Time to Ramp Up for National Back to Church Day

Date Posted: 7/24/2014

Building on previous years’ successes, Westminster UMC and St. Phillip’s UMC are getting in gear to invite their communities to National Back to Church Day September 21. See how your church can do the same by reigniting a passion for evangelism.
Don’t you wish the answers to all of life’s challenges came in a nice little colorful package? Ginger Hurta, Adult Ministries Director for Westminster UMC in Houston surely felt like she had hit the jackpot with the “teacher’s notes” when she received her “Back To Church Day” planning kit in the mail. “We have done our own thing to rejuvenate church attendance in years’ past,” she shares, “but this is the first year we joined the national OUTREACH campaign and bought the kit to do a campaign on a much grander scale  -- and it truly gives you everything you need!”
Methodist congregations like Westminster and St. Phillip’s UMC in the Texas Annual Conference are among the 30,000 churches nationwide promoting September 21 as Back to Church Sunday. Adds Ginger, “The DVD resources in the packet are extremely helpful and even include videos to help communicate the importance of inviting and the importance of church in general. We plan to send the enclosed thank you notes to our visitors.”
Westminster UMC has rallied about 20 volunteers to help activate this comprehensive campaign, using kit resources like sample sermons, Public Service Announcements, bulletin inserts, banners, door hangers, invitations, bulletin covers, PowerPoint screen backgrounds, and a sample connection card for guests to fill out. Adds Ginger, “The resource CD has strategies to make the program successful and even includes information tailored for children and teens. If you follow their directions, your campaign should be beneficial in bringing a greater percentage of people back to church  -- or to church for the first time.”
She has provided this outline and timeline to help other churches improve their outreach efforts. Notes Ginger, “With a congregation of about 150, we know when someone new joins us, so we are hoping this will bring us at least 20 visitors or former members who may have dropped out of sight for a while.”
Westminster will host a Friendship Lunch on September 21 after church and have a Friendship Sunday Breakfast in early October as a follow up event to encourage guests to return. Pastor Jeff Powers had a spectacular idea on how to use the great videos that come with the packet," adds Ginger. "We will naturally put them on our website, but since we don't have screens in our worship service, he may have everyone pull out their mobile phones and watch the one titled We Are The Church together!"
St. Philip’s Story
Last September, St. Philip’s United Methodist Church in Southwest Houston, joined the national campaign with gusto. volunteer Brenda Robinson, Community Outreach Advertising Ministry Team Leader, says, “ We encouraged adults, youth and children to invite someone that did not have a church home to come and give St. Philip’s a try on this day. This event was combined with the annual Fall Open House that we have hosted for many years to make visitors and church members aware of new Fall Sunday School and weekly Bible studies, children’s activities. We also encouraged people to participate in the various music, UMW and UMM programs, and other upcoming activities like the Pumpkin Patch and Trunk or Treat.”
Blitzing the Community
Last year, St. Phillip’s UMC leveraged their “Outreach kit” and campaign to send out a 500-postcard mailing to past visitors and to the community, put out a banner in the front church lawn, and printed the day's worship service information inside Back-to-Church bulletin covers with a special thank you to everyone who joined worship that day.  The outreach team also showed invitation videos in worship services prior to the event, had invitation cards available for the church family to give to friends and neighbors, ran an ad and a press release in the Southwest and Village News neighborhood newspapers inviting the community to attend.
Adds Brenda, “On the day of the event, we used nametags so that everyone could be greeted by name. In addition, information tables were set-up outside the Sanctuary, along with refreshments, to promote a fellowship time after the worship services to meet and greet each other and to learn about the upcoming opportunities.” A special bonus: visitors were also given gift bags to take with them which included a Welcome Booklet with information about St. Philip’s, flyers about upcoming activities, a prayer request card, and some candy treats.

National “Back to Church Sunday” is the single largest annual community-based church outreach effort in the nation, sharing the simple message and mission of inviting everyone in America Back to Church. It seeks to reach the "un-churched" and "de-churched" (former church goers) and invite them to return for this special Sunday. This event was launched five years ago in response to a survey of 15,000 adults who confirmed that a personal invitation would prompt over 60% of them to visit a church.
“For many people today, ‘church’ is old-fashioned, outdated, and irrelevant, with little to offer them,” adds Rev. Lisa Callaway. “Many others find the ‘church’ arrogant and judgmental. What if people were to find in church an anchor, a center point of reference in life, a community where they could figure some things out and gain a new perspective, a place to be known and belong, to pursue that which is most important in life?  Well, this is what Back to Church Sunday is all about.”
How Your Church Can Join the Campaign
Since its inception, participating churches have invited an estimated 8.5 million family members, friends, and neighbors to their churches. It’s not too late for churches to participate  – You can register your church on website (www.backtochurch.com). Adds Lisa, “We hope that other United Methodist churches will join St. Philip’s and inspire their members to be inviters to a special service that will be a catalyst for those looking to attend or return to church. Not only will you see increased attendance on this day, but it will also be a way to reignite a passion for evangelism in your congregation.”