We’re going on a journey

Crib Service starts at 4 pm – bring a torch

A couple of years ago, there was a new initiative in St Mary’s – someone suggested that we should have a crib service for children at 4 pm on Christmas Eve. We kind of expected a few children from the young church to show up. In the event there were about 50 people in the place and it was judged a great success. A year later, the turnout was just about double. I spoke to some of the people afterwards who told me that they were so pleased to find it because none of the other churches in Glasgow were doing anything for children at Christmas. I disputed this but they told me that no, they had checked online and that no-one was doing anything. More than that, someone said, some of the churches are not having Christmas services at all – you can tell, there’s nothing on their websites about Christmas at all.

Now, there’s two things to learn from this. Firstly that churches which want younger people and children to come to them need to get on with providing services which are suitable. Secondly churches which want anyone at all to come to them need to face the reality that if they are not online then they will be perceived not to exist and if they don’t put their service details online then no matter how good the services are, people will presume that nothing at all is being done.

There are still Episcopal churches in Glasgow who are putting out a strong message online this Christmas that they are not doing anything to celebrate it. People from those parts of town will come to the cathedral instead of going to their local church. It isn’t particularly that they like what we do – though when they get here they love it and will tend to come again. It is simply that they can’t find out about what is happening locally and draw their own conclusions.

St Mary’s is a place where we are quite clear that Christmas is not just for children. We are not a congregation that thinks that Christmas is just a family time either – church and Christmas is for everyone. (I thought John Bell’s Thought for the Day today was particularly fine, by the way).

I’m really pleased though that these crib services have become established here on Christmas Eve now. Tomorrow’s Crib Service starts at 4 pm and participants are asked to bring a torch if they can. We’re going on a journey and we don’t know who we are going to encounter on the way…

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.