Almost 30,000 churches nationwide as well as over 1,400 churches internationally are participating in a strategic program in September to intentionally draw unchurched and dechurched people in and to help them to make lasting connections in the local church.
What is the distinction between unchurched and dechurched people, you may ask? Simply, the unchurched are the ones that have not grown up in a Christian environment, have not been raised in Sunday school, and may have only a superficial understanding of the gospel and how it relates to their life, their relationship with God, and their eternal destiny. Dechurched people, on the other hand, have typically either been brought up in at least a nominal Christian family or have had an adult conversion experience and attended church for some time and for one reason or another have left the church. They may have been burned out or been the victim of a bad spiritual experience or simply have become involved with the cares of this life and careers and have put their relationship with God and his people on the back burner for a season.
Back To Church Sunday, a coordinated national and international program, is an event being held in most participating churches this year on September 20, although some churches are scheduling activities the following weekend as well. Churches individually can participate in National Back to Church Sunday, but in some areas the local churches are working together to invite everyone in their community back to church.
Although there are hundreds of evangelical churches in South Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties as well as several megachurches with over 10,000 in weekly attendance, the percentage of unchurched and dechurched people in this region is actually one of the highest in the nation.
We contacted several churches and pastors in Broward and Palm Beach Counties to find out what they were doing locally for Back to Church Sunday. Pastor Chet Kope of the Church of All Nations in Boca Raton said that the main emphasis this year will be on marriage and families. He said he believes that families are an important building block in their local expression of the Body of Christ. The Church of All Nations is affiliated with the Assemblies of God and has around 3,000 adherents, and they have two Sunday services with structured outreach programs to the Haitian, Hispanic and Brazilian communities with services in Creole, Spanish and Portuguese. The Church of All Nations, a diverse and multicultural fellowship, was founded in 1966.
A typical example of a newer, smaller church that is participating in this outreach program is the Harvest House International Ministries, meeting in Oakland Park, having been founded about two years ago in Tamarac. Pastor Shane Walters, of Harvest House, said that their approach will involve the theme of ‘Back To The House’ as well as Back To Church and will emphasize one on one personal time, prayer and counseling in the homes as well as discipleship.
Inviting a dechurched person to return to church is a crucial step. But we want to encourage them to stay and become part of the church family. The witness of the gospel’s power to change lives can help to provide a lasting change. Here are some real-life testimonials from people who came to church—and stayed.
“As a brand-new Christian, I needed a loving, accepting, forgiving community. I would advise churches to let non-believers speak to you about what they’re feeling, so you can relate to them. If you can’t relate to them, you cannot possibly bring them to God. You have to be able to see things on their level. It would be a good exercise for churches to put one or two unbelievers in a small group of 15 or less and really show them a community of forgiveness and acceptance,” said Amy, from Austin, Texas.
“Before my church experience, I had the typical negative connotations of church culture. I would tell the pastors to continue to wrestle with ways to do stuff that the culture at large would be drawn to—community work, meals, neighborhood nights, having church meetings in a bar or restaurant—anything where you’re not just in the ‘churchy’ church. Have some kind words for those who might be totally ‘I don’t know if this is for me’,” suggested Molly, from Seattle, Washington.
Can one day really make a difference?
Absolutely, churches who participated in Back to Church Sunday in 2014 saw a 20% increase in their weekend attendance.
The following testimonies came from the Back to Church Sunday website.
According to Northgate Wesleyan Church, “Our church almost broke the attendance record for the year, and we beat Easter service. Definitely worth doing and pursuing.”
Mt. Joy Holiness Church reported, “We will participate again because it was great event to invite people back to church. We had several that stated they wanted to give their life to Christ and would be back because they need a church home.”
For churches and pastors that would like to participate in this program, or to find a local church that has planned events, further information is available at www.backtochurch.com.
Bob Woods has worked as an engineer at AECOM Technical Services and WGI, and is a published Christian author. He can be reached at [email protected].