If people invite them, they will come.
Fred King believes that.
The associate minister is spearheading Calvary Community Church’s participation in National Back to Church Sunday, a Christian-based project this weekend, to encourage believers to return to the fold, if only for a day. Plus, it also opens the door to those who perhaps seldom or never have been to church.
“For our members, this gives them tools for inviting their friends and relatives and neighbors,” King said. “Sometimes, we can be a little reluctant about that or sharing our faith. This offers an easy, nonthreatening way to invite people.”
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According to Thom S. Ranier of LifeWay Christian Resources, 82 percent of people in 2003 were at least somewhat likely to accept an invitation to church from a friend or someone they knew. Even more conservative figures in the past few years pegging the response at 63 percent seem strong.
“That in itself should relieve some of our uneasiness,” King said.
About 20,000 churches are expected to participate this year, inviting more than two million visitors, organizers said. On the website at backtochurch.com, eight area churches are listed as participating or having participated in past years.
The American Religious Identification Survey shows that 83 percent of American adults identify themselves as Christians. However, only about 36 percent of Americans attend church on any given Sunday — and that number has been declining for years, according to a 2014 Barna Group survey. Barna has long tracked national Christian trends and developments.
National Back to Church Sunday’s goal is to invite or reinvite America to rediscover church.
The special day was launched 10 years ago in response to a survey of 15,000 adults in the United States. Results showed a personal invitation from a family member would prompt 67 percent of Americans to visit a church, and 63 percent said an invitation from a friend or neighbor would cause them to attend a service.
Since its inception, National Back to Church Sunday participating churches have invited an estimated 7.5 million family members, friends and neighbors to their churches.
The Rev. Brian Gilroy, lead minister at Garden City Church of Christ, expects up to 30 first-time visitors this weekend mixed in with its average of 280 worshippers during its first experience with the effort. The church recently sent out a mailing about National Back to Church Sunday — and its members have been extending personal invitations.
“Our main idea is to reach out to people in the area who may not even be aware they’re seeking,” Gilroy said. “We simply want to be here for those seekers.”
Gilroy said leaders regularly encourage members to invite people to services, no matter the weekend.
“We tell them the best ones to invite in the beginning are more likely the people they already have a relationship with,” the pastor said. “Those are really the people we like to focus on first.”
King said he understands what it’s like to be an invitee. Before he became a Christian in 1980, churchgoers invited him to services a few times. He declined. He skipped attending.
“In my mind then, the idea of living a Christian life required a lot of sacrifice,” King said. “And at the time, I just wasn’t ready for that. But I have to admit — I did feel the Lord drawing me.”
Calvary Community Church especially will extend a special welcome to youngsters, with games, snacks, balloons and other attractions. When King pastored a church in Madison, he saw people accept his invitation.
But the Madison church with one of the bigger receptions to National Back to Church Sunday had a substantial budget that allowed it to offer children the options of pony rides and bounce houses.
“I at least learned the potential of the day,” he said.
7: Number of years effort has been done
63: Percentage of people who would accept a church invitation
20,000: Number of churches expected to participate this weekend
7.5 million: Number of people invited since the effort began
2 million: Number of new visitors expected this weekend