The movement was started with two stunning statistics: 82 percent of people said they would attend church if someone they knew invited them, but only 2 percent of church members were inviting people to come with them to their church. We wanted to make it easy on everyone and open church doors wide across our nation to welcome people back to church. —Scott Evans, founder and CEO Outreach Inc.
SALT LAKE CITY — It isn't that Utah churches are apathetic about National Back to Church Sunday, which is being observed Sunday, Sept. 15, by nearly 21,000 church around the country.
It's just that, for Utah churches contacted this week by the Deseret News, inviting people to come to church is not simply a once-a-year thing.
"We have 'Back to Church Sunday' every week!" said Pastor Bill Young of The Rock Church in Sandy, Salt Lake and Provo.
Pastor Young was not alone in expressing that sentiment.
"Pastor (France) Davis encourages members, visitors and friends to come back to Calvary on a regular basis, every Sunday morning," said Sister Sylvia Morris of Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City. "So our local 'Back to Church' invite is done weekly!"
Pastor Paul Robie acknowledged that there would be no Back to Church Sunday activities at South Mountain Community Church at its Draper, South Jordan or St. George campuses. But, he said, "We are constantly seeing a dozen or more visitors every Sunday."
"We are very much a church that is geared to the guest," Pastor Paul said. "We do not make a big deal out of one Sunday because our people have adopted an 'invest and invite' way of life. We believe that we all should be developing friendships in which we live out our faith. If those friendships provide an opportunity to invite that friend to church, we certainly encourage our people to do that."
And evidently, that approach is working in the state of Utah. The 2008 Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project shows that Utah ranks with the Bible Belt states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina, in which more than half of the population attends church services at least weekly. Utah's weekly attendance average of 57 percent is significantly higher than the national average of 39 percent.
At the other end of the spectrum, 20 percent of Utahns say they "seldom or never" attend church services, compared with 27 percent nationally.
The two largest religious groups in Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church, have no organizational plans to support of national event.
Rob Lee, executive director of the Utah Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, said many of the churches in his organization do "round up" promotions in early September, but those efforts aren't specifically linked to National Back to Church Sunday.
"For instance," Lee said, "our new church in Morgan had theirs this past Sunday, called 'Round-Up Sunday.'"
Now in its fifth year, the community-based National Back to Church Sunday outreach was born, organizers say, of a statistical imperative.
"The movement was started with two stunning statistics: 82 percent of people said they would attend church if someone they knew invited them, but only 2 percent of church members were inviting people to come with them to their church," said Scott Evans, founder and CEO Outreach Inc., which helped launch the initiative. "We wanted to make it easy on everyone and open church doors wide across our nation to welcome people back to church."
But that already seems to be happening in Utah. For example, Pastor Paul said that this Sunday is the fall kick-off to South Mountain Community Church's small groups ministry.
"We have several dozen small groups that meet in homes throughout the Salt Lake Valley and into Utah County," he said. "We make a big deal about these groups two times a year, and this Sunday is one of those times."
Meanwhile, at The Rock, Pastor Young said this Sunday's message will be called "Provoked," based on Acts 17: 16-34, and it won't have anything to do with Back to Church Sunday.
"We are a 'come as you are' church, because we simply want to connect people to Jesus," he said. "We have great people, awesome music, life-changing messages and fantastic free coffee!"
And as far as Pastor Young is concerned, there's nothing apathetic about that.