Churches Welcome Back Familiar Faces on Back to Church Sunday

Churches opened their doors yesterday to some familiar faces for the Back to Church Sunday initiative to bring back friends, family, colleagues and neighbours who wanted to return to church but didn't know how to make the all important step back.

In the Diocese of Wakefield alone, 34 churches from Barnsley to Brierley, Elland to Emley, Halifax to Holmbridge and Wakefield to Whitley planned special services to give a warm welcome back to those in their local communities who had lost touch with the church.

Special invitations, posters and banners bearing the love heart logo and the message 'wish you were here' are being used to get the 'welcome back' message across. Goody bags with brochures about church life and a small bar of Traidcraft fair trade chocolate were also handed out in some churches.

The Back to Church Sunday scheme was supported by the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Rev Stephen Platten, who said: "People lose touch with their church families - as they do with their relatives - for all sorts of reasons. Often they are longing to return but may feel unsure of the reception they will receive and find it hard to do so. A personal invitation reassures them they will be welcomed back and can make all the difference."

The day of special services and events have also been remarkably successful in bringing people back to church who hadn't even considered returning but were surprised by the way Back to Church Sunday had touched them.

Stuart Dormand, 24, from Wakefield, was one such returnee last year. He came along for Back to Church Sunday after a work colleague invited him to her church - Christ Church, South Ossett - where he found people warm and welcoming.

He said: "Going back to church was the best decision I ever made, I really love it. I sang in the church choir as a boy but would never have considered going back without that special invitation."

Stuart was one of 20 people who went back to Christ Church last year and are still attending

Peter Collins from Traidcraft (providers of the goody bag chocolate bars) said: "Churches have been at the forefront of Traidcraft's work around the world for years - helping people to help themselves. So it is with this gift of chocolate - it's a gift that makes a difference for good."

Researchers at Staffordshire University measured the responses from people returning to churches. Their research, when completed, will give a greater impression of how and why people reconnect with church after a time away.

Back to Church Sunday started in the Diocese of Manchester in 2004 when over 900 people returned to church. The Diocese of Wakefield joined in last year with similar results.