Monday, September 24, 2007

Back to Hype Sunday

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 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.


  1. Hi David

    I have been furiously plugging 'Back to Church Sunday' in our Diocese (Chelmsford) since it was first brought to our attention as a wider initiative back in March. I've also been keeping an eye on the national response through Google 'news alerts', which is how I picked up your blog.

    The figure of 20,000 'returnees' is based on a rounded up 'around 2,000 participating churches'. The last count was more like 1,700, but in past years the response was an average of ten per church, hence your '20,000'.

    The important thing is that something is being done to stimulate action. In many cases, such as rural churches like ours, the welcome is there, but new people very rarely come. If we are to attract people to the gospel, we have to 'go get 'em', and Back to Church Sunday has encouraged a remarkable number of congregations to do just that.

    The response of the bishops is, for the most part though, rather sad. What we want to see is not letting off balloons, but endorsement and encouragement - something which some, but very few, have given.

    B2CS is surely better than anything in the 'Decade of Evangelism', but still not up to 'Towards the Conversion of England'.

  2. Hi John
    Thanks for your comment - I agree that as (in theory) leaders in mission, some bishops leave a lot to be desired. Also, a publicity stunt this week is too little too late, the energy was needed a few months ago to get people on board with BTCS

    I guess I'm also slightly ambivalent about it, because it's still 'go get em' mission, and at some stage the church needs to register that over 60% of the population will simply not respond to this. However, some mission is better than none, and if the experience gets churches thinking 'what about the folk who are just not interested in this?' then that's worth doing just in itself. I'm also hopeful that BTCS will get churches thinking about their normal Sunday diet, and whether relevance, welcome, friendliness to newcomers etc. shouldn't be marks of a 'normal' Sunday rather than just the special ones.

    We're on a newish urban estate, and know several neighbours who moved here from villages, where they were involved in the church, and have got out of the habit of churchgoing. For them, BTCS may be just the ticket. My main concern is that they turn up in our fairly small church (seats 80 before it starts feeling cramped) and the regulars have bagged all the decent pews and not left anywhere for new folk to sit.

    I've nothing against BTCS, but I just detected a whiff of hype in the press release and wondered whether we really needed it.

  3. I think it is almost equally important to have a try-not-to-be-away-from-church Sunday. This is part of our focus this weekend.

    I have 102 contacts of whom 65-75 come to church any given Sunday. I hope to get 90 this Sunday plus a few returnees we have invited. It will, hopefully, be encouraging to see how big the church is when everyone comes.

  4. Now there's a good idea. Mind you, if we did that at our local, which seats 80 before people's circulation begins to get cut off, it would start to get very sweaty. Be interested to know how that goes.