This is a straight to the point kind of a blog. The message is simple and within the text are all the tools and links you need to get you started.

Here’s the message: Our churches need to be online. By that I mean having a brilliant A Church Near You page and using social media.

Why? Because the age group we struggle the most to reach, the people least represented in our churches and the folks who have had the least contact with church or religious education since they were born, are the under 35’s. This age group are the biggest age group who have no idea that God loves them and Jesus died for them and that no matter who they are or what they’ve done, they can start again. This age group are the least likely in our society to identify as Christians. We know this. We see it in our churches.

What’s that got to do with the internet? This group, coincidentally, are the same people who grew up using computers and can today be found online. They (I’ll start saying we from here-on-in as I’m in this bracket too) we bank online, we book tables in restaurants online, we give to charities online, we research and book our holidays online, we read newspapers online, we date online, we send flowers and greetings cards online and if we want to know something, some fact or where something’s located… we look it up online. If a cinema or a bar or a club doesn’t have any online presence (doesn’t have its own website, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook account) it doesn’t exist. How could it? It’s 2018! Everything’s online. Or at least this is the assumption, rightly or wrongly. 

What’s that got to do with your church? If a young couple want to have their child Christened it’s unlikely they’ll already know their local vicar or anyone who goes to their local church. Let’s be honest… they may not know where their local church is, or that they even live in a parish. It’s not their fault. It’s just the way it is. So they’ll do a Google search. One of the top entries that’ll pop up will be your A Church Near You page, because this automatically exists whether it’s up to date and well-presented or not. You can’t help but have one (if you weren’t aware you had one, now would be a good time to check it out).

Your website, if you’ve got one, will be up there too. When they click on either of these, it needs to have everything they’re looking for. It’s their first impression of your church, what you’re like as people, what they can expect.

Of course they might not have found their way onto that website because they want their child Christened. They might want to start coming to a Toddler group or they might have heard about Alpha and want to ask some questions. What will they find when they scroll through your A Church Near You page or your church website? Will it be enough for a completely un-churched stranger to be bold enough to cross the threshold into a totally alien environment where they don’t know anyone, or what to do, or how to behave? Would it be enough for them to text or email the vicar and make an enquiry? Would they go elsewhere or simply give up on the idea?

So what they find needs to be good, informative and welcoming. But this all sounds like a lot of hard work.

FEAR NOT. IT’S RELATIVELY EASY TO MAKE HUGE IMPROVEMENTS AND TO TURN THIS AROUND. HERE’S WHAT TO DO

Be bold, get rid. Firstly, my advice would be, if your church website is very old-fashioned (please ask a non-Christian friend or relative to give honest feedback as it’s so difficult to assess this ourselves) or if it is too difficult to maintain/keep up to date and there’s no-one currently in your congregation with the capacity to take this on, it might be best to get rid of it. There is nothing wrong with doing this, and at some point in the future if circumstances change you could always create a new one.

Is binning it really OK? Yes! An old fashioned, out of date or unappealing website that’s hard to navigate, full of misinformation or religious jargon is much more harm than no website! Besides, you’ve automatically got an A Church Near You page and this is where you can focus your energies and creativity. Lighten the load.

Focus on A Church Near You: There’s no denying that if you do already have a decent, contemporary website and someone in your church able to maintain it, it’s a huge bonus. But if you don’t, your A Church Near You page can do everything you need it to do. It’s easy to navigate (and edit), clearly laid out, can be full of pictures and useful information and, if done well, can give a complete, positive, and lively impression of your church community and faith. Plus the Church of England media and communications team are always making improvements and driving forward positive changes. They’re the ones who run this website platform so if you have any queries or complaints, just contact them.

OK, What Now? Establish that you – plus up to 4 others if you wish – have the rights to edit your church’s page by clicking here. Then you can use this video guide to help you improve your A Church Near You page. It has lots of real examples from Durham Diocese you can use. You can pause and play at your own pace and if you have any technical queries about editing, please click here.

Social Media: This is important too. Even if you personally are not interested in Facebook, it is very important for churches to have a Facebook page. Facebook really does have the monopoly on social media and the people you’re trying to reach can be found here. Also, it’s undeniably a very effective tool for publicising events and reaching right into the heart of the community at the click of a button. It’s ideal for fundraising or awareness raising campaigns too. See how this church uses Facebook for mission. They do it VERY effectively.

Finally… it’s important to remember that this is about reaching out to people who don’t yet know about Jesus. People not yet part of your church family. So even if your existing congregation don’t know how to use hashtags or don’t own smart phones, doesn’t mean all this stuff isn’t massively important. Good luck, and contact the Diocesan office if you have any problems. Help is out there. 

Absolutely finally… remember to add website links and social media accounts to all church literature, e.g. letterheads, business cards, posters, etc. so people can find them.