Bishop asks more churches to join Back to Church Sunday

Image caption Bishop John is confident more Lancashire churches will take part in Back to Church Sunday

The Bishop of Burnley wants to increase the number of churches in Lancashire taking part in Back to Church Sunday.

Last year only 33 of the 250 churches in the Blackburn Diocese took part in the initiative, aimed at getting former parishioners back into the pews.

The Right Reverend John Goddard also called for more of the Christian denominations to join the celebration.

"We want 100 Anglican churches... Methodists, Baptists and Roman Catholics all joining in," he said.

Speaking to the Open Synod at The Redeemer Church in Ewood, Blackburn, the Bishop declined to say if he was disappointed with the amount of parishes involved in last year's campaign, preferring to talk about the opportunities he sees for this autumn's event.

"If it actually took off, in the Anglican churches alone, we would have almost 1,000 extra people."

Back to Church Sunday is a national campaign, held this year on Sunday 25th September, which claims to be the largest single local church initiative in the world.

The simple premise is that parishioners should invite someone they know to join them that Sunday in church.

Often churches add special events to their services to show the newcomers the kind of welcome and life they can expect if they want to make it a regular part of their lives.

Cynical attempt

The Bishop of Burnley is aware that some see Back to Church Sunday as a cynical attempt to make the churches look more popular than they are.

"Some say they come for a day and then that's it. But I say, if you make people feel welcome, if they are moved in the worship or in some way touched by something which is beyond their experience, then maybe they will come back."

Bishop John likens Back to Church Sunday to parents who want to send their youngsters to faith schools: "People say the parents are only going to church to get their children into faith schools, I say you have them for three years, what are you doing with them? It is a great opportunity!"

The Bishop feels a reticence to invite people to church is partly responsible for declining congregations. He says we aren't an inviting kind of society but also makes the point that we don't struggle with some invitations.

"For instance," Bishop John said, "most people would have no trouble saying to a friend that they have two tickets for the football and then asking if they would like to come to the game."

He went on: "Why is it that people have no difficulty asking about a football match but won't ask about church?"

Bishop John is confident the number of Lancashire churches taking part in Back to Church Sunday will triple. "I am pretty determined this will happen," he said. "And so are a lot of other people."

Joe Wilson presents the faith programme on BBC Radio Lancashire from 6am each Sunday.

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