In a country where strict laws on evangelizing are implemented, churches have to be creative in order to continue with their activities. Russian churches have found a loophole in a law that prohibits the sharing of faith outside places of worship and used the World Cup 2018 to reach more people.
In 2016, Russia has banned evangelism outside of buildings officially recognized as churches by the government. Aside from curtailing the activities of churches, the country has shut down foreign mission groups and denied visas to mission workers.
Sport offers a way to elevate man’s physical and spiritual culture, and it should be a tool for the Church. — Patriarch Kirill of Moscow
More than 400 evangelical churches in St. Petersburg and other cities joined an initiative and opened their doors for public live screenings of the World Cup. Soccer fans can watch the games on big screens for free from June 14 to July 15, 2018, reports Christian Today.
Mission Eurasia spearheaded the sport-church campaign. The organization partnered with hundreds of churches in Russia to distribute 600,000 copies of the Russian-language Bibles, including 100,000 copies of special edition New Testament Bibles. The Bibles have a QR code which directs readers to additional Christian resources.
“While soccer fans around the world cross their fingers as their national teams play in the coming days, hoping for a victory, Mission Eurasia urges Christians to join their hands in prayer with a different result in mind,” said Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia.
The organization is optimistic it can reach 3 million people and is already preparing for other church activities in the future, including Bible study groups and children’s day camps.
In addition to the World Cup screenings, church leaders have devised ways to use the sporting event to spread the church’s traditional values, according to British online newspaper, The Independent.
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow announced the creation of a “sports commission” within the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Sport offers a way to elevate man’s physical and spiritual culture, and it should be a tool for the Church,” he said. “The task of an athlete is the same as that of a monk; without self-control there can be no success.”
More than 70% of the Russian population identify as Christians, but no more than six percent of them are practicing Christians or are frequently attending church services. The Russian Orthodox primate wants to use sports to make citizens more Christian.
“The World Cup is great chance to do that, to help those new to the Church understand our spirituality,” said the church’s press secretary, Vakhtang Kipshidze.