Congregations Observe National Back to Church Sunday
By Carl Stagner
Sunday, September 16, is National Back to Church Sunday. Originally launched in 2004 as a response to some startling surveys conducted by Dr. Thom Rainer and Lifeway Research, this nationwide movement seeks to bring the unchurched into church—or bring back to church those who have left. Survey findings indicate that eight out of every ten unchurched persons would visit a church if invited by a friend; research also suggests, however, that only 2 percent of churchgoers have actually invited a friend to church in the past year.
According to the event’s website, 7,600 churches from a wide variety of denominations participated last year. This year the organizers hope 10,000 churches will participate. On National Back to Church Sunday 2011, average church attendance was up 25 percent. In advance of the event, churchgoers are strongly encouraged to invite their friends. Churches across the country place special emphasis on worship services and activities for maximum impact.
Intentional invitations to accept Christ, messages about church involvement, free food, special multimedia presentations, and a deliberate focus on the needs of the community are just some of the ways churches prepare for this annual opportunity. Many Church of God congregations participate so they too can take advantage of this great outreach opportunity.
Mel Jacobs, pastor of Twelfth Avenue Church of God in Arab, Alabama, is looking forward to what God will do through National Back to Church Sunday. He is challenging his congregation to embrace outreach. “We have some great people with sincere hearts for others, but often they need a push in order to reach out,” he says. “Hopefully this program will be a catalyst for that.” The church has emphasized their ministry theme this year as “Beyond Ourselves.” On September 16, Twelfth Avenue will host a meal for their neighbors and strive to build lasting relationships. Outreach will not be a one-day pursuit, however, for Twelfth Avenue. Jacobs plans to issue a thirty-day challenge to the congregation to keep the spirit of Back to Church Sunday alive and to make it their own.
Lakewood Church of God in Clarksburg, Maryland, also plans to be a part of National Back to Church Sunday. Lakewood associate pastor David Bullock hasn’t made any special arrangements for the worship service on the 16th; they will simply offer a powerful worship service as they do each week. But what they have done is encouraged the congregation to be more purposeful in welcoming and connecting with newcomers. His wife Rita anticipates how God will use this event in their church. “Our church, like many I suppose, struggles with inviting others to attend,” she explains. “This is the perfect opportunity for the pastors to encourage it with hopefully thousands of other churches across the United States. The appeal is connection to something greater than ourselves.”
According to the event website, churches should participate in National Back to Church Sunday because it’s “a catalyst, it’s simple, it’s personal, it works, it’s grassroots, it empowers, and it’s free.” Learn more at www.backtochurch.com.