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It seems that football makes life difficult for the faithful church attendee. With early home games, fans attending the game are likely to miss Sunday morning services. And late games, complete with traffic jams and exhausted fans, wipe out Sunday evening service. I offer some reasons why people may prefer football to church.

When you attend football games, it's easy to tell who is on your team. You look around the stands and check out what colors people are wearing. The people with blue and red jerseys and a box of Flutie Flakes are proud to be on the same side as you are, making noise, cheering for the same outcome. Those wearing black and gold, or a Marino jersey, are the people to avoid.

Looking around the pews isn't as easy. Chances are good that everyone is dressed pretty much like you are. In fact, should anyone show up attired differently, you will probably look at them with suspicion. It's probably easier to tell where these people's loyalties lie by watching them during the week. This is sort of odd, since the people in church are supposed to be on the same side.

Why then is there so much gossiping, slandering and backbiting? Why are there so many power plays and angry people? Isn't this supposed to be a winning team? I'll take football here over the church, since fans seem to be more loyal and faithful all week long. After all, when was the last time you saw a co-worker wear a Jesus tie to work?

Let's talk about value for the dollar. The current price for a good seat at a regular-season Bills game is about $37. When you're at the game, you are expected to participate. You are making up the 12th man, which can be very important, ruining the enemy's game plan because they can't hear over the noise of the fans.

The Bible says that at least 10 percent of your income is supposed to go to the church. If you make $35,000 annually, that's $3,500. The average attendee shows up and sits in the pew for an hour, with no participation required beyond singing an occasional hymn. One would think the church should be an active, vibrant part of the community, ruining the plans of the enemy -- Satan -- because his players' plans are thwarted by the noise of the faithful: prayer.

Football wins here, too. The best season tickets cost $2,400, participation is expected and you generally know what you are going to get. Now I know what you're thinking: Playoff tickets cost extra. Don't worry, they pass the plate Wednesday night, too.

Let's talk about expectations. When you go to a football game, you expect your team to win. Even if it seems impossible, you still have faith that on any given Sunday your team can find a way to pull out a victory.

In reality, your team doesn't win every time. But it's the hope and camaraderie with other fans, who constantly talk about the team and the future, that keeps you coming back.

You go to church expecting encouragement, correction, forgiveness and power from above to face another week. In reality, you may be burdened with gloom and doom -- "Life is tough . . . we must try to persevere . . . woe to us." Guilt often takes the place of forgiveness, and since there is little expectation of a bright future, no one is excited. Yet even a losing football season breeds conversation of "better luck next year" and "what areas do we need to improve?"

Churches need to find ways to make people as enthusiastic about serving God and their communities as they are about going to a game. They need to make their missions, and the good works they ask their flocks to undertake, as exciting as anything that happens on the field. If they can do that, a lot more people would spend part of their Sundays at church instead of the stadium.

SCOTT MERRILL is pastor of the Genesee Wyoming Area Youth Ministry in Alexander.
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