The Bishop of Birmingham will be swapping his mitre for a motorbike helmet today as he zooms around 13 parishes to encourage people to return to church.

The Rt Rev David Urquhart will visit clergy, nurseries and schools to offer support for the national "Back to Church Sunday" initiative.

Run by the Church of England, the campaign aims to attract people who have given up going to church, to attend services once again. It comes after research showed three million people said they would come back to church if they received a personal invitation.

Organisers estimate 17,000 people are likely to return to church this year on September 30 - the date designated Back to Church Sunday.

Church members have been asked to invite one friend to come back to church on this day.

The Birmingham Diocese pilot involves 13 of its 162 parishes in Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield and parts of Sandwell, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

The Bishop said: "Recent research has shown that three million people - six per cent of the adult population, would come back to church if they had a personal invitation.

"People can get out of the habit of going to church, but I am sure that church has a lot to offer people in 21st Century Britain - especially those considering the questions about the purpose and meaning of life.

"It is also a chance for people to explore contemporary issues and engage in honest and open debate while tapping into an organisation that has more than 2,000 years of experience of human beings and God."

Nationally, 2,000 churches will be participating in the event.

Some have even sent members of their congregations on customer service courses run by department store John Lewis to learn how to be more welcoming to visitors.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has given the initiative his personal backing.

He said: "Millions of people remember and love church, but perhaps they've just drifted away for a while.

"Back to Church Sunday is a chance for church people to invite a friend to come back and see what they've been missing, and to help them reconnect with God in special services of welcome across England."

Today the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Rt Rev George Cassidy, will take off in a hot air balloon from the centre of Nottingham.

At the same time, the Bishop of Sherwood the Rt Rev Tony Porter, will take to the sky in a light aircraft from Nottingham to Blyth - trailing a banner promoting the event.

The new Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, earlier appealed to people in Thames Valley who have stopped coming to church to tell him why and to let him know what might bring them back again through a website,

He is now looking through the responses to see what action the Church could take and will record a podcast to reflect on his findings.

The Church of England says church attendance figures have been relatively stable since 2000.

The latest figures suggest that around 1.7 million people attend Church of England church and cathedral worship each month, while around 1.2 million attend services each week - on Sunday or during the week - and just under one million each Sunday.

Canon Paul Bayes, the Church of England's National Mission and Evangelism Adviser, said the event was a key opportunity for churches.

He said: "The most important thing about Back to Church Sunday is ensuring that those returning to church get a truly warm welcome.

"Things like the length of services, the hymns and songs we sing and even the way we give out notices can all have an impact on the welcome people feel. It's also critical churches think though what they can offer people who have made that brave step to come back."