Archive for September, 2009

Early Results of Back to Church Sunday New Zealand

New Zealand Results

Bucking the trend: early signs of success for Back to Church Sunday Ten to 20% more people in Anglican churches on Sunday, as distinct from
less: that’s a statistic with the potential to flummox the census-takers and media-pundits.
In some places, the picture that’s beginning to develop from Back to Church Sunday (held last Sunday, Sept 13) is more impressive still. Some
• St Barnabas, Fendalton – 100 more people, which is a 30% increase on the
average congregation, says John Day, the vicar.
• St John the Baptist, Dannevirke – “No one in the parish can remember
ever having more than a hundred in church at one time, for any reason. On Sunday we had 165,” reports the vicar, Tim Delaney
• St Luke’s, Havelock North – “about 50 to 60 extra in the congregation”,
reports Brian Dawson, Vicar
• St Mary’s Karori – “Our average attendance is about 100 – but we were up
to 130 something” says Ben Johnson-Frow, the worship leader.
• St John, Roslyn, Dunedin – “Today we had 136 at the 10am service… It was
great to see our little church more or less full again.” Kelvin Wright, vicar.
• Diocese of Waikato – about a 10 percent average increase in attendance
in both urban and rural parishes, says the Bishop, David Moxon.
• St Aidan’s, Remuera – 20 to 30 extra people at the main service, says Jo
Kelly-Moore, the vicar.
• For some smaller churches, the picture is even more impressive, with
reports of a fifty percent gain in numbers – small to begin with, admittedly – often heard. This mirrors a British trend, which shows that Back to Church Sunday (B2CS) works really well for small congregations.

In fact, it’s too soon to form a complete national picture of how this year’s effort went, says Tony Gerritsen, Wellington’s Archdeacon for Mission, and the man who last year introduced B2CS to New Zealand.

Data from around the country is being gathered at the moment, he says, and the full picture won’t emerge for at least another month.

The disarmingly simple idea behind Back to Church Sunday – that a friend invites a friend back to church – has caught on, big time, in the UK. By last year – just four years after the movement was launched – 3000 churches were running with it, and 37,000 British people came back to church on that day.

There are at least some signs that the B2CS movement maybe on a similar upwards trajectory in New Zealand, too.

Because where a single solitary diocese – Tony’s own – embraced the B2CS concept last year, this year, about 200 churches in six of the country’s seven Tikanga Pakeha dioceses took part.

What’s more, the net has been cast quite a bit wider still. This year, about 50 Baptist churches took part, says Tony, and the Baptist movement produced the resources that build awareness for the day – including posters and invitations that church folk can give to their non-churched friends.

And in March this year Tony and the B2CS movement founder, Englishman Michael Harvey, flew to Brisbane to speak to the Australian Anglican Bishops’ conference.

Result? Seventeen Australian dioceses are now on board with B2CS, and they too focused their combined efforts on achieving a successful September 13 outcome.

Archbishop David Moxon says the success of B2CS may, in part, simply be that people were, in effect, waiting to be asked.
“They think: ‘Oh gosh: I haven’t been to church for a long time – and yet I sometimes think about it. Now someone has, in a non-embarrassing way, actually invited me.
“I know other people will be coming back as well. And I know the church people are not going to say to me: Where have you been? Or: Goodness – you’ve been away a long time. They just want me back’.”
Kelvin Wright, who is an Archdeacon Emeritus in the Diocese of Dunedin, detected the same ‘waiting to be asked’ feeling in some of the people who showed up at St John’s Roslyn last Sunday.
In his ‘Available light’ blog http://vendr.blogspot.com/ he wrote: “I managed to speak to many who had come because of the invitations, and in most cases, they told me they were thinking of coming anyway. There were pressing life issues for some of them which were causing a rethink of priorities and an invitation to church was just the catalyst they had needed to make the move.”
Jo Kelly-Moore, who is the Vicar of St Aidan’s in Remuera, thinks one of the more valuable aspects about B2CS is the audit that goes with it: “It invites you,” she says, “to do a bit of self-reflection about how accessible you are as a community.”
“We had 20 to 30 visitors on the day – I would have loved a lot more – and we focused the address, and what we were doing, around there being visitors in the room, and we tried to make our publications and our liturgy more visitor-friendly.”
Tony Gerritsen thinks that hospitality audit is a key, too. Last year he produced a “Warrant of Fitness” kit – a step-by-step check list whereby churches can inspect everything from the state of their worship to the state of their toilets. These inspections are necessary, he says, because too often churches are “institutionally unwelcoming.”
The big issue now, points out Archbishop David, is whether B2CS is a oncer, a flash in the pan – or whether it’s a new beginning. Whether the churches can convert – no pun intended – those visitors into people who choose to stay and belong.
“The challenge – and it’s a good challenge – will be whether the churches can keep that Back to Church Sunday standard up.
“One of things about B2CS was not to do it too extraordinarily, because that’s not normal, and may not be sustainable.
“On the other hand, churches often do need to ‘up the game’. They do need to constantly look at the standard of their liturgy and hospitality.”
Kelvin Wright reckons that Back To Church Sunday has, on many fronts, been “a rip roaring success” for St. John’s Roslyn.
“Firstly, it has encouraged us to look at ourselves and make changes where necessary.
“Most importantly it has encouraged people to think about why they themselves come to church and to talk about those reasons with people they live and work and share bits of their lives with.
“Of course we will be signing up for next year’s Back To Church Sunday.
“But I hope we can translate the learnings into the other 51 Sundays until then.”