In the beginning, the elders gathered and set up a mighty cry: How are we to get young people into church? And, lo, they decreed: Let there be rap. In a move which risks ridicule, the Church of England has turned to street culture in the hope of attracting new blood. A radio advert will appeal to the lapsed faithful to ‘stop, turn around, walk back’ to church on Sunday.
The spoken message, voiced by a series of actors, is described by the Church as ‘a rap-style poem’. The ad is the latest in a 15-year campaign by the C of E to use advertising to boost church attendances and attract the attention of those, in particular the young, who have no interest in Christianity. Past efforts have met with mixed success. One mid-1990s slogan that declared Christmas to be a ‘bad hair day’ won universal mockery.
The C of E’s usual Sunday attendance figures dropped below the one million figure at the turn of the millennium and have fallen at the most recent count to 871,000. The new advert, produced by a Christian agency based in Bradford, aims to assure its young target audience that they do not need to dress up to go to church. In defiance of the idea of Sunday best, the 40-second routine, which is not set to a drum beat, suggests that congregations where people make an effort to look smart could lack sincerity. The grammar also does little credit to the C of E’s efforts in the thousands of secondary and primary schools it helps run.
This is the Rap-style message to Churchgoers:
*You might have left for so many reasons, but am I wrong to sense that now’s the season, to stop, turn around, walk back? Don’t look to make no airs and graces. Faked up smiles and masked up faces. No need to make no innovation. Please accept this invitation.
It says: ‘Don’t look to make no airs and graces. Faked up smiles and masked up faces. No need to make no innovation. Please accept this as your invitation.’ The poem won endorsement from Lambeth Palace, where the Archbishop of Canterbury’s adviser on church growth, Canon Paul Bayes, said it was ‘a great opportunity for churches to speak to their communities with the message of invitation.’
The advert will appear on commercial radio stations as part of a timeshare system in which parishes have been encouraged to club together with other local churches to buy airtime. It is part of a ‘Back to church Sunday’ drive which hopes to bring in thousands of new worshippers on September 27. It is backed by churches in Scotland and Wales, Methodist and evangelical churches, although Roman Catholic leaders have not signed up.
Last year, its organisers say, some 37,000 lapsed members were drawn back to church on the campaign Sunday.