The Church of England needs to shed its middle class “Marks and Spencer”-only image in order to attract the Asda and Aldi generation of worshippers, a senior bishop has warned.
The Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Reading, spoke of his sense of frustration at the view that the Church of England was the “Marks and Spencer” option only, for the highly educated or “suited and booted”.
Jesus would just as likely have shopped at Asda and Aldi as at Marks and Spencer, he said.
He said: "Even today I meet people who think you have to be highly educated or suited and booted to be a person who goes to church. That’s so frustrating. How did it come to this, that we have become known as just the Marks and Spencer option when in our heart of hearts we know that Jesus would just as likely be in the queue at Asda or Aldi?
“Jesus got us started with church simply. Like this - sitting us down in groups on the grass and telling simple stories. Not simplistic. But certainly not complicated. All his first disciples were down-to-earth people who wanted to know what life was all about.”
The bishop’s remarks come as the Church of England launched its Back to Church Sunday campaign to attract lapsed worshippers and others into the pews this Sunday, September 27.
The campaign comes after provisional figures published earlier this year showed average Sunday attendance in the Church of England fell to 978,000 in 2007 down from just over one million in 2002.
About 1.7 million people attend Church of England services each month, according to the 2007 figures.
The Back to Church Sunday campaign includes a rap-style radio advertisement. Other bishops supporting the campaign include the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, who has posted at YouTube invitation inviting people to “come as they are” to church on Sunday. The Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Rev Cyril Ashton and a team of fellow motor cyclists have already toured South Yorkshire to promote the campaign.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, backing the campaign, said:
“The Church’s responsibility to welcome all comers isn’t, of course, restricted to one Sunday in the year. But this Sunday in particular prompts us to do a better job of saying to people that we are truly glad to see newcomers and they always have a right to be part of the family. I pray that this year’s Back to Church Sunday will assure the whole population of this country that they are loved and valued by God - and by those who worship God.”