Churches across the United Kingdom welcomed thousands of lapsed Christians back to church on Sunday.
Back to Church Sunday, now in its fourth year, saw churches hand out thousands of no-strings-attached invites to people in their local communities over the last few weeks. The Church of England hoped that as many as 30,000 people would make the return to church on Sunday.
The initiative was the culmination of months of preparation for some churches. In the last week, clergy went to special lengths to invite former churchgoers to their Back to Church Sunday service.
The Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt. Rev. Tony Porter, headed down to Welbeck Colliery on Tuesday to hand out special Back to Church invitations to miners coming off their shifts.
"The coal mines are an important part of our heritage and many of our communities were established around the local pit … Our message this year is that everyone is a VIP and important to God – we are trying to extend our invitations as widely as possible," he said.
Members of St. Wilfrid's church in Cowplain, near Waterlooville in Hampshire, rolled out a red carpet from the front entrance earlier in the month to raise awareness of Back to Church Sunday.
St. Wilfrid's vicar, the Rev. Paul Moore, said, "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.
"Sometimes people lose touch with church because of family commitments or personal circumstances and then feel it would be hypocritical of them to come back again. Our job is to persuade them that they are actually very welcome."
The Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt. Rev. Cyril Ashton, took to his motorbike on Thursday and rode out to four areas of the Diocese of Sheffield with six other bikers where they held a short service of prayer and dedication to promote Back to Church Sunday.
"This is a great way to launch Back to Church Sunday," said Canon John Thomson ahead of the bike. "The bishop's biker prayer visit will certainly help to energize those taking part. Back to Church Sunday is something any congregation can take part in. It's simply about welcoming people back to church."
Churches had hoped to build on the success of last year's Back to Church Sunday, which research from the Diocese of Lichfield suggests brought 6,000 people back to church. The research also found that six months later, as many as 900 had become regular members.
The Archdeacon of Walsall, the Ven Bob Jackson, commented: "People invite their friends on Back to Church Sunday with no strings attached. We know many people will gladly respond to this. What we've proved is that up to 15 percent like it so much they want to come back for good. No wonder Back to Church Sunday has been such an encouragement. This year we want to work hard on improving our welcome even more."