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Back to Church Sunday 2009: a warm welcome to 82,000 people across UK

Initiative gathers pace for 2010 after 71 per cent leap in returning churchgoers


Church of England churches welcomed back 53,000 people on Back to Church Sunday 2009, a 71 per cent increase on 2008, as part of a growing initiative that saw more than 80,000 people come back to church across the UK on one Sunday in September.

Statistical returns from participating churches suggest that an average of 19 people returned to each church after receiving a personal invitation. They were greeted with an especially welcoming Sunday service on the day, fuelled by resources such as red ‘welcome’ T-shirts and subsidised ‘party packs’ of fairly-traded catering products, produced in partnership with Traidcraft.

The Church of England’s Head of Research and Statistics, the Revd Lynda Barley, says: “If the returns we have received from almost one fifth of the participating parishes are representative, the scaled up figures would suggest that 53,000 extra people attended Church of England churches that Sunday, among 82,000 coming back across the UK once other denominations are included.

“We know from local research that new attenders and the churches enjoy the Back to Church experience of church. Not only has the number of participating churches increased between 2008 and 2009 so that approximately 20 per cent of Church of England churches are now taking part, but the average number of extra people per church has grown, with participating churches each having welcomed an average of 19 extra people compared to 14 last year.”

This significant rise in the numbers drawn back to church by the event is revealed as organisers gather in London for a special event at St Martin in the Fields church, marking their success and beginning planning for next year’s Back to Church Sunday, 26th September 2010.

The Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield, commented: “Back to Church isn't rocket science. It is, however, a way of putting a booster behind the welcome we offer people, and turning mission into less of a specialism. It turns evangelism into a simple invitation that any churchgoer can ask their friend or neighbour – ‘Will you come to church with me on Sunday?’

“What's really encouraging is the way that Back to Church is becoming a core part of the Church's DNA. Now a regular event for many churches, the buzz is catching, across churches of all traditions, and I expect to see even more churches getting involved in 2010.”

Parishes in each of the Church of England 44 dioceses were joined by congregations from Churches Together in Scotland, the Church in Wales, Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed, Salvation Army and Elim Pentecostal churches nationwide, and Anglican churches in Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and Canada. Back to Church Sunday began in Manchester in 2004, spread to Wakefield Diocese in 2005, nine dioceses in 2006, 20 in 2007, and 38 in 2008, when an estimated 37,000 people came back across the UK.

Research by the Diocese of Lichfield after Back to Church Sunday in 2007 showed that, six months after the event, between 12 and 15 per cent of ‘returners’ had become regular members.


Back to Church… in figures

  • The number of people returning to the Church of England on 27 September 2009 alone could have filled the O2 arena in London twice over – and still left a queue of 7,000 (the highest quoted membership of the National Secular Society) outside without a seat;
  • The total number of people returning to participating Churches across the UK would have filled Old Trafford, home of Manchester United FC;
  • If a conservative estimate of 12 per cent of returners continue into more regular chuchgoing, Back to Church Sunday 2009 will have added 9,900 people to UK pews – almost twice the maximum capacity of the Royal Albert Hall.



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