Block Party = CommUNITY
Submitted by Jenny Spontak, Contributor - The Sozo Group
Back to Church Sunday: September 18, 2016
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!
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.