One of the things we are really bad at in the church (especially the Church of England) is recognising that we actually have something good to share with people and that people are genuinely looking for it and interested.
We tend to assume that newcomers to church will ‘probably be bored’, ‘won’t want to be there’ or are ‘not interested’. This is particularly true of our view of the people who attend our occasional offices (christenings, weddings and funerals). I am increasingly discovering, however, that people are open to being contacted again by us after they’ve attended a wedding, baptism or funeral, and that they want more of what we have to offer, namely: a sense of belonging and a ‘place to put the emotions that won’t go anywhere else‘ (as Rowan Williams once put it).
To give you some simple examples:
- following a wedding we often notice people have ‘checked in’ on Facebook and have ‘liked’ our church Facebook page – an invitation for us to keep in touch with them
- people who have attended funerals often keep in touch in a light way through our Facebook page (simply liking pictures and articles we’ve shared) – we might not see them in church again but it is a way of staying connected
- after praying with a family in a pre-wedding meeting and lighting some candles, I was asked if we could ‘do that candle thing again’ at the rehearsal
People do actually want what we are offering, they do want the Good News but unfortunately, we have been hiding our light under a bushel for too long.
These days, if you buy anything on-line or visit a chain restaurant or tourist attraction you are immediately invited to take further action – you will probably receive an email newsletter, an invitation for money off something or simply some information about other events. It’s the classic ‘other people who bought this also liked…’ trick so well used by the likes of Amazon. We are used to this and we don’t mind (there is always the unsubscribe button).
Now, don’t get me wrong, we are not ‘selling a product’ at church but what we are doing is inviting people to be a part of our, and God’s, community. Or at least we should be, and one of the best ways in which we can do that is to try and keep that invitation open.
At a recent consultation event on Baptisms that I attended, I was told that research conducted by the Church of England highlighted that 9/10 people wanted the church to keep in touch after their child’s baptism but that only 3/10 people expected that to happen.
Why do we think that people won’t want us to get in touch with them again after they’ve come to us for something like a wedding? Booking a service with us is a big step in the first place, a big vote of confidence, and yet, we worry that people won’t be interested: ‘we mustn’t shove it down their throats’ we think.
The good news is that there are some very simple ways in which we can keep the invitation open, here are some that we use in our parish:
- Have a regularly (daily) updated Facebook Page – many keep in touch with what’s happening at church through the year by following our Facebook page. Our usage has seen an increase in attendance at Christmas services especially but also serves to show the local community the wide range of activities that go on at church (we reach over 2000 people each week on Facebook).
- We have a popular monthly Parish Magazine (hard copy)
- We keep our church website up to date with what is going on and clear information on how to find us and get in touch
- We send out a weekly email newsletter using Mailchimp – a free tool
If you are interested in starting to use social media in your church or organisation you might want to start with this article I wrote here.
Let’s keep that invitation open!