Foul-Weather Friend: Louisiana Church a Safe Port in Time of Storms

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Southeast

By Mark Butzow

Like sports franchises, most churches have diehard fans and fair-weather fans. In Lake Charles, Louisiana, a foul year of damaging hurricanes and historic flooding took its toll on the community and its churches, but Christ Community Church has weathered the storms and is going strong.

While the social distancing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic caused most of the nation’s churches to close their doors in early 2020, Louisiana suffered under added disasters: 2020 also brought two hurricanes (Laura, a Category 4 storm, in August and Delta, a Category 4 storm, in October) to Lake Charles, and a historic sixteen-inch single-day rainfall event followed on May 7, 2021.

“Older neighborhoods that never flooded before were affected,” said Pastor Rick McClain of Christ Community Church, a congregation of the Church of God movement. Most of those residents did not have flood insurance and have lost nearly everything. “Those three disasters in such a short period of time were devastating.”

Naturally, those disasters took a toll on area churches, many of which have never reopened.

Lake Charles won’t really be “back to normal” for a few more years, he predicts. “Most of us couldn’t watch what is happening in Florida because it is so raw, and we know better than they do what their next five years are going to be looking like.”

McClain says Christ Community stayed strong throughout and now offers a home to folks whose own churches closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the foul weather that followed. And a global event in September helped.

The “Back to Church Sunday” campaign was intended to bolster attendance September 18 this year, and CCC was one of hundreds of churches who chose that day to encourage people to restore their habit of attending church, McClain said.

“We’ve (traditionally) called it a Friend Day, and we tended to pair food with it and did picnics.” For the past five years, McClain’s church has adopted the “Back to Church Sunday” event name and used marketing aides from that organization promoting such events worldwide.

“We have used some of their resources in the past,” including a large outdoor banner in the weeks leading up to the date. Also, in recent years, McClain says his church has printed up glossy, 8-1/2 by 11-inch postcards and had them delivered to several hundred homes in the vicinity of their building. They included brief descriptions of services and ministries the church offers, in hopes something would register before the homeowners tossed the flyer into the trash, he says (only half joking, he added).

“I don’t know that you ever have much direct response from advertising, but you have better results from having people invite a friend.”

Another great outreach this summer: VBS.

So, this year, in the weeks leading up to September 18, Christ Community used a weekly email to its members reminding people to bring a friend. The church also used what they call “insider phone calls”—a one-minute voicemail delivered weekly—to remind people to bring a friend and spread the word about Back to Church Sunday.

McClain says food is common at these events, and this year was no exception. A couple of members have professional smokers and set up outside that morning to prepare BBQ chicken for everyone to enjoy after the second service.

Especially this year, this event was a chance for folks who have been away traveling to return and for folks who who’ve been away because of COVID. Put another way, “We wanted to let people who live near us know that we are alive and functioning,” McClain said. “Some churches closed down because of COVID, and we gained some of those families for the duration.”

McClain said Christ Community did not do anything different or special during the Back to Church Sunday services—other than the potluck—and he doesn’t know whether the publicity brought many people back that day. “If a church is going to be strong over time, you have to have stability and consistency,” he said. “You can’t be good one week and not good another week. So, six times a year or so, you have to have special days that produce excitement. Friend Day or Back to Church Sunday is one of those.”

Mark Butzow operates Mark My Words Ink, a freelance writing and editing service, and is a former journalism instructor, broadcast journalist, newspaper reporter, and copy editor. He lives in Madison County, Indiana, with his wife, a first-grade teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson.

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