Chicago Bears receiver Johnny Knox's appearance, a rib grilling competition and free food are among the many attractions Willow Creek Church in Illinois is offering to get thousands of dads to attend its annual Father's Day festival this weekend.
DadFest 2012 will feature a car and motorcycle show, a live band, activities for families and kids, and its first annual Rib Wars in the parking lot, Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington announced in the church's newsletter.
However, the event is not just about activities. The idea is to speak directly to "men who are committed to being the best dads they can be," the pastor said.
Knox, who suffered fractured vertebrae in a game against the Seattle Seahawks last December, will attend all three of the megachurch's services – one on Saturday evening and two on Sunday morning – to talk about his experiences as a Christ follower, a dad, and an NFL player. And Pastor Hybels will "honor, equip, and inspire all the dads and granddads in the house" during his sermons.
The annual festival draws more than 20,000 people to the church. But seven years ago, Father's Day weekend at Willow was the lowest attended weekend in the first half of the year.
The church spoke to moms and dads about it, and learned that dads were feeling so pressured about not making the grade as fathers that they didn't want to come to church to be reminded of the standard they were not living up to, Hybels said. "This news upset me deeply. So I gathered a dozen of my staff colleagues in a planning room and issued this challenge."
The leaders of the church locked themselves in a conference room until God gave them an idea of how to get dads to come to church on Father's Day weekend and how to equip and inspire them. That's how DadFest was born. "Since then, Father's Day weekend has become one of the most attended weekends of our entire year," the pastor added.
Research shows church attendance is low on Father's Day in most churches.
In the week leading up to Mother's Day, celebrated on the second Sunday in May, Lifeway Research released the results of a survey in which they asked 1,000 Protestant pastors across the U.S. to indicate which three Sundays their church attendance is highest each year. While Mother's Day (59 percent) ranked third on the list behind only Christmas (84 percent) and Easter (93 percent), Father's Day was ranked last.
However, some churches are trying to reverse the trend, as Willow has done.
Access Church in Jacksonville, Fla., reaches out to men ahead of the Father's Day weekend. "We just want men in general and fathers in particular to feel like church is a fun place to be, so we're always going to do some fun stuff and put some resources into making Father's Day fun," Pastor Rich Barrett told The Christian Post on Thursday.
Abbeylyn Constance, children's pastor at River of Life Church in Doylestown, Pa., also believes it's important for churches to reach out to fathers, in part, because they play such a key role in their own families. "In my point of view I think that it's very important to minister to the family in general, [but] the father especially because it says in the Bible that the father is the head of the household and the spiritual leader of his family," Constance told CP.