Originally published in The Christian Institute
While Christians have been able to hand out football-themed tracts at previous tournaments in other countries, a 2016 law in Russia prohibits people from sharing their faith anywhere except government-sanctioned premises.
Foreign mission workers and groups are also barred, meaning all evangelism must be led by Russian nationals and confined to church buildings.
In response, more than 400 evangelical congregations across the country – particularly in cities hosting games – decided to open their doors to screen some games to the public.
Football fans will be invited to take away copies of the New Testament and sign up to attend follow-up Bible studies and youth camps, as well as watch the games.
Dmitry Lunichkin, a pastor in St Petersburg, said: “We are sharing the living Word of God with the people of our city”.
Window of opportunity
While this approach to evangelism is relatively common in Britain and the US, Mission Eurasia President Sergey Rakhuba said it was “really unusual” to see in Russia.
Mr Rakhuba said that in a country where religious freedom is shrinking, “we want to equip the national church using this opportunity to share the Gospel with their communities”.
He added: “The door is possibly closing but still there is a remaining window, so we need to use and mobilize the rest of the world to pray for the church to use [the World Cup] to share the Gospel in Russia.”
Country of concern
Religious freedom is deteriorating in the country, with the US Commission on International Religious Freedom rating it a Tier One ‘country of particular concern’ for the first time.
Russian evangelicals are estimated to make up just one per cent of the population.