Dave Boling

Churches adapt to Seahawks’ popularity

And on the seventh day ... they watched the Seahawks.

At least a lot of them do.

In the past two seasons, Seattle-Tacoma ratings for Seahawks broadcasts have gone up 77 percent — the largest rise among NFL market areas.

As they set about defending their World Championship, expect viewership to grow further. Even the preseason game at Denver, on a week night, was viewed in nearly half a million homes in the Seattle-Tacoma market.

An unintended consequence of Seahawks’ success is that when they’re on the tube or at CenturyLink Field, a portion of the Sunday morning flock strays from what might be their customary spiritual routine.

“We all know that when the Seahawks play, attendance is way down,” said Elizabeth Klein, former pastor at Tacoma’s Urban Grace church.

Darla DeFrance, pastor of Columbia City Church of Hope, said the lure of the Seahawks' successes have been unmistakable. “It was definitely more noticeable last year than in previous years,” she said of the impact of the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl.

It was such that her husband sought a way to combine the traditional offerings with some good football fellowship. “(He) wanted to try to organize people to watch the recorded game after the service,” DeFrance said.

But apparently the suspense and the excitement of live action was too much for many.

“That never did really take off,” DeFrance said of the plan. “So he had to watch a lot of games alone.”

The straying of the sheep when the Rams come to town might not be noticed at the big churches. A spokesman at St. Mark’s Episcopal in Seattle said she hadn’t heard any conversation regarding diminished attendance related to Seahawks games.

Many embrace the Seahawks’ success in the spirit of community involvement.

Melanie Grassi, creative director at Life Center in Tacoma, cited special football season activities.

“When the Seahawks have Sunday games, we have Saturday services we call ‘Seahawks Saturday.’ We encourage people to come at 6 p.m. on Saturday and wear their colors. We worship and have fun, and then they watch the game live on Sunday.”

The Life Center Thursday night service this week is in obvious conflict with the highly anticipated season opener against Green Bay. No problem.

“We’re having people come to watch the game on the big screen and then we’ll have our service at halftime,” Grassi said. “And then we’ll go back to the game in the third quarter.”

Life Center, Grassi said, is bringing some Seahawks into the fold, too, as long-snapper Clint Gresham and Ben Malcolmson, coach Pete Carroll’s assistant, will be speaking at Sunday morning services on Sept. 7.

“We know people are exited about the Seahawks,” Grassi said. “And we like being a part of the community.”

Dr. Karl Payne, pastor at Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, has been the Seahawks chaplain for 21 years and witnessed the impressive fan resurgence.

“Even in our church, once the season starts, the guys from the pulpit will say, ‘Well, the Seahawks must be playing today.’ It can sound so shallow in one sense, but on the other hand, it shows the excitement there is for this team. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not religious, this team is fun to watch.”

Payne is very cautious to not mention names or address specifics about players, assiduously respectful of their privacy and the confidence of their relationship.

But from his perspective, the current Seahawks are a group that he feels deserve the public support.

“They’re great guys,” Payne said. “It’s fun to cheer for them because you don’t feel like you’re cheering for somebody who later on you’re going to have wonder what in the world you were doing. These are really great guys.”

Payne said he’s friends with pastors around the country, and in some other cities the view from the pulpit also can be a little spotty in the fall.

“I’ve got a buddy who pastors in Green Bay,” Payne said. “You go in there on Sunday and you just know there’s people you’re not going to see. And it’s more so when teams are winning. Even those who aren’t the die-hard fans are watching because they like to follow the winners.”

And the Seahawks are hoping to continue that trend.

When they open the season Thursday night, there will be congregations gathered to beseech the Seahawks to smite the philistine Packers — support that might come in handy if the Seahawks need an answer to another Hail Mary like the last time the Packers came to town.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440