Millions expected to head back to church Sept. 16 in response to personal invitationsby jmaloni
National "Back to Church Sunday" draws participation of more than 12,000 congregations across the country
On Sept. 16, millions of Americans are expected to take a bold step to return to church, based on an invitation from a friend, family member, coworker or neighbor. National "Back to Church Sunday," the largest collaborative outreach in the nation, provides the potential for people not only to find a church and deepen their relationship with God, but also to form lasting personal relationships.
With more than 12,000 churches registered to participate, people looking for a church in their community can search the "Back to Church Sunday" roster online at www.backtochurch.com/roster.
Research reported by Thom Rainer in "The Unchurched Next Door" shows 82 percent of the unchurched are at least "somewhat likely" to respond positively to an invitation to attend church.
"Nothing can surpass the effect of the personal invitation," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a supporting partner of "Back to Church Sunday."
Congregations across America are customizing "Back to Church Sunday" to their own communities to reach people who no longer attend.
In Powder Springs, Ga., where church leaders estimate that 88 percent of their community does not attend church, Burnt Hickory Baptist Church offers their congregation a four-week "Family Prayer Walk" guide leading up to Sept. 16. Beginning in August, weekly emphases have been directing families as they walk through their neighborhoods, pray for the residents, and look for opportunities to interact with neighbors in conversations and relationship-building.
"God's heart is that Burnt Hickory families have a significant spiritual impact on their neighbors," said Mike Stephens, senior pastor. "Prayer-walking is a simple discipline that our families can incorporate into their lives to develop a heart for those living around them and a greater understanding of what may be happening in their lives - all while taking a walk with our kids, getting exercise and sharing with them the importance of caring for others."
The four-week prayer walk culminates in a commitment to invite neighbors to "Back to Church Sunday" Sept. 16.
"National Back to Church Sunday is not a quick-fix or one-time solution. It is an opportunity for Christians to share ongoing grace and acceptance," said Philip Nation, director of adult ministry publishing at LifeWay Research and spokesperson for "Back to Church Sunday." "Sept. 16 can be the portal for people to find their way not only back to church, but into to a loving, accepting church family where real relationships are built."
To begin building these relational bridges, many churches are planning social events, in addition to their worship services on Sept. 16. Aboite Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., will host breakfast for interaction between the congregation and their guests. Citylight Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., is providing live music, face-painting for children, catered food and sporting activities.
The movement is also spreading to Canada. Zion Christian Reformed Church in Oshawa, Ontario, will participate in "Back to Church Sunday" by hosting a concert with award-winning worship artist Hiram Joseph of Toronto.
Last year, more than 7,600 congregations across America extended an estimated 1 million personal invitations for "Back to Church Sunday." Participating churches reported on average an increase of 25 percent in attendance on that Sunday. Since its inception, more than 5 million invitations from more than 12,000 churches have been given.
Resources to help churches equip their members to invite others to rediscover church are still available (www.backtochurch.com). Social media such as "e-vites" (www.backtochurch.com/emailafriend) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/backtochurch) make it possible to extend invitations until the last minute.
National "Back to Church Sunday" (www.backtochurch.com) is the single largest annual community outreach in the nation, sharing the simple message and mission of inviting everyone in America back to church. The campaign empowers churches and church members with the tools they need to welcome their neighbors, friends and loved ones back to church, while providing the unchurched an easy way to find a welcoming church in their community.
LifeWay Christian Resources (www.lifeway.com), in operation since 1891, is one of the largest Christian resource organizations in the world. LifeWay Research exists for the purpose of equipping church leaders with insight that will lead to greater levels of ministry effectiveness through research-based books and reports based on statistically validated surveys.