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A grassroots effort by pastors and a one-armed professional surfer urging Americans to go back to church for National Back to Church Sunday has been met with a wave of enthusiasm by more than 12,000 churches so far, exceeding those who participated last year by thousands.
The annual campaign will be held on Sunday, Sept. 16 and has far outpaced the number of churches participating last year, which saw about 7,600 churches sign up for the event.
“Back to Church Sunday has the potential to be a day that changes the future course of someone’s life,” one pastor commented on the promotional website for the event.
Organizers want people either to use this day as a day to come back to church, or reach out and invite someone to come to church with them. They say that sometimes the only thing holding people back from going to church is the lack of an invitation.
Even a shark attack won’t keep one young surfing ambassador from attending church with friends, and she invites others across the country to join her in the national outreach event.
Bethany Hamilton was just 13 when a shark attacked her in the waters off of Hawaii severing her left arm. She survived that attack crediting her strong faith in God in getting her through the ordeal, and now travels the world as an inspiration to millions.
Known now as the “Soul Surfer,” Hamilton isn’t shy about her faith, which she boldly proclaims to all who will listen to her, “I gave my heart to Jesus when I was five years old, and my relationship with Him is everything to me,” she says.
Hamilton and even her doctors credit this foundation of faith as being instrumental in her survival and recovery from such a traumatic ordeal, and she recognizes the need to nurture that faith through her home church, filled with friends who encourage her.
“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.”
WND reached Hamilton, who now maintains a busy schedule of competitions as well as speaking engagements around the world in a hope to inspire others. Despite the hectic schedule, she says she knows where she’ll be on the 16th – bringing friends to church with her.
When asked how someone who hasn’t gone to church lately or at all should go about finding a church to attend, Hamilton urges people to think about friends or family who may go to church, “Ask around,” she says. “Most likely you know someone who knows a good church. Look for a church that is welcoming, and where you feel at home.”
“You can also go to www.calvarychapel.com, or another Bible teaching church’s website to find a church near you,” she added.
Hamilton urges people to give church another try, even if they’ve had a bad experience in the past. “Churches are run and attended by people, and people will always let you down, but God doesn’t,” she tells WND.
“So, if you had a bad experience at one church, don’t let that stop you from learning more about God and getting plugged in at another fellowship.”
If someone feels the desire to head back to church, Hamilton tells WND that it’s important they find a Bible-teaching church that also challenges the congregation to have a personal relationship with God. “It should feel comfortable to you and be a place that has people ‘on fire’ for God,” she says.
“The people there should inspire you to learn and grow in your relationship with God, hopefully with small group Bible studies to help keep you encouraged all week long.”
The non-denominational Back to Church effort is comprised of a wide variety of churches from across America, and Hamilton hopes people find a Bible teaching church regardless of denomination.
“You should seek a fellowship with others who share the same convictions as you within a congregation,” she says. “As long as you believe in the true gospel of faith in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sin, you are part of God’s family, the church.
“I do think that it’s important that a church actually teaches the Bible and doesn’t sugar-coat anything,” she adds.
“I think it might be a good idea to attend select churches a few times, and don’t be afraid to try a few service times to see what works best for you and what you like,” she told WND.
“I also think it’s important to make friends at your church who will encourage you and hold you accountable, also a church with music, contemporary or traditional doesn’t matter, just music that will make Jesus smile,” she says.
So far, hundreds of thousands of people have joined the 20-year old surfer in committing to the national outreach which empowers churches and church members with the tools they need to welcome their neighbors, friends and loved ones back to church.
They also aim to provide the unchurched an easy way to find a welcoming church in their community at backtochurch.com, or to check and see if your church has pledged to take part in the nationwide event.
The organizers say that most churches participating in the effort last year saw an average increase in attendance of 26 percent, and pray that churches across the country will continually see growth because of efforts to reach out in their communities.
They point to research indicating, “at least 82 percent of the unchurched are likely to accept a personal invitation to attend church if invited.”
The outreach event equips congregations to invite their friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers to come back to church.
“There are some non-negotiables in the Christian life. One of these non-negotiables is the local church. The local church is the method ordained by Christ to equip the believer and to help evangelize the lost. We need to challenge Christians everywhere as never before to get back into attending a Bible-believing church,” says Mark Balmer, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Melbourne, Fla.
Hamilton tells WND, “Church is a place to encourage and be encouraged” and she hopes that this years outreach will reach people yearning to get into or back into a relationship with God.
“Growing up I was blessed to be part of a great church,” said Hamilton. “This is where I met many friends who have encouraged me in my life to live strong for Christ.”
For anyone inspired by Hamilton’s faith and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, she issues this challenge: “I encourage you to take a walk of faith and visit a church on National Back to Church Sunday.”