Some 10 years ago a group of Christians came up with an initiative that they hoped would bring more people into church.
The idea was simple. They believed that there are many who would consider and even like to attend church if a regular churchgoer, sometimes a friend, gave a personal invitation to a special service and accompanied them into what for some had become a daunting prospect – entering a church and following what was going on in the service. The initiative was to be named Back to Church Sunday.
The special Sunday was also seen as a great opportunity to welcome back to church the occasional visitor who had attended for a family occasion, maybe a wedding, a baptism or a funeral. Others to be targeted would include those who had been to church when younger, perhaps to a Sunday School or youth club, but dropped attendance for one reason or another. In some areas it could also include people in new housing estates, some perhaps who had moved to new areas and not linked up with the local church.
The idea started nationally in the Anglican churches but was enthusiastically taken up by other denominations. Special flyers were produced adapted for local use and the result is that since 2004 it is believed that more than 260,000 people have accepted one of these invitations. A positive result to be sure.
Now, the group believes that its success can be built on. Recognising that September marks the restart of church activities after the summer holiday months, and knowing that many churches historically celebrate Harvest Festival around that time, the campaign has decided to change its emphasis to a “season of invitations”.
They suggest that Back to Church Sunday, traditionally held on the last Sunday of September, should be followed by the Harvest Festival in October, Remembrance Sunday in November, and when December kicks in, Advent, the time of waiting for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, culminating in the great celebrations of Christmas.
What has become clear over the years is that a single invite is probably not enough to encourage people to continue regular attendance at the church which issued the invitation in the first place. So, if multiple invitations are given on what would be a month by month basis the habit of attending church might grow and become part of a regular schedule.
This year then the campaign has produced packs of invitations cards for all ages, calendars and posters. Moreover, training sessions for those interested in furthering the idea within their own local church have been arranged. For more information see the website www.seasonofinvitations.co.uk.
It is not clear if initiatives such as the Back to Church Sunday have stemmed the decline in attendance at churches in this country but it is encouraging that ideas such as this are being tried. Flexible forms of worship, more convenient times of services and the use of secular buildings, such as schools, are also making church services more accessible to more people. Why not try it for yourself.