INSIGHTS: HOW IS THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND’S CHURCH-FINDER TOOL ENABLING OUR CHURCHES TO GROW?
Amaris Cole is digital communications manager at the Church of England. She discusses developing a digital strategy to facilitate church growth
Developing a digital strategy to facilitate church growth hasn’t always been happening at the Church of England.
The Church of England has only had a digital team since October 2016. Before that, it was up to one junior member of staff to run the national websites and social media accounts. A Church Near You, our church-finder website, was run externally by a developer from his spare room.
But in the Autumn of 2016, the Church released funds to invest in digital seriously for the first time, creating a team of five tasked with updating the existing platforms and using them to promote the work of our 16,500 churches across England and Europe.
When assessing the digital real estate we inherited, very quickly it became clear that A Church Near You presented a major strategic opportunity. The seven-year old site boasted 10 million page views a year, with every church in the CofE having a listing and the ability to claim this page and personalise it with services, events and images.
And more than 60 per cent of visitors were using the site to look for local churches for the first time.
Each year, we survey our editors to ensure we’re delivering a platform that works in their local contexts. All our major development work is based on this feedback.
This year, more than 80 per cent of A Church Near You editors told us they would recommend the site to another church and 40 per cent of churches reported having new people attend services and events after finding their church on ACNY.
In fact, 20 per cent of churches who engaged with the Church of England’s Christmas campaign and promoted their services and events through ACNY in 2018, #FollowTheStar, saw an increase in attendance.
These statistics show us our digital investment is resulting in greater physical attendance in the pews.
With our statistics increasing – 80 per cent of traffic is from first-time visitors and 1.6million people used ACNY to find a Christmas service this Christmas –the uptake across the Church is growing. We now have more than 16,000 people editing their church’s pages on ACNY, promoting their regular services, marketing their special events and using the site to answer queries from the public about weddings, christenings and funerals. The site gets 10,000 messages like this each quarter.
Churches can now also use the site as a free website, with the ability to point their domain name towards their ACNY pages. In a recent poll, 40 per cent of churches currently engaging regularly with ACNY said they would use this functionality. With just this relatively small number of churches dropping their hosting and security fees, the Church of England will save £1 million annually.
But the platform isn’t finished. We know this is a tool that could see more people connecting in with their local church, whether that’s to attend a service, access a foodbank or join an afterschool club.
There are challenges, including how busy many of the editors are. We’re working to find creative solutions to ensure ACNY helps play its part in facilitating growth And raising awareness of the many activities that already take place.
Will you use ACNY to find a church near you this Christmas? Visit AChurchNearYou.com for more!