Friday, April 13, 2012

Back to Church Sunday - essential?

So today the C of E launches the sign-up for this year's Back to Church Sunday.   I wonder if any readers are among the three million who are "waiting for a friend to invite them"? (For the record, I believe this refers to a survey carried out a couple of years ago when people were asked if they would consider going to church if someone asked them to).  Or perhaps more likely, you are among those considering doing the asking.

Back to Church Sunday is a neat idea. There really are people out there who would consider coming to church if asked. Churchgoers get to interact with their unchurched or de-churched friends without having to talk about anything difficult like God, or their own personal faith - it's just a question of making the invitation.  But there are one or two cautions to considered before investing  Back to Church with the "essential" label, and seeing it as the panacea for all the church's ills.

The most obvious one is the question of what you are inviting people to come back to. There are all kinds of reasons why people don't go to church, or stop going. Unbelief or disinterest is only part of the story. In many cases it is painful experiences, unsympathetic rhetoric, irrelevance or just plain boredom that has driven them away. Unfortunately in the case of many of our churches there is a real risk that these people will return, only to find that nothing has changed. Of course the temptation is for churches to put on a special show that will convince the newcomer that this is the most lively/friendly/relevant church in the neighbourhood, but if this is just a whitewash, then it merely postpones the disappointment by a week. The question of what prompts people not just to come to church, but to stay, is very complex and a one-off invitation doesn't really address it at all.

"Back to Church" is no cure-all. But it would be very effective for churches that are actively trying to change to a more outward-looking way of doing things, used as part of a programme of outreach. That way, visitors will arrive at a church that is already set up for welcoming newcomers, and will be treated not just as exciting curiosities ("look, somebody different") but as potential new members of the community.

2 comments:

Avey said...

Hi,
are any stats around to show how effective this has been in producing regular attendance rather than a one off?

I agree it is a good initiative in principle, and the doors should always be open, but maybe the church needs to look at why they left and never came back...... I see lots of comments of how people came on a particular Sunday, but what about the rest of the year?

Charlie said...

Dear Avey,
In a word, no.
I suspect there never will be either. B2CS will stand or fall on whether the churches using feel that it works.