The Dellwood Block Party = CommUNITY

How God moved in Lockport, IL through Back to Church Sunday

SOZO

God laid a vision on Jess Olivito's heart to plan a community block party in Lockport, Illinois at a large community park. Her vision included gathering local churches from various denominations together in UNITY for an evangelism outreach event intended to work in conjunction with the national Back to Church Sunday movement. Each participating church set up their own table/booth that showcased their particular ministry’s programming which allowed the local community the chance to connect with many different churches in a less formal way. The Dellwood Block Party took 119 days from realization to fruition. The idea to coordinate a unity event centered around the ‘Back to Church Sunday’ campaign was an excellent move by Olivito, who served as the Area Coordinator. This event built deeper relationships with the Park District, the city of Lockport (and Mayor), the Chamber of Commerce, countless local businesses, over 20 area churches, and 125 local volunteers. Last year, close to 1,000 people came out for this inaugural event: a 5-hour outdoor Christian festival that included concerts, a family-friendly comedy & improv show, a community message and gospel presentation, and a unity worship service at the close. The event also featured live mural painting, free face painting, hot dogs, popcorn, ice cream sandwiches, and bottled water for everyone who attended. The most amazing part of this experience was God's faithfulness. Here’s more details of God's amazing favor with this outreach:
  • When we approached the local park district, there was only one weekend available for booking - which happened to be the exact same weekend as national Back to Church Sunday! With this strong confirmation, Olivito put down a deposit for the venue on faith.
  • Our mayor supported the project early on and gave strong endorsement. This made us feel like we were being handed a key to the city; we knew we had God's authority and protection.
  • The Block Party Task Force was formed and God brought us an abundance of resources. In 100 days, we raised enough resources to put on an event valued at over $30,000. In this short amount of time, we were not only able to fundraise but also coordinate, market and execute our plan by using Outreach's national ‘Back to Church’ kit. We were grateful for these marketing resources/tools because they gave us universal branding for the outreach, allowing us to expand our reach quickly and effectively over the summer months.
  • While we worked really hard, we didn't really worry or stress about the project itself and always remembered that this was God’s event and not our own. It was God who brought all the churches, the food items, the musicians and artists, then sound and production teams, as well as all the community dancers and volunteers.
  • Two months before the outreach, God even sent a “Shofar Guy” all the way from Indiana to blow the ram's horn and pray with us (from the tallest hill at the park) which spiritually prepared the atmosphere and the land for a harvest of souls.
  • We met so many new, wonderful people in our community and enjoyed the adventure. Over the summer months, our Area Coordinator visited each church that joined the movement. At many of these services, local churches gave Olivito a few minutes to speak to their congregations about outreach which further inspired members to get involved and invite people they knew. Afterwards, Olivito told the Block Party Task Force that she was richly blessed by each church visit and that she loved experiencing all the different cultures and styles of worship.
  • Olivito prayed with Lockport city officials in unity several times in the weeks that led up to the outreach. She was also anointed with oil at 5 different churches that summer and was soaked in prayer by the local community.
But after it was all said and done, the question remained. Was the outreach impactful? Were lives changed? It took a little while for all the stories to trickle in, but here’s what we do know:
  • We had a mayor that is committed to glorifying God and including Him in our community's future planning.
  • We planted seeds in hundreds of people that day. Through the online survey we conducted, (after the event) we confirmed that we had unchurched people in attendance. Further, our surveys revealed that not everyone who came to the Dellwood Block Party was invited by a particular person or church, but that some people came to event after seeing our ad on Facebook. We’re confident that we reached new audiences because of social media. There were also two lengthy newspaper articles (with featured photos) that were published in the local newspaper before and after the event.
  • We certainly planted seeds in at least 60 dance moms (and their daughters) who were invited to perform at the block party. We also erected a prayer wall where the community could write their prayers on the wall with colored markers. The prayer wall filled up quickly with powerful requests and petitions. Some of the prayers were simply heartbreaking and revealed the deep spiritual needs of our community.
  • We individually ministered to over 30 people at our prayer pavilion. Further, we received a report from one of the participating local churches that there were at least two healings - one physical and one spiritual/emotional. We also personally witnessed 3 salvations during the programming.
  • We watched churches come together and saw division being broken down which was extremely rewarding. The feedback we received indicated that most of the people left this event wanting more and that most of the churches that got involved were interested in doing this outreach again.
In conclusion, this project was mostly about obedience and trusting God. Our Area Coordinator didn't do anything particularly special on her own to make this event happen. Instead, Olivito just kept following up on all the things that God continued to put in front of her each day. And while it wasn't always easy to approach people for money to plan a giant party for Jesus, by trusting God's favor and direction throughout the campaign, things really did fall into place. What God orders, He always pays for! After the event, many of the participating churches met again to discuss whether we want to make this an annual event and campaign. The vote was an overwhelmingly YES! As a result, the Dellwood Block Party is coming back again this year even stronger to promote the national ‘Back to Church’ movement. It’s exciting to see more UNITY happening in our commUNITY! Are you interested in reaching your city through community-wide outreach? Learn more here. .

About The Sozo Group

We’re a grass-roots, nonprofit organization that provides consulting services to Christian ministries for the purposes of outreach evangelism; we operate as “boots on the ground” working to unite the body of Christ for outreach projects that improve the spiritual conditions of our communities. Visit www.thesozogroup.org to connect with us or learn more.
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How to Sustain Your Church’s Big Day Momentum and Turn Guests into Family


For most pastors it’s no secret that focusing your outreach efforts on a a single Sunday can lead to a large turnout for that specific event. For as long as I can remember, special days like ‘Friend Day’ (or what I recall them calling it when I was a little kid, ‘Fill a Pew Day’) always meant there were a lot of new faces at church. There are a variety ways to really engage your people and have a great crowd when you are emphasizing one day for everyone to go all out and invite their neighbors, chat up their co-workers and strongly encourage their reluctant family members to join them at church. That special day is full of energy as your church is buzzing with excitement over a full parking lot, extra babies in the nursery and guests joining in the worship gathering. But what happens the following week, when your big Sunday is over? How can you sustain the energy and growth your church just experienced? With some careful planning and preparation, a big day focused on inviting others can catapult your church into even bigger, lasting relationships. Following are three practical ideas that you and your team can implement to help your special Sunday lead into dynamic growth.
  1. Make Prayer the Foundation. Seeking God together as a church helps us align with what He is already doing in our community and leads us to act with clarity and boldness. However, one of the missteps often made when it comes to prayer and special events is to make the prayers about the event itself. When you are leading your church to focus their prayers, help them to look both before and beyond the big day. Remind them that the special day you are planning is one link in a long chain of what God desires to do in the lives of people in your neighborhood and in the life of your church.
  2. Here are three encouraging ways to help your people focus their prayers. Prayers like these will lead them to begin seeing the bigger picture of what God is doing:
    • “Give us your eyes, Lord” - Long before your special invitation event, ask God to help you see what He sees in your community and in your relationships. This helps create an attitude of expectation and the Spirit will begin to help you identify opportunities to share God’s love and extend an invitation.
    • “Give us your courage, Lord” - Many times we do not engage in a spiritual conversation with a friend or classmate because we are uncomfortable. Praying for boldness will lead us to speak in those moments when our eyes have been opened.
    • “Give us your heart, Lord” - God’s desire is not for people to show up on a particular Sunday to your church. God’s desire is to for people who are far from Him enter into a personal relationship with Him where they can experience true peace, unmatched love and grace-filled forgiveness. One of the great ways God has chosen to help people come to Jesus and grow in Jesus is through personal relationships with friends. Pray that God will lead you into new friendships with those who are new to your church, encouraging them to return and become a part of your church family. Ask God to help you and the rest of your church step into disciple-making relationships as the opportunities arise.
  3. Prepare for Guests. Keep in mind that you are not just having visitors show up on your special day, you are having guests join you. There’s a big difference. The young woman who knocks on your door to share with you the newest internet offering from your local cable company is a visitor. The family you invite from your office to a Saturday barbecue in your backyard are guests. How do you prepare for guests at your home? Likely you make sure your home is tidy and presentable. You hang those special towels in the hall bathroom that no one in your family are ever allowed to use. You put fresh sheets on the guest bed. You have stopped by the store earlier in the week to pick up extra ice, drinks and food so no one misses out. Laundry is not spilling out of the clothes hamper. The kitchen sink is empty of dirty dishes. You have given your guests clear directions to find your home. You are ready to greet them with a smile when they arrive, in spite of the argument you refereed between your 13 year old daughter and 9 year old son just minutes before. Your church should be prepare for guests as well. Clear signage to provide direction, both outside and inside the church. Pleasant people greeting guests as they enter. A tidy and presentable place where the feel welcomed. A nursery and children’s area that gives them confidence their kids will be well cared for and safe. Guests should feel as if you were expecting them, not as if they are intruding. By helping your team prepare to welcome new guests to your church —mentally, emotionally and physically— you will help ensure a positive experience and earn the opportunity to invite them into a deeper relationship with your faith community.
  4. Invite them to Experience More. This may seem obvious but I have been surprised over the years at how often this is overlooked. Pastors, church leaders and volunteers invest so much time and energy into the big day that they begin treating it as the destination, when it truly is just the first step of a long journey. You should never host a Big Day event at your church without having a variety of opportunities to which you can invite your guests. These encourage your guests to take their next step and experience something more. This definitely includes introducing them to the hope of Jesus through songs, shared practices and the Gospel message, but a wise church will provide additional ways for newcomers to connect. Consider including some of these opportunities for your guests:
    • Invite Guests to a New Sermon Series - Make time to share about a new sermon series that you have prayerfully planned which will really connect with your guests. For many, this might be the first time ever, or at least the first time in a long time they have been to church. Give them a taste of what is coming up in a way that encourages them to want to learn more. Even better, let your special day be the first day of your series and invite them to come back the next week for part two.
    • Highlight Upcoming Ministry Activities for Different Groups - Think of the distinct groups of people that will be attending your special day. They might be women, men, parents, married couples, singles, children, teenagers, Boomers, Millennials… the list could go on. Now, what events or activities are coming up in the life of your church that would provide these specific groups a place to connect? Do you have a marriage retreat scheduled? A mission trip? An event for kids? A father-son campout? Do you have a weekly gathering for college-aged students? Do you have a ministry for parents of preschoolers? Make sure these are well promoted so that your guests can naturally see a place for them to begin getting better acquainted with the people who call your church their home. Keep in mind that some of your regular ministry activities might be obvious to you but not even be on the radar of someone visiting for the first time. Spell it out, over communicate and help them find a place where they can begin to build relationships.
    • Provide Opportunities for Prayer - I have seldom run into anyone who does not appreciate having their needs lifted to God in prayer. I have friends who have never stepped foot into a church ask me to pray for an issue or need someone in their family is struggling over. Provide a safe place where guests can talk with someone about their prayer needs. This is a perfect way to get to know them better and demonstrate your church cares for them. It is a wonderful way to bless them by listening to their heart and sharing time with them as, together, you connect to God. It is also a wonderful blessing to you!
    • Guide Guests to Take Their Next Steps - When guests have come to your special day and have genuinely sensed the goodness of God’s presence and God’s people, they often want to learn more. Each of the three opportunities above give them a great way to take their next step, but growing churches take this concept further by providing a single point of contact to help newcomers hone in on what that next step specifically looks like. Invite guests to visit a designated area where they will be welcomed at the close of your big day. Let guests know this is a place where church leadership will be present to meet them, hear their story, answer any questions they might have and help them find a meaningful next step. This could be a spot in the lobby of your church that is well marked and easy to find. Have leaders there that are friendly, encouraging and helpful. You might consider giving them a gift in appreciation of them coming to your special day. Definitely connect them to upcoming ministry activities that align with their stage in life, interests and needs. A great practice is to invite each guest to a ‘get-to-know-you’ event you have planned in advance. At this event, they can get a better understanding of the vision, leadership and culture of your church.
Big days are so much fun and can be so powerful for your church. But if you really want to make a lasting impact on your community for Christ, you need to allow your big day to become a catalyst for an even bigger year. Working with your leadership team and your entire church body, intentional planning and heartfelt focus can make this a reality. Don't just have a big day, but lead your people to create an environment where they are ready to journey with newcomers when God makes a big, lasting difference in their lives.
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Making the Church a Light in the Darkness


Today, with all the turmoil that is so prevalent in our culture and our communities, people are seeking a light in the darkness to help them find their way. They’re looking for answers to questions about their purpose, their struggles, their future and the unknown. They’re searching for peace in an uncertain world. But do they know that such peace can be found in their local churches? Do these seekers truly know what it means when we tell them the church is there for them? Jesus called us to be a “town built on a hill” so that His church would be visible—not unreachable. Do our friends and neighbors in need think of church as a distant institution — or as a place to belong? Early on, local churches were central to the successful functioning of our communities. They were a place not only to worship, but to socialize, celebrate, mourn and support those in need—to come together for more than Sunday sermons. If a family was facing challenges, they knew they could count on their church to help them get on their feet. If a young couple was in need of support for their struggling marriage, they knew they could turn to their local minister. From charity bake sales and weddings to funerals and support groups, churches created a hub for people to help, heal and celebrate one another in day-to-day life, even as they practised their faith and shared the gospel. Over time, however, there has been a change in how people engage with the church. Part of this shift been caused by the move from the smaller, close-knit communities of the past to more distant, fractured neighborhoods and large, impersonal cities. Another factor has been the overwhelming busyness that fills our lives and the lives of our friends and neighbors, pushing church from a priority to just another task on the to-do list that can, unfortunately, be put off when things get too hectic. And still another factor has been the change in how churches themselves engage with the people around them. In short, a distance has grown between people in our communities—and between our communities and our churches. And it’s up to us to change it. Now, more than ever before, the people of the world need to be reminded that they matter to God. That through the doors of our churches lies a place where they will always belong. When we show them they are welcome, when we bring people into the church, we can begin to knit our communities back together and create a sense of fellowship that can heal our hurting culture. It’s time for all of us to ensure our churches are a sanctuary for each person who walks in. To make our churches a place where everyone feels safe. To show people that here, they will find themselves in the arms of a loving God who has always known them—even when they may not have known Him. In doing so, we will show them the light they have so desperately been seeking and begin to change our world for the better. How do you begin? It’s as simple as an invitation. In Ephesians, Paul wrote that Christ has uniquely equipped His followers to speak the truth in love and build up the body of Christ. So, seek out your friends, family, neighbors—even strangers—and invite them to come to church on National Back to Church Sunday. Let them know that it doesn’t matter if they’ve simply lapsed in their attendance or never been to church before. They will be welcomed with open arms and they will find that they, too, have a place to belong.


Bridget Harris picture

The Benefits of City-wide Church Engagement

Church Choir Singing
In troubled times, it is more important than ever for churches to focus their efforts on helping people to discover (or rediscover) the hope and truth of the gospel. It is our calling, after all, to be “fishers of men” and bring more people to Christ. But, as every pastor knows, reaching out to the community can be challenging. Neighborhoods have become disconnected. Families have become even more busy. Budgets for outreach are strained. How does your church reach people and show them you are there for them? “A Cord of Three Strands is Not Quickly Broken ...” Your church can begin to overcome these challenges by finding others with the same goal and working together! And not just within your own ministry, but with other churches throughout your community. Teaming up with other churches allows everyone involved to expand their outreach efforts, share their resources and show people that church is more than just a building, it’s a place to belong—and an integral part of their community. The concept of ministry teamwork is not just a random idea. The bible actively encourages us to work together to fulfill God’s plan. In Ecclesiastes, for example, we are told that two people sharing the workload will have a better return for their effort than one alone. This lesson is particularly true when churches unite to share the gospel in their communities. The Power of Ministry Teamwork In 2016, churches throughout Dayton, Ohio teamed up for Back to Church Sunday and pooled their time, talents and resources to invite people throughout their city to church. There were 70 different churches who participated and each had a unique way to support the mission. Some had strong media ties they used to share the event. Others had tried and true mailing and door-knocking strategies they utilized to get the word out. Still others utilized their large social media networks to invite thousands of people online. What were the results of this amazing example of church teamwork? Church attendance rose 30% on Back to Church Sunday! People who had not been to church in years returned and brought their friends and families. And, most importantly, many, many people accepted Christ into their lives that day. Unifying Churches and Communities on Back to Church Sunday This year, on Back to Church Sunday, we are calling churches everywhere to unify in the body of Christ once more and create a city-wide campaign to invite their communities to church. Through a strategic and coordinated effort, pastors from churches throughout the various cities can drastically increase the impact of this evangelism opportunity. It can seem a bit strange to work toward getting people to attend churches that aren’t your own. There’s no doubt that any pastor would probably prefer visitors filling up the pews of their individual churches every Sunday. And that’s not a selfish desire! After all, a church needs the support of existing members in order to be able to share the gospel and bring in new members. But, as the Dayton churches learned, the benefits of launching a city-wide effort are enormous and they affect everyone who participates:
  • With a unified, multi-church effort, events get more notice in the media, which means free publicity and expanded outreach
  • Members are encouraged to reach out beyond their comfort zone and minister to others in their community
  • Churches form deep bonds of fellowship that last long after Back to Church has ended
  • The community sees churches working in partnership to do good, exemplifying Christ’s message and fostering an idea of community and belonging
  • People discover all the churches in their city that they can attend for worship and comfort
  • Everyone expands their ministry network
  • Small churches get support, exposure and ideas from larger churches they may not have been able to access before
  • Pastors can find support and develop new friends who understand the unique pressures of ministry
As you can see, there are a lot of positives when multiple churches work together to share God’s message in their communities. This year, consider rallying the churches in your city to launch a group effort invite their neighbors to attend church on Back to Church Sunday. Not only will you experience positive outcomes in your own ministry, you’ll be an integral part of helping other churches boost theirs, too. Over 30,000 churches worldwide have joined in on the Back to Church movement over the last 8 years. It’s a nationwide effort to invite people in our communities to church on September 17, 2017. If you would like to be a part of this movement, register here and learn more about city-wide outreach.