Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 12:57 UK

Church 'must shed its M&S image'

Rt Rev Stephen Cotrell, Bishop of Reading
The bishop's comments come as a Back to Church campaign is launched

A senior bishop has said the Church of England must shed its middle class "Marks and Spencer" image to target "Asda or Aldi" worshippers.

The Right Reverend Stephen Cotrell, Bishop of Reading, is frustrated by the view that the church is only for the "highly-educated or suited and booted".

He said Jesus would "just as likely be in the queue at Asda or Aldi".

His remarks coincide with a Back to Church campaign to attract lapsed worshippers into pews on Sunday.

It comes after provisional figures published earlier this year showed average Sunday attendance in the Church of England fell to 978,000 in 2007 - down from just over one million in 2002.

How did it come to this, that we have become known as just the Marks and Spencer option
The Rt Reverend Stephen Cotrell
Bishop of Reading

Bishop Cotrell said: "Even today I meet people who think you have to be highly-educated or suited and booted to be a person who goes to church.

"That's so frustrating. How did it come to this, that we have become known as just the Marks & Spencer option when in our heart of hearts we know that Jesus would just as likely be in the queue at Asda or Aldi?

"Jesus got us started with church simply.

"Like this - sitting us down in groups on the grass and telling simple stories. Not simplistic. But certainly not complicated."

Moves to attract lapsed worshippers include a rap-style radio advertisement with the message: "You might have left for so many reasons, but am I wrong to sense that now's the season, to stop, turn around, walk back?

'Faked up smiles'

"Don't look to make no airs and graces. Faked up smiles and masked up faces. No need to make no innovation. Please accept this as your invitation."

A YouTube message has also been posted by the Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Reverend Steven Croft, which invites people to "come as they are" to church on Sunday.

"The Church of England is learning to become again the church for the whole nation - poor and rich," he said.

The Bishop of Doncaster, the Right Reverend Cyril Ashton and a team of fellow motorcyclists have already toured South Yorkshire to promote the campaign.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: "The Church's responsibility to welcome all comers isn't, of course, restricted to one Sunday in the year.

"But this Sunday in particular prompts us to do a better job of saying to people that we are truly glad to see newcomers and they always have a right to be part of the family."

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