Churches throughout the country saw a significant surge in attendance Sunday, as 27,000 congregations reached out to their communities as part of the National Back to Church Sunday initiative in an effort to draw more people back into the pews.
Sunday marked the sixth year churches across the nation have campaigned to welcome back individuals and families who may have given up on attending services over the years. As a result, many took to Back to Church Sunday's Facebook page to tell their stories on how the initiative made a difference in their church.
"We had a wonderful service in Yuba City, CA," wrote Greg Mansur. "Very high attendance, several visitors, many returned we had not seen in a while, and there was a tremendous spirit of fellowship and unity … Just a tremendous day. Appreciate all the tools and support from the BTCS team!"
Another Facebook user Shalanda Priester added, "Second Baptist Church in Barnwell, South Carolina had an amazing worship service today!! We had an overflow of attendance with several visiting friends and family … a jam packed weekend! Beautiful...awe inspiring."
In preparation to the large turnouts among thousands of churches, organizers behind the campaign also equipped participating congregations with resources to have their visitors possibly become permanent members.
Scott Evans, founder and CEO of Outreach, Inc., the nation's leading provider of church communications resources that helped launch the initiative, said the campaign began with 600 churches back in 2009 and is now the largest annual community-based church outreach effort in the nation.
"We believe in this day because we know it helps people invite others to church. Back to Church Sunday really got its start from research that showed 82% of people said they would attend church if someone they knew invited them, but only 2% of church members were inviting others to come with them," said Evans in a statement.
According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 87 percent of Americans believe in God but less than a third attend any form of worship services during the week. In addition, the Pew Research Center reports that nearly 29 percent of millennials living in the U.S., between the ages of 18 and 33, have no religious affiliation.
The Rev. Chris Miller of First Baptist Church in Titusville, Florida knows this all too well as he is a newly planted pastor at the 125-year-old congregation. He says his goal is to overcome the social disconnect between prospective members and churches. And while he notes that the campaign was an opportunity to build relationships with the church-less, he considered it a chance to connect with those who do not even embrace any type of faith.
"People get overwhelmed with life or have a bad church experience, but your faith is something that you feel deeply about. Strong emotions come into play," Miller told USA Today. "What we have to offer is a place where people can come in for fellowship. The doctrine is fine, that's not changing, but we want to bring the church into the new millennium."