Churches invite fans to take a pew to watch games

Cologne, Germany - Churches across Germany are encouraging football fans to swap their barstools and pints for a pew and a prayer, hiring big screens to broadcast World Cup games to their congregations.

More than 1,000 churches and community centres will show the matches live as well as holding seminars and special services to encourage potentially new, and existing, Christians to come together.

Churches in the 12 host cities will hold services in the languages of teams playing that day as they use the World Cup to show people religion has a place in all parts of everyday life.

"The services have been timed so that people can come to the them before they go to the match," pastor Michael Hoering told Reuters in the cathedral city of Cologne on Tuesday.

"We want to show people that believing is something normal that belongs in life and not just in church," added Hoering.

He runs the Cologne part of the countrywide project called kickoff2006, which uses the motto "kick-start your faith".

For some people strolling outside the imposing Gothic cathedral, the initiative to use the tournament -- which starts on June 9 -- for missionary purposes made sense.

"It's a good idea to use things people are familiar with in ordinary life to try and get them interested in something new," said Andreas Schroeter.

But some Christians questioned the idea of mixing football with religion, saying the hooliganism and swearing that often accompany matches go against their beliefs.

"The church and football don't really belong together. When you see what happens with some fans at stadiums it's not really very Christian," said Juergen Gramsch, a member of Christian youth group YMCA.

While trying to get more people to go to church was a worthy idea, the reality was likely to be disappointing because many would not return once the World Cup was over, he said.

"People may just be going to church to watch the games on the big screen," he said.

For some fans, however, even the biggest screen in the world would not entice them to watch matches in a church.

"I'd rather sit in a bar to watch it. I like churches to be quiet places," said tourist Amil Pehumudi.