There are many approaches to Back to Church Sunday. From polished videos produced by the U.S.-based Back to Church Sunday organization, which some parishes in Canada have adapted for their own websites and YouTube postings, to newspaper ads to simple homemade potlucks and personal invitations to friends and neighbours.
In Edmonton, the Rev. Nick Trussell of Holy Trinity Church has been co-ordinating Back to Church efforts but says many parishes are keeping it simple and emphasizing personal invitations by parishioners.
Trussell says that a couple of years ago, the Back to Church Sunday effort included ads posted on the sides of city buses that said, “You’re invited.” When Michael Harvey, the British creator of Back to Church Sunday, saw a photo of the ads while visiting Edmonton he asked if it worked. “Did the bus say yes? Did the bus come to church?” he asked. Trussell thinks he made a good point. This year, he says, “It’s about the one-to-one invitation.”
In Crapaud, P.E.I., church warden Connie MacKinnon says that such Back to Church Sunday efforts have helped to rebuild the congregation of St. John the Evangelist after it split away from a three-point parish to be a stand-alone church.
Three years ago, St. John’s was down to an average Sunday attendance of 14 people, but that core group of parishioners decided to take responsibility for their church’s fate. MacKinnon says they “pulled out all the stops” for Back to Church Sunday — delivering invitations, putting up posters, scrubbing the church from top to bottom, polishing the brass, planning special music for the service and a potluck for after the service. Their efforts were rewarded with a turnout of 126 people, some of whom continued to attend. The average Sunday now attracts about 45 people.
Parishioners’ personal invitations have been a part of that success. MacKinnon recounts running into a friend she hadn’t seen in a long time in a WalMart last year. “She’s not even Anglican,” MacKinnon explains. In the course of the conversation, MacKinnon ended up inviting her friend to Back to Church Sunday by saying, “Oh, by the way, we’re having a special church service on Sunday. If you’re not doing anything, why don’t you come along?”
Sure enough, the friend showed up and MacKinnon’s casual invitation has become a running joke, because the woman not only stayed, she’s become a tremendous asset to the congregation.