By Ashley Andrews, 700 Club Interactive
CBN.com –”Back to Church Sunday. That’s what’s up. You ain’t ever seen a church like this. Yep! We’ve got lights, cameras, plenty of action. Don’t need a suit, man. Try relaxing. Got my chucks on, and I’m rocking this plaid. Stainless steel podium – I’m preaching from an i-Pad. Come as you are. Grab a nice-sized drink from the coffee bar…”
These are the opening lines from the “Rapping Pastors” video that hit viral with over 43,000 views in a matter of hours. The video was meant to encourage viewers to attend the 4th annual National Back to Church Sunday, and it did.
Over 14,000 congregations joined in on the event on September 16, reaching out to all those who are un-churched and de-churched. And still, the video continues to attract attention, with currently more than 200,000 views.
IT’S ALL ABOUT OUTREACH
The “idea” man behind the video was Eric Abel, VP of Marketing at Outreach and a representative of Back to Church Sunday. Eric has been there since the start of Back to Church Sunday in 2009. He has seen it grow every year. In fact, this year their numbers practically doubled (in 2011, 7,600 churches participated). But he wants to see it grow even more in the next coming years – and not just on one day in September. To date, there are an estimated 340,000 churches and 155 million regular churchgoers across the country. And as Eric shared, “The desired goal of National Back to Church Sunday is to draw those who do not normally attend church to a place where they can belong.” Using social media and modern technology are some of “the best tools out there to involve your congregation in asking and inviting the lost to church.” From Evites to Facebook, from blogging to YouTube, the NBTCS is all about making outreach a part of today. Because of that, NBTCS has become the single largest community outreach in the nation.
BRIDGING THE GAP AND FINDING IDENTITY
According to Eric, NBTCS is based on one simple principle: 82% of people come to church if invited by a friend. But only 2% of church members actually invite un-churched friends to church.” For those un-churched friends, “personal” invites makes all the difference – it is “the most effective means of outreach for churches.” It’s those friendly, one-on-one invitations that get people to come to church. “It’s simple really,” Eric remarked. “The more personal, the more effective.” But along with being personal to those outside of the church, Eric and the NBTCS team also encourage those within the church, by openly communicating with the congregations involved with the event. “We were encouraged by the response and feedback from churches that participated in National Back to Church Sunday last year,” Eric shared. “Creating ways to empower church members to reach out to their friends and neighbors is exciting…we want to be able to help the church…to bridge the gap. And today, it is important that churches be culturally relevant in order to reach the un-churched.” What’s more, he shared, “Every church can be culturally relevant. In fact, we encouraged to do so in Acts 2…It is really all about casting a vision over your church. A church, a congregation needs to determine what their mission is – who are they reaching and how…Every church needs to have an identity. They need to know what they stand for, and people inside the church and outside of the church should be able to recognize it. So it is vital, that the church elders step up and lead their congregation to their mission field. And it is important that the congregation take responsibility in reaching out to their community. They, after all, make up the church, and they are the ones to give it its identity.”
THE IDEA, THE PROCESS
If you want to be culturally relevant today, you have to involve social media. That’s just how it is. There are a myriad of YouTube videos, Twitter and Facebook profiles that are based solely on parody. And they are popular simply because of that. So, when Eric and the team at NBTCS were thinking up different ways to appeal to the churched and un-churched, Eric got the idea for what is now known simply as “Rapping Pastors.” For him, the best part of the whole creative process was coming up with the script. “We have a heart for people,” he shared. “And so when we decided to run with this idea, we found it was really easy…and fun! We wanted this video to be lighthearted, but we also wanted to be able to communicate with people in a way that they would not only understand but also relate to. For us, we see it as a tool…And as luck would have it, we had a blast doing it.”
After posting the video online, they did not know what to expect. But the outcome was more than they had anticipated. “We had a tremendous response. There was a great deal of enthusiasm from congregations, and we even had instances where the media reached out to us – which gave us an even larger platform…The views online grew from a couple hundred to over forty thousand…Attendance went up in churches. People really responded to the video…It did what we hoped it would.”
While the event was a huge success, with some churches seeing a 38% increase in attendees, Eric pointed out that NBTCS’s ultimate goal is to keep people coming back. “We want to keep people coming back to church. That’s why we encourage friends and family of those un-churched and de-churched to never stop inviting. Just keep inviting them back – don’t stop…We want to get people plugged in. And we even want those who are regulars to ask themselves ‘Why am I going to church?’ We don’t want people to just go through the motions. We want them to know deep down why church is important to their faith and their life.” Here, he described different reasons why going to church is important: connecting with others, stewardship, giving back, spiritual growth, community outreach and worship. “Each of these,” he commented, “play a part in the purpose behind church…and each one gives us a greater purpose in our life.”
As for the future, Eric plans to keep reaching out to the un-churched and de-churched. “For 2013, we are hoping to involve 20,000 churches in our Back to Church Sunday event. We have grown every year…and since we nearly doubled this year in participation, we are hoping to do the very same next year. In the meantime, we will keep up the outreach and work on staying relevant – it’s all about staying relevant.”