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As Pamela Walker and other longtime members at the Cathedral of Love in Mount Clemens prepare for morning church services this Sunday, they're praying others follow.

The group is among more than 350 churches in Michigan welcoming anyone to join weekend worship as part of Back to Church Sunday, an outreach effort aimed at drawing people who never attended or stopped going.

The cards and door hangers parishioners are distributing to friends, family, co-workers and strangers bear a picture of a grassy path beneath a greeting: "You're invited to National Back to Church Sunday."

"For a lot of reasons people have left the church and don't go to church," said Walker, a university professor from Detroit. "It can be anything from they didn't get along with the preacher to they feel like they have to get themselves together ...

"What we're saying is: 'None of that is necessary. Come as you are. Nobody is perfect, and neither are we.'"

About 27,000 churches are expected to participate this year, holding special services that could involve more than three million people, coordinators said. Since the effort launched in 2009, participants have extended an estimated 8.5 million invitations, officials said.

The push to bring people back, or into, the fold follows declining interest in church participation and religious commitment.

An estimated 73 million American adults are "un-churched," according to a study released by the Barna Group, a nonpartisan, research organization based in California. In 2012, the Pew Research Center also found about 20 percent of the public identified as religiously unaffiliated. Last year, Gallup survey results showed 87 percent of people believe in God, yet just 27 percent attended a church at least once a week.

Back to Church Sunday organizers also point to a figure from Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, in his book "The Unchurched Next Door": 82 percent of people who don't attend church likely would if invited by a friend.

With that in mind, the effort aims to build a base for growth, said managing director Jamie Stahler, director of marketing and partnerships for Outreach Inc. "The most powerful evangelistic tool is the Christian … putting the gospel in action."

That's why Cathedral of Love members have spent weeks cheerfully seeking potential attendees. The positive response so far suggests uncertain times are leading people to seek answers, said Yolanda Tyson, the pastor.

"It's also an opportunity for people to understand why bad things happen to good people, and the only answer to that is to go to the source," she said. "People's doubts have pulled them away from church, but ironically it's renewing the faith that there is a big God who has an opportunity to heal things."

Back to Church Sunday

For information on participating: http://backtochurch.com or 1-800-991-6011

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