8 Things the Churches Could Learn From the collapse of HMV

I’m sad to see that the HMV music chain is in trouble. The sadness that I feel about it though has to be accompanied with a knowledge that I’ve looked elsewhere for my entertainment recently. At one time I would have gone there to buy things for others and things for myself around Christmas. This year I never thought about going and next year my local shop may well not be there.

There was a discussion on the wireless just now about it all which included an analysis which went something like this:

The trouble is, HMV just didn’t learn during the nineties and the noughties. They just didn’t build their online presence and now they face collapse.

You know, when the history of the church in this century is written, astute historians may well find themselves drawn to similar conclusions.

Lots of people look to churches around Christmas – increasingly, some may find that the church they have nostalgia for is no longer there when they look for an annual celebration.

The truth is, it is not the fault of these people searching, that those churches may not survive. All the action points needed lie with those who currently are in charge.

Here are eight things churches could to do learn from the collapse of HMV if it wants to thrive:

  • Include a congregation’s web presence as part of its quinquennial survey. A congregation can collapse if its web presence is not good just as easily as if its foundations are built on sand. There’s a parable about this somewhere.
  • Recognise that this is not the future this is now. And it isn’t just for the young people either.
  • If your diocese publishes negative material about your congregation, get it taken offline quickly. This includes dioceses that publish directories of their churches which are not updated and which list churches as having no events and no news. It also includes dioceses which publish online “mission plans” which contain negative material about individual congregations which will show up in search engines.
  • Remember your competition is not simply the local church down the road. It is the atheists, the tennis court, the Buddhists and a morning in bed. Here at St Mary’s I long since worked out that our competition on a Sunday morning was not so much our ecumenical friends as the local private swimming baths which are nude on a Sunday morning. We’ve got to be more fun that than and look like we are more fun than that online.
  • Know that Social Media is not a fad. It isn’t going away. Trust me on this one. It is where the people are. Engage.
  • Understand that people trust personality not corporate speak. They don’t trust language about mission from companies like HMV. They don’t and won’t trust it from us. Saying you are “doing mission” may well put people off. No, really.
  • Believe that relationship matters. You have one with me if you are reading this. Go figure.
  • Learn how to use email. No really. Learn how to use it properly. Learn to use mailing lists. Learn to use subject headings effectively. Remember that if you want someone to know something you have to tell them. And then tell them again. And again. And again.


  1. Eric Stoddart says

    Good list, Kelvin. I might want to amend no. 1 and say it’s actually a discussion of a congregation’s presence that needs to be in the quinquennial review (and indeed every year by each vestry/elders court, etc.).
    ‘Website’ too easily conveys to people something that is akin to a poster (occasionally updated) rather than social media being like a conversation that is much more dynamic.

  2. Justin Reynolds says

    Thanks, and I think all the points are good ones, but as I’ve said elsewhere, and I believe on another post on this blog, I do think the SEC needs to look very seriously at employing one or two people, on at least a part-time basis, to help it develop its online presence.

    It’s one thing to get in a web designer for a few weeks to develop a site for a church or diocese. It’s quite another to then build on whatever momentum has been established. Newly built sites tend to gather dust as established communications patterns – centered on monthly (or even quarterly) newsletters – reassert themselves. Often there is no communication between the editors of the printed publications and those responsible for the websites, and comms budgets are heavily weighted towards the former.

    I saw this over and over during the period in which I was helping the church with its websites. I think there is a desperate need to get somebody – or some people – in to evangelise the use of the web through the church, and to help charges and dioceses maintain and develop their online identities. The problem is recognised, it seems, and there’s quite a bit of exhortation, but no systemic change: to my knowledge, with the exception of the Aberdeen Diocese, there’s been no change in staffing policy that recognises the extent to which the web has – as you say – fundamentally changed the landscape in which organisations communicate. The SEC has a number of full-time officers – why not an IT/web officer? It’s certainly a large enough institution to justify it.

    As I’ve said in similar comments on this issue, I recognise that budgets are limited, so the church might find it difficult to fund a full-time experienced web professional. But it surely would be possible to find an enthusiastic young web graduate. Somebody with the skills, enthusiasm, and – critically – time, to help drive things forward.

  3. Neil Oliver says

    Well, I’ve no idea what a “quinquennial” suevey is, but I hope it’s often! Anyway, i applaud everything you’ve said here. I hope that every church takes notice.

    • Quinquennial – 5 yearly inspection that Episcopal Dioceses require of the churches. Usually conducted by an architect. Some denominations sensibly look at life of the congregation as well.

      The idea is to produce a report detailing what needs to be done in the next five years.

      • Neil Oliver says

        Thanks for that, I suppose I could have worked that out with a little thought.

  4. Rosie Bates says

    ■Remember your competition is not simply the local church down the road. It is the atheists, the tennis court, the Buddhists and a morning in bed. Here at St Mary’s I long since worked out that our competition on a Sunday morning was not so much our ecumenical friends as the local private swimming baths which are nude on a Sunday morning. We’ve got to be more fun that than and look like we are more fun than that online.

    Mmm You might have to go ‘skinny dipping’ to rescue those who have already been waterboarded and are off line. Challenge for your sense of mission! You can always borrow the collar Sentamu threw away.

  5. Thanks, Kelvin!

    I have been writing similar things:

    As if to confirm my points, I recently met a young person new to a church I attended. She had taken an hour by car, driving through about half a dozen parishes, to arrive for a service. Why? She was new to the city & had found it online! She has a parish church at the end of the street where she lives!

    I’m not as convinced as you about the value of email. Convince me. I suspect it is a dying medium – but we should still hop on while it is still alive, conscious that young people don’t use it. It is still-useful last millennium technology.



    • In 2003, looking for a church in Teesside, I did exactly the same as your young person, and I spent the next three years when people asked how I had come to that church rather sheepishly admitting that I had looked at the diocesan directory and then gone for the only one within a reasonable commuting distance that had a half-decent website.

      Nine years later, I’m not sure why I was so sheepish about admitting that. It meant that they were getting something right.

  6. Laurence says

    A big problem I find is out of date websites & noticeboards. It is upsetting to make the effort, only to find on arrival that there is no service. I find churches cavalier and inconsiderate on this.

  7. Fred Garvin says

    Religion is shrinking because people don’t want to be bothered with wasting hours of time on something that does nothing for them. Why go to church when you can do politics outside the church? Or just sleep in? When people go to church, the songs are boring, the service is tedious, and you have to pay money for it. Why would a non-masochist put himself through this?

    • You’ve been going to the wrong churches, Fred. 🙂

      Which isn’t to say that you don’t make a good point. I know places that could have the best online presence in Christendom and I still wouldn’t have stayed longer than one service. But church can be brilliant and fun, if you’re at a good church.

  8. Leanne says

    I was sent here from a friend’s link and thought I would comment.

    The churches are an anachronism. They’re dead in the water. People outside the churches (which is me, my friends, my workmates, and about 90% of society) view “churchies” as oddballs who can’t cope with science, fact and diversity.

    We see the churches as not able to provide anything that we can’t get elsewhere. Plus, they always seem to want your money – a big red flag if there ever was one. It’s all about the money. It was *always* all about the money.

    What can churches do to survive? Probably not a whole lot. Are they actually providing anything worthwhile? I’d say no. Sure, they run a few charities, but not effectively and not without taking a large slice off the top – I give elsewhere, to avoid this. I don’t think the churches will disappear completely any time soon – there are too many desperately needy people for that – but they’re clearly on their way out for well-adjusted normal people. Which I view as a good thing. And I look forward to the ending of their tax exempt status.

    Maybe the time has come to admit that the mythology and kooky ideas of a couple of thousand years ago just isn’t relevant any more. You don’t need religion to have morality – the two are not related (some of the most perverse and foul people I’ve ever met have been regular churchgoers and totally devout). The world isn’t static – it changes, and people change too. It’s time to let old, outdated ideas go.

    Instead of flogging a dead horse, maybe getting out and actually becoming a useful part of the wider community is a better path forward.

    Just my 2c.

    • God bless you for that Leanne. I’m sure you’ve convinced many of us to do just what you say.

      Hope you feel better for sharing.

  9. Brother David says

    God bless you Father K!

  10. Nude swimming on a Sunday morning? where will it all end….

  11. Fred and Leanne’s comments, way off the mark when it comes to St Mary’s but true to a large extent about other churches, make me realise that a vital element of the new militant atheism/ secularism (not to be confused with multiculturalism as it is totally intolerant of difference) is its online presence. Everyone likes being smug and to be a smug theist you have to spend a considerable amount of time in a good library but to be a smug atheist you need about 3 minutes online watching a video clip of someone untrained in ontology or ethics (but, say, a professor of biology) expound on Being and preach amorality. Bingo! An easy rant to borrow down the pub. It’s the Tractarian approach to evangelisation. Give it to em in byte sized chunks.

  12. Fred Garvin says

    “totally intolerant of difference”? You mean the Mainline Protestant churches and semi-Churches (Unitarians and Quakers) of North America, who’ve been preaching “Celebrate Diversity” for over 40 years while still remaining over 95% White and middle/upper middle class? “We hope to represent the future of religion”; odd, you’ve somehow managed to have a median age of 57+. Barely 9% of any Mainline Protestant body is under 31 years old.
    The Tea Party and Republican National Convention are more “diverse” than these groups.
    About as vibrant and colorful as skim milk.
    Again, why bother? You either have the worst programs to “represent our neighborhoods in our churches” or you just don’t mean it.

  13. I think it is very clear, Fred that Alan is not talking about mainline protestant churches in North America.

    It was very obvious to me that the issues over race and ethnicity there are very far removed from what we experience at St Mary’s and I think in the UK generally.

    That isn’t to say all is perfect but it is to say that things are very different here.

  14. Rosemary Hannah says

    St Mary’s is very ethnically diverse, and a heck of a lot less than 95% white and does not draw its members from one income-bracket either … nor is our median age in its fifties, I would think. Nor have I ever heard any of us suggest that one has to be religious to be moral. It would of course be wrong to be smug about these things, but then – we are all a little wrong from time to time, aren’t we?

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