Back to Church Sunday is quickly coming upon us. I realize that I am stepping on sacred territory. To be clear, I love the movement and the initiative that this has created. I have heard many great stories from congregations that have seen people come back to church and many who have come back into Christian community.
I’ll confess that when I first heard of this, I thought this was ironic and had an image of someone in full clericals standing on the doorstep of the church, yelling out, “Come back…come back…we’re still here!” I’m glad that we haven’t seen that…I hope. I remember doing some work with a parish, and they really wanted to do something to get people to come back to church. I asked the blunt question, “Why?” What is our motivation? This church’s vestry didn’t have consensus – some wanted numbers up so the offering would be up, some really wanted families that had left over disagreements to come back…and a few really believed that the church offered something that no other group in the community offered.
The movement is about creating opportunity for a conversation. We tried our own version at All Saints a few years back on Valentine’s Day. It happened to fall on Sunday that year. We planned a special service, had some people create some valentine’s to give everyone, made some invites and a few of us took a couple evenings and walked around our neighbourhood to deliver them. I’m glad that I had developed thick skin during the days that I had to do door-to-door evangelism – we had more than a few doors slammed in our faces. I’ll confess, I was wearing jeans and a sweater, and was not robed.
Sunday morning came, and with it 3 new families, including one from the neighbourhood. They loved it; the kids loved the valentines and the candy. Our problem? Next Sunday came. We went back to the normal Anglican liturgy and the traditional hymns – and no candies. The 3 families returned, once. I was horrified and kicked myself. We created an environment that was far from our authentic selves. One of the 3 families returned and became part of the community, and for them, it was because of relationships they built.
In the end, it really had nothing to do with the special treats and it certainly wasn’t the liturgy we prepared. It was the lasting relationships, and the reassurance that they could be themselves too.
What are we inviting people to come back to? Or even to come to for the first time? Is our church even ready to be inviting people to join?