12 tips to get people to come to Christmas Services

Earlier this year, I won a competition. Someone had published a new plugin for WordPress that allows you to fairly easily publish google maps with your own points of interest on them. As a way of promoting the plugin, the competition was to offer a year’s license to the top 20 people who came up with an idea for using it. My idea (which wasn’t really rocket science) was to use it to build a map of where Christmas services are taking place. I won one of the licenses with this suggestion.

I remembered that this week and decided that I’d better make good on my competition entry. I downloaded the plugin and started to build a map of the services that are taking place in this diocese on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year according to the data that I could find available on those churches’ websites. You can find the map at the bottom of this post.

Having taken a look around the websites of the churches in the diocese, there’s a few things that I think are worth saying.

The truth is, there are hundreds of people who are going to be using the internet (often through their mobile phones) this week to try to find Christmas services to attend. This is the time of year when people are most likely to just want to attend church. People will just turn up. If they like what they discover, they are likely to turn up again next year. Or even next Sunday. It is the primary time when people will be predisposed to turn up to church. If we do care about mission, then this week matters hugely and as always, the three big mission themes that so often get ignored (worship, web and welcome) are absolutely key.

Here’s a few tips for getting people to come to church at Christmas using the internet

1 – Put your Christmas Services on your website.
2 – Put the details on the front page either with an obvious link that says “Christmas Services” or right there, right on the front page itself.
3 – Put the address of the church, with a full postcode right on there too so that people can use sat-nav technology to find the church.
4 – As our Lord said, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel pdf”. If you put the details in a pdf and upload that to your website, far fewer people will see them. Similarly with making pretty graphics of your Christmas services. The reason this doesn’t work without plain text is that search engines like google can’t see your Christmas services and lots of other people will never find the details either. Oh, and flash based websites are so last century. Don’t. Just don’t.
5 – This year at Christmas take some nice, good quality photographs of the church when it is decorated so that you can use the pics online next year, if not this year. Try to include pics with people in them. You want either close ups of the crib/decorations or pics of people with Christmas Trees in the background – that kind of thing. You don’t want pics of an empty church.
6 – If you use social media then link to it from your website and link to your website from your social media stream.
7 – Use social media. Just use it.
8 – Remember that people out there make their judgements on what they see online and not what you know to be happening. You can have the best all singing, all dancing children’s service in Christendom but if there’s nothing about it online people will say, “What a shame that the church doesn’t do things for children at Christmas, where shall we go instead?”
9 – If your website doesn’t work on a mobile then start to plan for next Christmas by upgrading it as soon as possible. More people search for information using mobile devices than desktop computers now and it is only going to rise. Easiest way of doing this is a website built with a content management system like WordPress running a responsive theme. Responsive means that the theme adjusts to the size of the screen that people are looking at it on. It matters very much indeed now as Google will rank pages lower if they are not responsive.
10 – Make a new year’s resolution to learn something about Search Engine Optimisation. Sounds technical but isn’t really – just means that you have a website organised so that those search engines can point more people towards your website when they search for things. Again, WordPress is a good answer along with an SEO plugin such as the one published by Yoast.
11 – Remember that people search using their own words and not your words. Don’t expect people looking for “Christmas Services” to click on “diary”, “lectionary”, “events” or “calendar”. Again, don’t hide your information but bring it right out into the open.
12 – Remember that your website is primarily for people who don’t come to church and that they are actually already reading it. Yes, really.

Now, on to the map.

It is colour coded. Those churches in red had their Christmas Services easily available on or from their front page. Those with purple markers had the information available but it took some work to find it. Those in blue had websites with no Christmas info that I could find. Those in yellow were churches where I couldn’t find a website at all.

There will be gaps and mistakes – I did this fairly quickly last night. I’d be very happy to include information that is missing if anyone wants to drop me a line. If you do want an update, tell me gently – and remember just because information doesn’t appear here it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. It just means that I couldn’t find the information – and that’s the point. If I couldn’t find it easily then the chances are lots of people won’t find it.

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My very grateful thanks to Chris Lema for running the original competition that brought me the Maps Builder Pro plugin and to Matt Cromwell for releasing it. It is fantastic. I wish there were a lifetime access deal for purchasing it as I happen to hate annual subscription licenses but apart from that, this is one sophisticated mapping plugin that is very easy to use and there’s a ton of things I can think of doing with it.

UPDATE – 18 December 2015
There have been a couple of updates since the map was originally published.
All Saints’, Bearsden get a Red Pin of Righteousness – I had been looking at a version of their previous website though how I accessed it, I’ve now no idea.
St Oswald’s, Maybole get a Red Pin of Righteousness – They’ve moved the details of their Christmas services out of a jpg file and into plain text.
St Bride’s, Hyndland get a Red Pin of Righteousness – They’ve now got their Christmas Services right on the front page.
St Augustine’s, Dumbarton move up to a Purple Pin of Plausability – their details are there but it still takes a bit of work to find them.

10 ways to make church websites better

 

1  Include what time the services are and how to get there. If you are making big plans for a festival then make big plans to put it online. Some churches appear to have given up celebrating Christmas if you read their websites. (And remember, people do read websites and most read little else).

2  Have things that are up to date. And only things that are up to date. That means today’s date.

3  Say what the worship is like. Remember in your writing for the web that feelings matter.

4  Use a design which reflects and promotes the ethos of the church. (Pay for it if you must, but really, you needn’t).

5  Think about how to describe what it is like to worship there for the first time.

6  Include some details about the stuff you do that isn’t worship but remember to work out which is icing and which is cake.

7  Have details right there on the front page about which church denominations around the world that you are in communion with and which you are not in communion with, if you think such information is going to make other people come to your church. (Hint: I don’t.)

8  Collect good pics of people doing things and ask around to see whether people think they might be a better introduction to your church than a tired “Welcome From the Rector” message that never changes.

9  Video is good but needs to be refreshed. Every week, if not more often. (Yes, really).

10  Try praying this prayer in your intercessions for a couple of weeks in church and see if God answers your prayer: “Help us O Lord, to build a website that reflects how wonderful we think you are”.