Campaign in Milan designed to reverse troubling stats
By David Dawson
MILAN — Dale Denning was determined to be different. Or to at least find a way for his church to be different.
Having continuously seen troubling statistics regarding church attendance amid the pandemic, Denning — pastor of Elevate Church in Milan — felt led to start a campaign that he called “Not Part of the 30.”
The name was in reference to several recently published surveys that revealed that roughly 30 percent of regular church attenders are unlikely to return to church after the pandemic.
Denning said that he and many of his fellow pastors had seen these discouraging statistics again and again in various publications, and said he believed the Lord was leading him to take a stand. He then began developing a concept for the “Not Part of the 30” campaign at Elevate — a one-year-old church plant.
“I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Denning. “I realize that some of the people who drop out of attending church may not actually be a part of God’s family; however, I also am convinced that many of them do know Christ and have simply been sidetracked. So, if the leadership of a church can do something to help reengage them, why would you not do it?”
When Denning presented the campaign to the church, the members were immediately on board with the idea, he said. The enthusiasm continued throughout the duration of the campaign, which ran from Feb. 14 through March 7. More than 180 people participated, and the church had T-shirts made to commemorate the event.
“It was incredible,” said Denning. “The congregation was very excited to be a part of this. It was very encouraging to the body of Elevate.”
The campaign featured a series of sermons that Denning developed from Nehemiah 9:8. The verse says, “You found his heart to be faithful before you.” Denning broke down the verse into segments for each sermon.
Denning noted that the outbreak of the pandemic last spring was a difficult blow for the budding church, which at the time had only been formed for about a month. However, the “Not Part” campaign help galvanize the members at just the right time.
“We had our launch day on the second Sunday of February last year, and then in March, COVID-19 hits,” Denning said. “We did not know the impact the virus might have on our new church. I am convinced that ‘Not Part of the 30’ helped ‘kick-start’ us once again.”
Denning said the pandemic should serve as a reminder of the importance of church instead of being an excuse for people to stop attending. He said he hopes that message came across loud and clear during the campaign.
“Look at all of the preventive measures that society has taken to protect people from catching COVID,” he said. “So, if the possibility exists that the pandemic could in some ways harm the local church, does it not seem reasonable that the church too should be proactive?”
Denning said he first felt moved to launch the campaign after chatting with some of his friends about the severity of the situation.
“It all began with discussions with area pastors,” he said. “It seemed to be common knowledge that after COVID-19 had run its course, a large number of our membership would not return.
“God stirred my heart when I heard these statistics. I began doing my own research and discovered that the Barna Research Group, as well as Dr. Thom Rainer, had both predicted that 20-30 percent of church members would no longer be attending after the pandemic was gone.”
Denning opened the campaign series by examining the first two words of Nehemiah 9:8 — “you found” — and focused on how God was observing Abraham, and is still observing His followers today. The following Sunday, Denning looked at “You found his heart” and focused on how God is aware of both outward actions and internal motives.
The next week, Denning preached on “You found his heart to be faithful” in which he focused on how important faithfulness is to the Lord. Denning then concluded the series by looking at the entire verse, and reminding those in attendance that they would one day give an account for their lives.
Denning said he believes the campaign greatly impacted the direction of his church, and said he was encouraged by the way the church responded.
He said the church body at Elevate shared his concern about the potential of seeing such a large number of churchgoers elect to no longer make church a high priority in their lives.
“I shared with my congregation about the suggested impact that the coronavirus could have on the local church,” he said. “I understand that no one actually knows what impact this virus will ultimately have on the Body of Christ, but if the potential is there to lose one-third of our fellow believers, Elevate Church did not want to sit idly by and allow it to happen.” B&R