Russian churches sidestep evangelism ban with World Cup live screenings

General view during the opening ceremony.REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Churches in various Russian cities have opened their doors to soccer fans for live screenings of the World Cup in the face of a ban on evangelism outside places of worship.

According to Christianity Today, more than 400 evangelical churches in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities are hosting the screenings in an effort to reach soccer fans from Russia and across the world.

'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,' Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia, said in a press release.

'We have an unprecedented opportunity in the next few weeks as Christians around the world join us in praying that God will use this campaign to reach many people with the gospel to extend his kingdom,' he continued.

Legislation was enacted in 2016 prohibiting evangelism outside of officially recognized churches. Since the law was enacted, the Russian government has shut down several foreign missions groups and has stopped issuing visas to missions workers.

Churches participating in the campaign will be distributing 600,000 copies of the Russian-language Bibles, including 100,000 copies of special edition New Testament Bibles that contain a QR code with links to more Christian resources.

Mission Eurasia has trained young Russian church leaders from various denominations to take part in the World Cup outreach.

The organization is expecting to reach as many as three million people with the campaign. It is now preparing to launch around 1,800 bible study groups, as well as day camps and sporting events for about 15,000 children.

Local churches have also been asked to prepare follow-up programmes for the campaign. Dmitry Lunichkin, a pastor in St Petersburg, said that the campaign has provided his church with free resources for evangelism.

'We are sharing the living Word of God with the people of our city. We believe that Christ will come one day and reveal how many people accepted him into their hearts as a result,' Lunichkin said, according to Christianity Today.

Although the campaign does not violate the anti-evangelism law, some churches have raised concerns about how authorities might respond to the outreach efforts.

Rakhuba is asking supporters to pray that the authorities would see that the outreach is aimed at "bringing positive change to the country."

Thirty-two teams are currently competing in the World Cup, which began on June 14 and will end on July 15.