approached Harvey in Indianapolis in 2012 and told him he had been listening from a distance and watching how his team interacted with people.
"I can tell you actually know the Lord because of the way you talk to each other and the way you talk to the people that are reviling you," the man told Harvey.
"One of the things we're always hoping to do is encourage that nascent group of believers in that city to be more bold," Harvey said. "They don't have to replicate us, per se, but we want to encourage them to be a bold witness for Christ."
For McCreery, in his 10 years of Super Bowl evangelism, his compassion for lost souls and his desire to see God glorified are the motivations for his labors. He says his responsibility is simply to be obedient to God's command to proclaim the Gospel.
"We're out there because we believe that God is glorified when the Son is proclaimed," he said. "One of the things we do is just trust the Lord that when we preach the Word, He's going to be pleased to do what He desires to do with it."