'National Back to Church Sunday' Hopes to Draw 1M to Church on Sept. 16

'Soul Surfer' Bethany Hamilton Lends Support to Project Involving More Than 11,000 Churches

"National Back to Church Sunday," described by organizers as the biggest annual community outreach event in the nation, is only days away – and supporters of the project hope it attracts a record number of people into churches this Sunday.

The project, which is in co-operation with LifeWay Christian Resources, hopes to encourage millions of non-religious people to come to church when they receive invitations from neighbors, friends, and loved ones.

One of the most notable supporters of the project, professional surfer Bethany Hamilton, who has credited her faith in God for surviving a shark attack when she was 13 that left her with a severed arm, has spoken out about the importance of the event on Sunday, in which over 11,000 churches have officially signed up as participants in the event.

"Growing up I was blessed to be part of a great church," Hamilton said, who is also known as the "Soul Surfer." "This is where I met many friends who have encouraged me in my life to live strong for Christ."

"My church is a place where I can develop friendships with others that will encourage me in my walk with Christ," she said. "I hope you can find a church too. 'National Back to Church Sunday' is a great time to start looking for a church that suits you."

The annual program has been growing bigger with each year, the event website explains, after it first started in 1996. Last year, it was reported that 3,800 churches participated, which led to an average of 26 percent increase in weekly attendance.

This year, more than a million new people are expected to come back to church on Sept. 16, based on the number of invitations shared by Christians. Outreach efforts have included a "Pastor Rap" video, which has gone viral on YouTube, as well as Facebook and other social media efforts.

"City-wide initiatives are multiplying the event's effectiveness," said Philip Nation, director of adult ministry publishing at LifeWay and spokesperson for "National Back to Church Sunday," in a press release. "Churches are encouraged to partner with one another to increase the scope of their reach into every community."

"The personal touch is the most effective means for churches to reach out to their communities," added Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a supporting partner of "National Back to Church Sunday." "Good news is best delivered by good messengers."

Registration for "National Back to Church" was still open on the main website Friday, which also allows people to search for local churches participating in this year's event.

The organizers of "National Back to Church Sunday" did not respond to email and phone call efforts made by The Christian Post by press time.