Page last updated at 23:14 GMT, Saturday, 27 September 2008 00:14 UK

Churches open doors for 'guests'

Rev Paul Moore outside St Wilfrid's Church, Cowplain
Rev Paul Moore rolled out a red carpet to new "VIP" worshippers

Anglican churches across Britain hope to attract up to 30,000 new faces on Sunday after a drive to extend personal invitations to would-be worshippers.

Some 3,000 churches are taking part in Back to Church Sunday to encourage people who once attended to return.

Bishops have travelled to football grounds, shops and even down a mine in a bid to boost their congregations.

Christian Research says about 850,000 Anglicans attended Sunday services in 2006 compared with 1.7 million in 1979.

But the organisation has said that numbers attending both Church of England and Catholic services appear to have stabilised after years of decline.

Miners and bikers

This is the fourth Back to Church Sunday and involves 38 dioceses across England.

It's so easy for people who don't normally come to imagine that they'll be unwelcome intruders
Rev Paul Moore

In addition, Churches Together in Scotland, the Church in Wales, Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed and Elim Pentecostal churches, and Anglican churches in New Zealand and Canada are also taking part.

Organisers hope some 30,000 newcomers and returners might attend - a figure based on an average of 10 people returning to each church.

Regular worshippers have been encouraged to give VIP invitation cards to friends and neighbours, while some bishops have gone to much greater lengths to spread the word:

  • In Nottinghamshire, Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt Rev Tony Porter, went underground to meet miners at Welbeck Colliery.

    Bishop of Doncaster the Rt Rev Cyril Ashton on his motorbike

  • Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Rev Cyril Ashton, donned his motorbike leathers and rode to four areas of the Diocese of Sheffield to promote the Church to fellow bikers.
  • A group of parishes in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, took over a shop front in the town centre to hand out invitations to passing shoppers.
  • Four bishops in the Diocese of Lichfield placed adverts in football match programmes to reach out to fans. They read: "Because Jesus has already taken the penalty, you can be saved."

In Cowplain, Hampshire, Rev Paul Moore rolled out a red carpet from the door of his church, St Wilfrid's.

"It's so easy for people who don't normally come to imagine that they'll be unwelcome intruders if they walk into a church service," he said.

"In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We will aim to make them feel really at home."

'Spiritual hunger'

Research by the Diocese of Lichfield suggested there were an extra 6,000 people in the pews on Back to Church Sunday last year. Six months later, between 700 and 900 had become regular members.

Archdeacon of Walsall, the Ven Bob Jackson, said: "There's a lot of spiritual hunger about.

"In a church you make friends, you belong, and you meet with God. For a lot of people in this day and age that's a wonderful thing to find."

Bishop Tony Porter (r) with a miner at Welbeck Colliery
Bishop Tony Porter (r) went down a mine to invite new worshippers

Last year, research by charity Tearfund found that an additional three million adults in the UK would go to church regularly if "given the right invitation".

The archdeacon said: "For most people there's quite a difficult threshold problem of, 'I'd like to go to a church, but it's a bit nerve-wracking.'

"It's much easier if someone you already know invites you to come with them.

"It's like you don't normally knock on a stranger's door and say, 'Can I come in and talk to you?' You need to be invited or have a friend take you."

The Church of England says about 1.7 million people attend church and cathedral worship each month, while just under one million go each Sunday.

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