It’s the Internet, stupid…

Quick quiz question to begin the day:

Which is greater – the number of people who have visited this blog this year, or the number of people who are present in the Scottish Episcopal Church on a typical (ie the week before Advent when the figures are counted) Sunday?

It is an unfair question in a number of ways because it compares one day with a whole year and doesn’t measure engagement or committment. However it is a question that ought to make us sit up and take notice all the same. The answer is of course that this blog has had considerably more visitors this year than turn up at Episcopal churches on any normal Sunday.

I pose this teaser as a way into saying something about Christmas attendance at St Mary’s. There’s no getting away from the fact that we’ve had a busy Christmas. Numbers were significantly up at all services, the new service we put on for children on Christmas Eve was a runaway success and collections were double (yes, you heard me) what they were last year.

Now, there are some reasons for this. Last year we had a lot of snow, so that makes comparison difficult. (Though Christmas Eve was horribly wild this year too). Then there is the fact that we’ve a new member of staff this year and increasing numbers was the very reason we took him on.

However, one thing niggled away at me through Christmas. How did those coming to St Mary’s know about the services? After all, we changed the timetable quite radically this year – the Carol Service was on a Thursday evening instead of the Sunday before Christmas. How did the people know when to come? The new service for children and accompanying adults was a success and drew in people whom we’d never clapped eyes on. Who were they and why did they come?

There seems to me to be two forces at work. Word of mouth is one. (And one which I don’t underestimate). The influence of the internet is the other. (And most people I know considerably underestimate that).

The truth is, we don’t do much publicity these days that is not on line. We used to advertise in the Herald, but that form of communication was left by the wayside long since.

I was particularly struck this year by people whom I’d not met before saying that they came because they couldn’t find a church to go to near them. These were people from posh South Side (stop sniggering those of you in the West End, I’m being serious), Kelvinside and Anniesland. Particular comment was made about the fact that churches in other parts of the city did not appear to have Christmas services and that there was nothing for children.

I was so surprised about this that I started checking out what other Episcopal churches were up to.

It seems to me that we have a problem. According to the websites of quite a lot of our churches, there was nothing on at Christmas at all. Moreover, the Diocesan Website seemed to give out a message that the diocese was closed.

One of my new year’s resolutions is to help congregations engage online in easier ways. It seems to me that the mission of the church depends on it.

However, I am a lone voice whom no-one takes any notice of. (Well, except the tens of thousands of visitors this site gets).

There is almost no mention of online engagement in either the Provincial or the Diocesan mission planning processes. Nor in most of the mission literature I read.

If that continues to represent the reality in congregations, and they simply don’t engage with the way the world communicates then I draw a rather obvious and bleak conclusion.

And you all know what it is.


  1. …and hear the great and the good snigger when web presence, Facebook pages or, heaven help us, tweets are discussed. And our website isn’t portable device friendly enough – that’s how I find a church service on holiday…

  2. And you are not quite the lone voice – there are at least three of us in the Western Fastnesses – but this one at least needs to learn to keep her temper in check when the aforementioned great and good get going. Tips, anyone?

  3. Thanks for an excellent post. I’ve been honoured to help the Province, a few dioceses and one or two churches develop websites over the past few years. I have met quite a few people within the church who are keenly aware of the importance of a decent web presence. But they are almost always volunteers or busy clergy with very limited time to keep existing church websites up-to-date, let alone look for ways of improving them, or build new ones.

    I would argue that the church needs professional assistance to develop its online communications: not just the periodic drafting in of a professional designer to set up or renovate a website, but a contractor or part-time (full time?) employee responsible for taking the lead to develop the church’s online presence day-in-day-out. The church needs someone with the time available to keep up – so far as any of us can – with the bewildering rate of development of web technologies, to act as an evangelist for the use of the web across the church, to keep existing church websites up-to-date and design new ones when required, and to design and maintain usable content management frameworks (they date rather quickly) and train non-technical content editors in their use.

    So far as I’ve seen the dioceses simply don’t have the resources or expertise to design or implement effective online communications: they need a professional employed at Provincial level to help them. I’m well aware that resources are limited and that the church probably can’t afford the ongoing services of an experienced designer. But I’m sure that there are many new web design graduates, ideally one with some connection to the church, who could provide an excellent service.

    If funds are a problem I would suggest diverting some of the money currently spent on printed publications. I am thinking in particular of the various diocesan magazines and new sheets. Whatever the merits of their content they are poorly designed and really only ever reach existing church members. The web is open to everyone with an internet connection. And that is nearly everyone. I don’t buy the argument that we have to focus so much energy on producing magazines for the benefit of those who cannot or will not access information online. At present we bend over backwards to accommodate those who are not online and neglect those who are. That is the wrong way round. Not that we should neglect anyone of course – but it is necessary to prioritise.

    Andrew is quite right to note that it is very important that all new church websites, and future iterations of those we already have, should adapt to mobile browsing devices. See for reference the most recent diocesan site,, which uses responsive web design methodologies – at least those which were current a couple of months ago!

  4. Neil Oliver says

    Kelvin, justin,

    Thanks for talking a lot of sense about how the church must build its communications in the modern world. I’m based in a totally different city to most of my friends so I keep up to date throuhg facebook. I’m not in Glasgow, yet I know more about Kelvin’s views, sermons and St Mary’s then i do about my local Episcopalian Cathedral. They managed to hide the list of christmas services in the second item of the “news” page. Their website appears to be a static site which gives no suggestion to the life and community of the church.

    Christ was a comunicator a talker a teacher a preacher. Communication today must use the tools that many use every day, blogs, twitter, smart phones facebbook google+ and it must use these well. If anyone wants to find out about something they are not part of, they research and the web is a major tool for research, and to get an idea of the heart and character of a church’s leaders is invaluable.
    To be able to find out shat a church is doing, in a clear and attractive way is invaluable as can been seen by the numbers and comments reprted above.

    I can only get to Glasgow once a month, if that, but I can heear the sermons, if I had the kit i could join in on-line services, I can contribute like this comment, this makes me feel as much a part of St Mary’s as any in the town I live.

  5. @Chris: indeed – in such a public forum I was talking quite generically, of course, about management in many corporate organisations I have experienced – but I know which meeting(s) you refer to. At least we are going in the right direction!
    @Justin: very wise words – I’ve always felt that church buildings are (amongst other things) evangelistic tools by just being there, to interest and draw people in. A website can/does work the same way – but only with conscious effort and expense. We spend thousands of pounds and ‘man’-hours on the buildings each year – but our websites?

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