VISTA, Calif.—More than 7,600 churches from 34 denominations opened their doors to an estimated 250,000 visitors during National Back to Church Sunday Sept. 18.
Twice as many churches as last year participated in what has become the largest cross-denominational outreach initiative in America. Churches responding to a post-event survey welcomed an average of 34 new visitors, an increase of 25.4 percent in weekly attendance.
Almost 95 percent of pastors surveyed said they would participate again in National Back To Church Sunday, which will be held next on Sept. 16, 2012.
“The enthusiasm for National Back To Church Sunday has grown along with the number of churches participating,” said spokesman Philip Nation of LifeWay Research, whose organization’s research helped birth the nationwide event three years ago. “We’re excited about the response to this initiative, not only from the churches, but from those friends and neighbors who have told our participants how much they appreciated the welcome—and in many cases, the welcome back.”
Pastor Scott Polley of Life in Christ Fellowship in West Jefferson, Ohio, said on Facebook that his church nearly doubled its average weekly attendance on National Back To Church Sunday. “Best of all, 3 people (known of) made a decision to follow Christ!” he wrote. ”We are not waiting till next year to do it again; we are making plans for a quarterly outreach with the style of Back To Church.”
Several churches surveyed indicated that many visitors said they hadn’t been to church in years and appreciated the invitation to return. “They enjoyed the fact that the church cared about them,” one respondent said. “They realized the importance of attending church.”
Said another respondent: “Many people are waiting for an invitation to be healed from the hurt previously experienced in church. They want to know they are welcome and encouraged to come back to church.”
In the survey conducted by Outreach Inc., one of the movement’s supporting organizations, many churches said they planned to follow up with visitors through activities such as Bible studies, movie nights and cookouts.
Church participants also appreciated how much National Back To Church Sunday energized their congregations. Polley noted on Facebook: “It was a great joy to see the congregation I pastor draw together with a common goal and purpose to impact so many people with the passion of Christ!”
Another survey respondent agreed: “This campaign is extremely helpful in assisting us with getting back to our mission of evangelism, mobilizing and empowering membership, and helping ensure that your church is on the right track. It’s simply energizing!!”
One church participant also noted that Back to Church Sunday was an “Outstanding event for members, especially the orientation and training with the materials provided. The key is preparation, preparation—relentless enthusiastic preparation.”
Since the initiative began in 2009, National Back To Church Sunday has seen increased success. Some 3,800 churches participated in 2010.
Although 83 percent of American adults identify themselves as Christians, only about 20 percent attend church on any given Sunday. Only 2 percent of church members invite others on a regular basis.
Yet, a study by LifeWay Research and the North American Mission Board of more than 15,000 Americans found 67 percent say a personal invitation from a family member would be effective in getting them to visit a church. Sixty-three percent say an invitation from a friend or neighbor would likely move them to respond.
Founded in 1996, Outreach Inc. has quickly grown to become the largest provider of church outreach products and services in the world. With a mission to share God’s love and empower the church to share the message of Jesus Christ, Outreach provides cost-effective, proven methods and resources in a variety of forms, including books, media and film, postcard invitations, banners, bulletin covers, curriculum, church campaign materials, Outreach magazine and more.
LifeWay Christian Resources, 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. LifeWay Research is one of the most trusted sources of information about the church, culture and faith.