Christian Leadership: Facebook, YouTube Help Extend ‘Power of Personal Invitation’ For Back To Church Sunday

National Back To Church Sunday on Sept. 18 Expands to More Than 7300 Congregations in Third Year


VISTA, Calif., Sept. 12, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ — Thousands of churches across the country are using social media, electronic invitations and "bounce houses" – and some are even overcoming great loss – as they gear up to draw family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to National Back To Church Sunday on Sept. 18.

More than 7,300 churches representing 34 denominations are participating in this third annual nationwide effort to reach out to the unchurched in their communities. Congregations have extended more than 1 million invitations so far, as the big day approaches.

"This cross-denominational outreach is about reigniting the power of personal invitation," said Philip Nation, national spokesman for National Back To Church Sunday. "We're delighted to see the number of churches participating has nearly doubled compared with last year. We anticipate more Americans than ever will rediscover the joy of churchgoing through this grassroots movement."

One church in Alabama lost its sanctuary, which burned down in June, but the congregation remains committed to National Back to Church Sunday. Lee's Chapel Baptist Church in Brookside, Ala., outside Birmingham, still plans to participate, even as it has been meeting at a former school. The church's 50 members, led by the Rev. Herman Maxwell, expect to welcome new visitors, despite their loss.

More churches than ever are using their own Facebook pages, as well as videos posted to YouTube and Vimeo, to open doors and encourage newcomers. Organizers also are exchanging ideas on the National Back To Church Sunday Facebook page, while the event's website ( www.backtochurch.com) gives individuals an opportunity to extend electronic invitations to friends, relatives and colleagues.

Some churches are staging carnivals, picnics and concerts during the big day. "We cancelled services to have CHURCH!" said one Facebook user, whose church is having a "fun day" featuring "bounce houses," games and a message of hope. Many churches also are planning Bible studies and other "comeback events" soon after National Back To Church Sunday, to keep visitors returning.

Sweet Rest Church of Christ (Holiness) in Pearl, Miss., has seen its congregation grow 33 percent over the past two years, and Pastor Joe Pridgen credits National Back To Church Sunday. "This is probably the single best way to get church members mobilized to invite people to church," he said. "Back To Church Sunday has been one of the best things to happen to Sweet Rest Church in the 14 years I've been here!"

Pridgen helps prepare his church for the event by challenging parishioners of all ages to invite at least 10 people and bring at least two. Young people use their social networks to invite their friends by creating Facebook events, tweeting about it and blogging. Members distribute door hangers in their neighborhoods and invitation cards to store customers, colleagues and others.

National Back To Church Sunday also led to growth for Victory Christian Church in Livermore, Maine. Pastor Will Kahkonen says overall attendance over the past six months has increased by 35 percent. But that's not the only way he measures the success of National Back To Church Sunday.

"It ignited a passion in our people," he said. Weeks before the event, he challenged members to create "cardboard testimonies" – their "before" story printed on one side of a piece of cardboard, then flipping it to reveal their "after" story of how God changed them.

"I told them, 'Give these invitations to your friends because YOU are going to be sharing your story that day,'" Kahkonen said. "And they grabbed onto that concept. They are the ones who invited people, made calls, got them rides to church. They realized they didn't need to wait for the church to do something – they had the power to make a difference with their own lives."

Twenty-five people shared their cardboard testimonies with newcomers on the big day.

Since the initiative began in 2009, National Back To Church Sunday has seen increased success, with church members last year inviting more than 3.5 million family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers to special services. Some 3,800 churches participated in 2010, reporting an average 26 percent increase in weekly attendance.

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.

A list of participating churches is available at www.backtochurch.com/roster. When churches register their participation, their names and locations are added to the roster, allowing unchurched people to easily find a church to attend on that special Sunday.

In addition, churches can gauge their ability to connect with visitors through a Church Assessment Tool.

Outreach, founded in 1996, 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 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.

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