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Digital initiative aimed at occasional church visitors gets positive results

by Tola Mbakwe

According to research was carried out by ORB International, 85 per cent of the population will visit a church over the course of a year. However, only 2 per cent call themselves regular church attenders.

To combat one of the Church's biggest conundrums, Church of England - Birmingham created a free resource called soul[food]. The pilot initiative was created to help occasional visitors develop their connection with God and faith.

Rev Rhiannon King, Director of Mission for Church of England - Birmingham and one of the originators of the initiative, explained: "We wanted to provide a very easy way for people who only come to church occasionally to follow up their experience.

"Often when people come for things like weddings and Christmas, they leave in droves, never to be seen again.

"Even the most savvy and welcoming church cannot follow them all up."

The creators of soul[food] made a pocket-sized card that informs people how to receive thoughtful but light-touch messages to their phone on the theme of the service they attended.

A pilot survey of 397 soul[food] subscribers,  subscriber who described themselves as either 'curious' or 'sceptical' about Christianity

It found that out of the subscribers who described themselves as either 'curious' or 'sceptical' about Christianity:

  • 86 per cent said that the messages left them wanting more
  • 67 per cent said the messages made them want to explore more
  • 61 per cent said they see things differently as a result of the messages

Rev King said: "Although our primary target is always non-believers, we know that Christians are picking them up and finding them encouraging - which is never a bad thing."

"They can still pass them on to friends. Often people want to try things out themselves before recommending to non-believing friends, which is entirely understandable. So we don't mind."

However, evaluation of the pilot initiative also brought forth some sticking points. 

Some vicars in Birmingham and St Albans Dioceses expressed concern that the cards weren't bringing people back to their particular church and wanted to do their own version of soul[food] cards to fix the problem.

However, Rev King said that may not be the best idea.

She explained: "Occasional visitors are very often visiting churches that are miles away from where they live, so being fed back to the church where they've picked up the card isn't necessarily the best thing.

"I'd also say that the initial contact is aimed at people who are not necessarily at the point of wanting to commit to a church community at this stage of their journey.

"Maybe they've never even had spiritual things on their radar before. Later down the line, we do point subscribers in the direction of A Church Near You so they can find a local church if they want to take it one step further, however."

The Church of England - Birmingham has encouraged churches to get involved with the initiative during Christmas time when churches are full of occasional visitors.

The Church of England's digital team has partnered with soul[food] this year for their #GodWithUs Christmas campaign.

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