By Linda Grigg
Evaluations from the more than 60 New Zealand Baptist churches that participated in BacktoChurchSunday show a range of results. These vary from no visitors on the day (September 13), to reports of significant turn out, and even public recommitments and salvations.
The results are as diverse as the attitudes reflected in the post-event reports, and there seems to be some parallel. Those churches that wholeheartedly embraced the campaign as a church-wide evangelism tool and took the friend-invite-a-friend approach were particularly blessed. Mahurangi Baptist Church is a good example of this.
“The whole concept caught our people’s attention and interest,” says Pastor David McBride.
“To invite people was something they realised they could do. Everyone was motivated to ask friends and neighbours. Also to pray; we had a special prayer meeting before Sunday the 13th. Two people gave their lives to Christ that morning. This has created a great focus for the church to pull together in an outreach. Many were surprised that when they invited people the response was ‘Yes’.”
Churches that were cautiously optimistic about BacktoChurchSunday or had a “give it a go” attitude were generally surprised, or at least satisfied, with their results, even if the result was just church members becoming more outward-focused. Many leaders also used the campaign as an opportunity to re-look at how they conduct their services, the way they welcome guests, or the condition of the premises, etc.
Eastside Baptist Church was one that made a big effort to make their church appealing. Says Eastside’s Chris Lee: “There was a big working bee the previous week when a whole bunch of people got in and ‘rug doctored’ the carpets and had a spring clean, [and did] the gardens... And on the day, everyone from musicians to children’s workers and greeters put on their ‘A game’. The men of the church put on a free BBQ’d sausage and bread after church.”
More than one church had a meal of some kind following the service, and several contextualised the event by incorporating local flavour. One church had a theme of “new beginnings” to tie in with their city’s Blossom Festival, which fell on the same weekend. Another also went with a spring theme, delivering 1500 daffodils to local households with an explanation of who the church is and an invitation to attend.
A suburban church plant used the event as a way of welcoming people who had recently moved to the fast-growing neighbourhood, by delivering 1000 leaflets in the area.
Some churches, by coincidence or deliberate planning, had guest speakers or baby dedications on BacktoChurchSunday. While these special services made it more difficult to determine who came for what reason, they still served the purpose – connecting with people who are either unchurched or who have left for whatever reason.
Those opportunities for connection are what one Canadian Anglican minister described in a blog posting prior to that country’s BacktoChurchSunday (held on 26 September) as “God-incidences”.
Reverend Michael Calderwood of St Paul, Brighton, Toronto said: “I know that God often does these kinds of things: provide opportunities for people like you and me to connect with others. Sometimes we mess it up. Sometimes we do not even notice. Sometimes we do ok. Most of the time, I do not even realise those ‘God-incidences’ until way after the fact.
“But this time, we get a bit of advanced (sic) notice. So, we get to ‘get ready’ to receive those whom God will bring to us…We get to see and receive something that perhaps God has been working on for a very long time. Feel like a kid who knows a present is coming in the morning. Can’t hardly wait!”
We certainly hope and pray that churches around this country will have the same expectation and excitement looking ahead to the next BacktoChurchSunday, tentatively planned for 12 September 2010. Or perhaps you, like Mahurangi Baptist Church, are already planning to hold another one before this year is out!