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Church 101

Jesus facepalmAs I travel I stop and visit church buildings.

Recently, on my holiday, I stopped at four Anglican church buildings in different townships. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

First stop. St. well-actually-I-cannot-tell: This had a big notice board facing the street. No service times. Next to the word “contact”, a small white board had been added (covering, I presume, a previous contact option) so that it was blank. The church building was locked.

Second stop. St. well-actually-I-again-cannot-tell: The garden was beautifully kept; someone had been tending it in recent days. A glass notice board with nothing in it was attached to the locked door of the building.

Third and fourth stops. This town has two church buildings, both with identical signs: “Congregation of St. Candidus & St. Dismas – 9:30am. 4th Sunday in the month at St. Candidus’ all other services at St. Dismas’”. I know you will believe me when I tell you, because I could not have thought this up: There was no indication which building was which!!! You could not tell if the Sunday service was here – or at the other building! Nor was there a map at one building how to find the other! The church building (I know you are surprised!): locked.

Upon returning home I checked. Not a single one of these four have a website. You can, however, find them on the diocesan website, where each has its own page. The diocesan web page for the first two provide the street address of the buildings, but no service times, and no contact phone number. The next stop has a similar lack of information – but does provide a phone number. Each page has a form to fill in where you can send a request. I completed a form asking for the time I could come to a service. That was over a week ago. I know again you are surprised: I have received no reply.

Welcome to the world of Anglican evangelism, the world of carefully-worded strategic plans, and community-agreed mission statements. A world still struggling to catch up with the nineteenth century of clear, useful notice boards, let alone that of the twentieth century of web 1.0. Let’s not even start discussing the current millennium…

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14 Responses to Church 101

  1. There was a lovely little white clapboard church in Michigan that kept its front door locked. When challenged by the new pastor, the church leader said, “Everyone knows that we use the back door!”

  2. Several of us have been gently polling more recently arrived members of St. Thomas here in Sunnyvale CA (heart of you-know-where, literally in the shadow of Google and Yahoo) The vast majority found us via a web search! We’ve worked really hard to control that initial impression when someone clicks on our site, and we are getting better at it. We (finally) figured out that we get many more hits on the site at Christmas and Easter, and we try to make sure service times and address are prominent. But we are are not done. We are doing a major re-vamp of the site to make it more user friendly and navigable. This isn’t easy! But once we finally perceived the issue and understood the problem we could then do something effective about it.

    • Thanks, Lou.

      One of our bishops recently mentioned on his facebook status he had forgotten to note in his diary the start of the service he was part of that Sunday. He gave the name of the parish. I found the very attractive website – but there was no way I could find any service times! Needless to say, after the bishop’s visit, the website now has service times on its home page.

      Someone told me research shows 85% of new people to church check the church’s website first. Knowing that research has shown 73% of statistics are made up, I still think that the point is important.

      Blessings.

  3. I wish I could say this is unusual: but it isn’t. what do people really mean when they say they long for churches to be filled?
    We do keep our churches un-locked, but most will not display any contact names. and when I did the website for a group of churches, you might not be surprised that 2 of the church wardens refused to allow their names or contact details to be published on the website!!

    • Thanks, Bene. Yes, these were not four church buildings amongst dozens and dozens of positive stories. These were literally four church buildings in townships one after another along the road. The story continued similarly, but I thought I would stop at four. I have already mentioned that good websites leave out basic information. Your church wardens could have at least had a contact form on the site – but at the conclusion of my post I highlight that a request does need to be replied to. I’m not sure that I actually do often hear people saying they long for churches to be filled. If they do, you are right – what do they mean? Blessings.

  4. There are several simple things that churches could get right – and sometimes do if they have someone with the right attitude to make it happen – but more often let them slide (not because they are too expensive or too difficult but, perhaps because they are such simple details, don’t get noticed for a very long time. Things like good noticeboards, effective websites, and a heap of easy fixes to make the building bearable and safe for a variety of young and old, energetic and frail, hard of hearing, etc could do with outside help. Some people that know what is required, and how to easily achieve; a “task force” could help each church in a region get up to the level they should be operating.

    Not just tick the boxes (“is there a web page?”) but make sure it does its job (“can a stranger find out what they need to do?”). Somebody tackling the job from a local perspective may very well assume details are obvious simply because they are known by people with a long association with the parish. Ideally: get Christchurch Baptists to check Wellington Anglican information is complete and understandable, sydney Methodists to check Auckland Catholics, and so on!

    • You are absolutely right, Mark, thanks. And my hope, at the very least, is that people reading this post think about how someone wanting to attend a service at their church would go about finding out that information – and how hard is that? Blessings.

  5. Dear Bosco
    I believe the fault lies with the Standing Committee. This is because they have the mana to bring a motion to synod requiring such notices and web sites to have appropriate information.
    They without synod can set a simple system up to ensure Archdeacnarys impliment a simple accountability and fun system humourous etc of a parish competition or whatever to ensure parishes uses the brains God gave them. What a waste of space the vast majority of our parishes are. As for you intimating that evangelism is even on parishes agenda… sounds like a drunk tui add brother. you might as well hope they are taking the Gospel seriously even taking Jesus’s call fro repentance as belonging to others not them/us.enough! God have mercy on us, maybe?
    Sincerely
    and actively stirring
    Jim

  6. When I was helping to compile the history of the Diocese of Michigan in the late 1980’s, I don’t remember any parish that had no service info on their building, but I was amazed how long some virtually dead parishes survived and how quickly others fell. St. Matthias on the west-side of Detroit closed when its number of communicants dropped below 300 (having reached a peak of 1,300 in the early 1950’s). This parish had a large plant but could not survive when its neighborhood became mostly African-American. So it had to sell because its fixed cost of operation was quite large. St. Thomas, also on the west-side of Detroit spent most of it 100 year life with fewer than a 100 communicants, and actually hung on for decades with under 25. It had a smaller building, and maybe had a tenant that helped out. It always looked ‘kind-of’ closed up to me whenever I went by it, and not welcoming. Our history was published into a book by the Cathedral Chapter.

    • Bob says this parish “could not survive when its neighborhood became mostly African-American”. Why not? Are they not people? Are they not in need of the Gospel? Do they not worship?

  7. Aye, well, mmm. Jesus did choose to be born in a rather out-of-the way place, with only a few domestic animals for company, and minimal publicity. The song of the angels could probably not be heard over the carousing songs round the bar of the in, so most of the patrons would have had no idea that God was being born in the cave out back, used as a garage for the transport animals.

    They’re just being faithful to the scriptures, arne’t they?

  8. Anglican 101 is a course of study idea. The concept of words and liturgy, is not to be confused with how a parish functions. I agree that synod and diocese make policy, yet parish members and the parish actions, planned or inspired shows what people with faith, compassion and purpose can achieve. The role of diocese is not about making parish living viable. Parishes need to roll up sleeves, serve communities they are in, openly to demonstrate they lead.

    I encourage all of the church to prove that Anglican Christian life is not alive by participation, not internet web designs. My parish is one that brought five small churches out of the forest of diocese direction, into creation of Anglican action. Come and visit us whenever your in Victoria, BC Canada. We are on the web as well. wwww.stpeterandpaul.ca

    Ron M Weeks
    Laity Outreach
    St. Peter and Paul
    Esquimalt,Victoria BC
    wwww.celticcenturion.com

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