Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Back to Church Sunday 2009

There's been a flurry of press releases about this - Sunday 27th September 2009 - in the last day or so, including Christianity Today and the CofE national site. All 44 CofE dioceses are taking part, as well as several other churches, so it's good to see it spreading. Over 35,000 people came back to church on the equivalent Sunday last year, and a significant number stayed connected.

It's a very simple idea: church members invite friends and neighbours 'back to church', and the church tries a little bit harder at being welcoming and friendly, without going over the top. There's no point making the service radically different from what you normally do, as people will then be disappointed when the week after doesn't measure up to their first impression.

A couple of quotes, one from a guest at BTCS 2008

"I didn’t feel like they were trying to shove religion down my throat, they let me make up my own mind. It was a very relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, just like one big family. I would recommend it to others: you never know where it could lead you. My whole life has changed completely in the last year.”

and Paul Bayes, the Church of England’s National Mission and Evangelism Adviser: “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 Back to Church Sunday site has some top tips and resources.

- The CofE link above has some testimonies which will encourage folk to give it a go.

- Guildford Diocese have a resource page, which tells the story of how it worked locally, and how best to prepare for BTCS, very useful. Local news also from Ely via the Bishop of Huntingdons blog.

- Before you invite anyone I suggest you use this very helpful Worship Audit, from Chelmsford Diocese, to make sure that your worship is vaguely newcomer friendly. It's better to find out the answers to these questions before you invite guests along. Bit like tasting the dish you've been cooking before serving it up to the mother in law.

cartoon by Dave Walker.


  1. Back to Church Sunday always produces some quite heated debate at our place, and in actual fact we have never formally participated.

    The argument here is that *every* Sunday should be a Back to Church Sunday, so every Sunday whoever is leading the service should welcome any newcomers or visitors, every Sunday the worship should be accessible and able to be followed by newcomers, every Sunday there should be at least one or two familiar hymns, and every Sunday members of the congregation should feel able to invite friends along.

    Surely the fact that we have to organise a special Sunday, is really an admission that the majority of the C of E are pretty poor at being welcoming the rest of the year?

  2. I think I'd agree with that argument, and the ideal is to have a church that, every week, people feel happy to invite their friends, which is put together and led with newcomers in mind.

    Many churches aren't there yet, so I see BTCS as a useful catalyst for a church to start down this route, as well as providing a focus for people who are a bit shy of inviting people. If every Sunday is the same, then they can always put it off to 'next Sunday', but if there's a specific date then it can concentrate the mind.

  3. Hmmm.

    Is there not an argument for an "event" Sunday, even if it only gives an excuse for coverage in the local paper?

  4. Of all that is written in this post the bit that amazed me the most comes right at the end, with the Worship Audit.... Unbelievable, truly.

  5. unbelievable in a good way, or a bad way?