According to the CofE media centre (it used to be called 'news'), 20,000 people will be coming back to church this Sunday, in response to 'Back to Church Sunday'. If true, that's an impressive statistic, but how do they know? There's clearly an effort to create a sense of momentum and of something important happening, but I'm always a bit ambivalent about these things, because if the promise isn't realised then it all goes strangely quiet, and the media centre turns to other things, rather than looking at why the event didn't live up to the hype.
The story is at http://www.cofe.anglican.org/news/pr8607.html and at the end of a list of attention-grabbing things that bishops are doing is by far the most significant paragraph:
Canon Paul Bayes, the Church of England’s National Mission and Evangelism Adviser, believes the event is a key opportunity for churches: “The most important thing about Back to Church Sunday is ensuring that those returning to church get a truly warm welcome. Things like the length of services, the hymns and songs we sing and even the way we give out notices can all have an impact on the welcome people feel. It’s also critical that churches think though what they can offer people who have made that brave step to come back. I hope many churches will be setting up an informal course explaining the Christian faith, or perhaps holding special lunches over the next weeks for returning worshippers to meet each other.”
The thing is that if we gave a warm welcome to the folk who just dropped in on an ordinary week, and treated our worship as the 'shop window' it actually is to enquirers, that those 20,000 would turn up without any great advertising push, and they'd have a positive experience of the church. It's a marketeers way of talking about love, but 'customer service' is what people pay attention to. We love the newcomer by welcoming them, giving up the best pew for them, letting them to the front of the coffee queue, and forgoing our weekly chat with our best chums in order to spend time with them. That should be normal.