It was, by church standards, irreverent.
Beating drums thundered through the sanctuary as the crowd waved flags and pumped fists. Young men and women in face paint jumped up and down near the pulpit, leading hundreds of faithful followers in cheers. Grandmothers in pews gasped in horror and screamed with excitement.
Traditionally a house of quiet worship, Grace Korean Church in Fullerton became a raucous party on Tuesday as hundreds arrived to watch South Korea play Nigeria on three giant screens.
Some were members of the congregation, still with Bibles in hand from morning's devotion. Others attended church elsewhere. A few weren't churchgoers at all. Yet in that moment, soccer was their shared religion.
By offering up their halls as an alternative to smoky, dimly lighted bars or crowded restaurants, Southland Korean churches are hoping to woo potential congregants caught up in soccer fever.
The Korean American community has been fanatical about the South Korean national soccer team since the team notched its first World Cup victories in 2002 and advanced to the semifinals. Korean-owned bars and cafes welcome throngs for World Cup games at any hour, and thousands decked out in the team's color, red, swarm Koreatown's outdoor screenings. The games strike a nerve in the highly nationalistic and intensely proud culture.
The drawing power of the game has not been lost on Korean churches.
"It's an indirect way of spreading the gospel," said Paul Gihong Han, a pastor at Grace Korean Church where an estimated 1,000 fans gathered to watch Tuesday's match between South Korea and Nigeria. "I'm hoping this will be an opportunity for people to come closer to the church and come closer to God."
The church has long been a pillar in the overwhelmingly Christian community, and many Korean Americans build their social lives around their congregation. The numerous churches that dot the landscape in Koreatown and in pockets of Orange County and the San Fernando Valley vie for influence and new parishioners.
And during the World Cup, the evangelical leaning of many of the churches aligns perfectly with the religion-like devotion of soccer fans.
At least seven large Korean churches, from Northridge to Lincoln Heights to Irvine, have broadcast Korea's matches in their halls, doling out bandannas, T-shirts and food. Oriental Mission Church in Koreatown hung a banner outside advertising its pre-game meals of seollangtang, a soup made of ox bones.
"This is where I can go to be around other Koreans," said Kristina Choi, 22, at Oriental Mission during halftime of the Korea-Nigeria match. "A majority of my friends are not Korean and not into the World Cup."
Church leaders were probably happy to see people like 17-year-old Franklin Lee.
Lee, a self-described atheist, had watched a previous game with thousands of people on an outdoor screen, but said he preferred Oriental Mission, where he was greeted warmly and offered plates of rice cakes and hard-boiled eggs.
He was, however, relieved the event involved no overt proselytizing.
"I would have felt a little disturbed if they had tried to convert me," he said.
Joo Young Chang, a pastor at Oriental Mission, said they purposely made the gathering free of Christian undertones.
"If we try to preach to them, they'll think they got cheated and it will backfire," Chang said. "If they come here for just the game, next time they come to worship."
Although church elders were initially opposed to the idea of hosting the games -- two of the games forced the early-morning service to relocate to an adjacent chapel -- Chang said deacons convinced them the World Cup offered an opportunity to expand a congregation that has been dwindling for a decade. Many churches hoped the games would bring in second-generation Korean Americans, a population they have struggled to attract.
At Grace Church, the religion was a little more manifest. Christian music blared from the loudspeaker as fans filtered in, and a public prayer was held during the first game, in which South Korea beat Greece 2-0.
For the second game against Argentina, however, they skipped the prayer so that non-Christians wouldn't feel pressured, said Pastor Han.
"We wanted them to come and enjoy the match comfortably," he said. Then he said with a smile: "Maybe that's why we lost."
Whether faith played a role, South Korea advanced to the Round of 16, and will face Uruguay on Saturday. But in terms of winning over newcomers, the results were mixed.
Dong Soo Han, a 53-year-old house painter, watched quietly from his seat near the back of Grace Church, as if ready to take off at a moment's notice. It was the first time he had set foot inside a church.
As impressed as Han was with the slick, modern sanctuary, he said he wasn't interested in the religion and will probably watch the next game at home.
"It's just more comfortable," Han said.
But Peter Kim, 43, a Cypress hedge fund manager, was sold.
"I saw the size of the TV screen ... and I liked that they had nice cushy chairs instead of wooden pews. It seemed ideal for World Cup viewing," he said. "I think I'll go to this church from now on. It's large and has nice facilities. People look for things like that in a church these days."