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.

[google_maps id=”14760″]

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.

How to sleep on the sleeper

Did I mention that I came back from London on the sleeper? It remains my favourite way of travelling back from south to north as you can catch it after a night at the theatre. (In this case Democracy at the Old Vic). Generally I prefer to fly down and sleeper back.

Here are my Caledonian Sleeper tips….

  • Don’t believe the time that they advertise as when the sleeper will be ready for boarding. It is often later than that.
  • Leaving a big city at midnight by train is inherently romantic.
  • Being in Euston at 11.30 pm is inherently unromantic.
  • For excitement, intrigue, value for money and frisson book a bargain berth and share with Who Knows Who.
  • If sharing with an unknown companion who has not arrived when the train leaves, don’t presume anything. He could show up anytime, anywhere.
  • For a better night’s sleep pay more and get a cabin to yourself.
  • For no sleep at all, use the reclining seats. You will however, learn much about humanity.
  • Don’t worry about sleeping – tell yourself that all you have to do is doze and you’ll probably fall asleep anyway.
  • The more you pay, the better the breakfast in bed.
  • Murmur in the steward’s ear as you get on that you’d prefer your breakfast to be served after everyone else if possible
  • Beware of muddling the buttons that open the toilet compartment with the adjacent buttons which open the disabled cabin next door. (Especially at 4 am).
  • Flipflops.
  • Travelling North to South on certain tickets give you access to a lounge at Euston with free showers. No such luck coming the other way.
  • If turfed off the sleeper at 7 am and going to work at 9 am, don’t go home and go to sleep. Go swimming instead.
  • You can charge phones in the lounge car but not in your cabin.
  • That little hook by your head is for putting your watch on, but don’t forget it in the morning.
  • Take extra water.
  • The first stop is Carlisle. The stop with all the shunting is Carstairs.
  • Don’t go for a wander before Carstairs or your cabin might go to Glasgow whilst you go to Edinburgh.
  • You might arrive going a different direction to the one you set off in. Don’t be confused, they’ve not turned you round and sent you back to London after all.

Any tips I missed?