During the first-ever national “Back to Church Sunday” (BTCS), held by hundreds of congregations across the country on Sunday, Sept. 13, church members invited more than 700,000 of their friends and family and created worship services specifically geared toward visitors. Participating churches reported surges in attendance, confessions of faith, new members and baptisms.
According to a survey conducted by Outreach Inc. after the event, many visitors were favorably impressed toward the church and the Gospel. Some participating churches reported attendance was up by as much as 25- to 30-percent. One pastor reported his church’s attendance shot from an average of 155 to 220 for BTCS. Another reported an attendance jump from 150 to 196, still another from 60 to 70.
“Church was packed out,” says one churchgoer. It “hasn’t been like that in a long time. I loved it!” Another said, “It was a little challenging getting a parking spot. Praise God!”
“Had a wonderful time with our new church family,” one visitor said. “We shared a meal and are getting to know people.”
The campaign is ongoing, with some churches holding BTCS events on other days. It is aimed at reaching the “un-churched” and “de-churched” – people who once went to church, but don’t any more.
LifeWay Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that 82-percent of un-churched people surveyed said that they’d be open to visit a church, if a friend or family member invited them. BTCS is stirring congregations to do just that.
While the numbers of invitations are enormous, says Eric Abel, Outreach’s vice president of marketing, BTCS is not just about people coming to church.
“Congregations benefit as churchgoers get out of the pews to help make a difference in the lives of others – as congregations get out of their comfort zone and take the risk to ask a friend to church,” says Abel. “A large part of the success of Back to Church Sunday will be a heart change on the part of the existing churchgoer as they invite someone on this special day and become more comfortable inviting people every day.”
In Mullins, South Carolina, population 8,000, five churches banded together for BTCS. Mayor Pam Lee signed a proclamation encouraging church members to invite friends and family members to attend a citywide BTCS event.
Lee, a member of Mullins Methodist Church, says she is already seeing some fruit. “This really brought my family, especially, back to church, because everybody in my family was at
church Sunday,” Lee says. “It really made a big difference to me.”
“We had to set up extra chairs in the rear of the sanctuary,” Rev. Jason Brewer of Mullins Presbyterian Church said. “A lot of first-time visitors, as well as people we hadn’t seen in a while, were there. I think we will see much fruit in Mullins.”
The day ended with a “Back to Church Rally” at the high school football field.
So far, more than 4,200 people have viewed the Back to Church Campaign Planning Guide (www.backtochurch.com). Outreach also provides an interactive Facebook page at www.facebook.com/backtochurch.
BTCS is not a one-and-done outreach. One pastor reported, “We are going to do a ‘Back to Church’ program once a quarter. It mobilized the congregation to ministry, inviting family and friends.”
“Outreach” magazine plans to include a story about “Back to Church Sunday” in the January/February 2010 issue.