Every year, we’re amazed by the incredible creativity and innovation displayed by local churches, taking the national Advent and Christmas theme and using it in ways that suit the various contexts that parishes across the country.
This year, clergy, lay leaders and volunteers have navigated “unprecedented times”, which have seen their pattern of corporate prayer and worship change beyond recognition. Some are back to a ‘new normal’, other churches have decided to continue this hybrid way of being a community online while gathering in buildings for those who feel ready to do so.
Whatever you’re planning this Advent and Christmas – whether fully online, fully onsite – or perhaps a mix of both – the opportunity remains: of being able to welcome those into your worshipping community who may not regularly attend.
Churches across the Church of England have shown incredible creativity in using digital platforms to share the Christian message of hope with a range of groups, and we’re already seeing this applied to the At the Heart of Christmas theme.
We launched At the Heart of Christmas as the theme for Advent and Christmas 2021 after consultation with local churches, our diocesan communications colleagues and feedback from across the Church of England. This year has been hard. Lay and ordained leaders have been stretched as they work to meet the needs of their community.
We wanted to capture the joy of Christmas, with the hope the message gives us all, without churches having another initiative to get to grips with. We hope it’s a theme that can challenge us all to remember what’s truly At the Heart of Christmas – and fit with the brilliant things you’re already doing locally.
Why should you consider your digital communities this Advent?
Just as you consider who you can invite to events and what services might be right for various groups, considering your online communities can help you tailor your content – and hopefully streamline your workload!
As a digital team, we’ve been considering the communities we reach nationally and have worked on content with our colleagues across the CofE to meet all these groups.
Whether it’s clergy and lay leaders we’ve tried to equip with free downloads for social media and websites, or those exploring faith that we’d love to encourage into one of our local worshipping communities via AChurchNearYou.com, we’ve shared a little of our thinking here.
Not all digital journeys are going to be the same, but here we’ve mapped out a few groups to consider with your social posts and website information this year.
People exploring faith
When chatting to churches across the countrywhile running our Digital Labs training, we hear time and again that it’s becoming less obvious to people that they are welcome and able to attend the events and services we run in our buildings and online. Some think there may be permission needed, others wonder if there’s a fee.
This declining literacy around our worshipping communities means invites, particularly for those who may never have visited us before, need to be clear.
We’ve worked on a range of resources for those exploring faith, from the daily Christmas reflections, written in a warm and open way, to content with The Way, a YouTube channel for young people to find out more about faith.
Using the printed resources, which include links to our reflections, are a simple way to give explorers who might come into your services this Christmas something to encourage them to take the next step. But how can you ensure these people in your community know they’re welcome?
We’ve learnt from local churches that phrases like ‘join us’, can make people think there’s a membership fee involved – it’s a term used by gyms and political parties. Instead, could you ask those reading your social media post to ‘come along’, ‘try attending’ or ‘celebrate with us’.
While talking about membership, we might not think it elegant to mention that worship is free – as many of us think this is a given – but making it clear that the carol concert is ‘free to all’, or saying that the nativity service is ‘free for your family to attend’ will leave the person exploring no doubt.
Worldwide, the largest group of users on Facebook is those aged 24 – 34.
Many families use Facebook groups to plan activities. Does your town or village have a group that you could share news of your services and events in? Send an invite and make sure you keep an eye on the post to answer any questions that might be left in the comments.
If you’ve never attended a service, having all the facts can be encouraging. Think about what people might want to know: what to wear, what to bring and how long it might last. Perhaps you could include this information on your ACNY page or website.
Our Christmas reflections, daily meditations and Bible verses from Christmas Eve to Epiphany, have been written in an open and accessible way so that a variety of communities can enjoy them. Written by the likes of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Alexander Armstrong, Bishop Rachel Treweek and Rev Gina Radford, the reflections are a great way for occasional churchgoers to really consider what’s At the Heart of Christmas. You can buy these booklets to hand out or get the other printed resources, including bookmarks, Christmas cards and prayer cards, which include a link for people to sign up for free to receive these meditations via email or on our app.
How could you share the printed booklets and/or digital reflections with people you know locally who fall into this group? We’ll share snippets of the reflections on social media each day. You could share these from your church’s Facebook page to encourage your occasional churchgoers to go a little further this year.
Make sure those who attend infrequently know that you’d love to see them. If you have permission to email them, create a newsletter tailored to this audience with a warm message of invitation.
An up-to-date AChurchNearYou.com page – and website if you have one – will help this group find the right service for them. The Christmas week in 2020 saw a peak in ‘church service’ being searched for on Google. Help your local community connect with you easily by presenting the information they need.
Resources and reflections to help families bring faith into their home are one of the ways we’re supporting parents through At the heart of Christmas. We have an Advent calendar, with daily activities to discover as a family this December.
Alongside the events and services you might be running aimed at families, why not encourage parents in your community to try the At the heart of Christmas resources, and perhaps share how these activities are working in their home in the service or by writing a short message for you to share on social media alongside a photo. Remember to tag The Church of England in any posts like this, as we’d love to share!
Our regular national online services have also been prepared for families this year. We’ve partnered once again with The Children’s Society for a special Christingle online, which will be streamed on 5 December from the Church’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Our Christmas Day service will also be a short family service, with a special Christmas message from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
While locally we know many of you will be running family services, the national online services continue for those churches that aren’t able to create their own online services. If that’s you, remember to share these on social media for those who can’t be onsite this year. You could even include these on your list of services and events to give an online option.
The family Advent calendar will be available on the Church of England website, our campaign app and Instagram.
Worldwide, 59% of internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use Instagram and 33% of internet users between the ages of 30 and 49 use Instagram. You could share the daily themes to your own Instagram Stories if you use the platform as a church, or encourage the parents in your congregation to follow @thechurchofengland.
Young adults are typically most likely to have an Instagram account. Instagram is picture-led, which is a great opportunity to show people what your building looks like from the inside. Perhaps they’ve only walked past the outside before. Show the warm welcome they’ll receive if they were to visit this Christmas and spell out to this group that you’d love to meet them in any of your Advent and Christmas services.
Groups without access to the internet
The Daily Hope Line is a free phone number (0800 804 8044) offering a great deal of material that’s available via our digital platforms, such as the daily reflections through Advent and Christmas and Advent and Christmas worship services. We know this has been a lifeline to so many across the country without internet access, and we want to ensure that the resources that have been so valued by those who follow the Church of England on social media, can also be used by those who can’t.
Alongside this, those phoning in can also access content specially created for the Daily Hope Line such as music, prayers and reflections from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Do remember to share this number with those in your communities who may be without internet. You could include the number in your printed newsletters and pew sheets, or Christmas cards or packs distributed throughout Advent.
You can reach the Daily Hope Line by dialling 0800 804 8044.
About 1.5 million homes in the UK still do not have internet access. Why not include this number on every printed resource you produce this year.
While Advent and Christmas are key moments to help people who are open to and exploring faith, alongside attending your regular events, how could you encourage your congregation to share with their own family and friends online the invite for everyone to attend? We know an invite from someone you know can be far more likely to encourage someone to take part in an online or onsite service – and a quick share of a social media post is an easy way for your regular churchgoers to do this.
Facebook makes it easy for those following your page to share your posts. When writing your posts, think about what might encourage your community to share them.
Keep it simple. Don’t list all 20 activities you might be running this December in one post. If you want to talk about your programme, consider asking people to ‘find out what’s happening at St Peter’s this Advent’ on your AChurchNearYou.com page or church website. Otherwise, pick out a few upcoming services you think your congregation would like to invite others to.
Remember to include an image. While stock photos are useful when you don’t have the right image to hand, it’s great to use a picture from a previous year that illustrates the event you’re inviting followers to. Rather than an empty building, try and use images with people, showing the community that makes up your church. Check you have the permission to share any photo you use.
Or use a graphic. On the AChurchNearYou.com Resource Hub, we have a range of At the heart of Christmas graphics for you to customise and download to use across your channels. Take a look at these free resources now.
Clergy and lay leaders
After a challenging year, we’ve worked with church leaders and diocesan teams to develop resources that we hope will work in a range of local contexts – and hopefully make life a little easier.
For the basic details and signposts to At the heart of Christmas resources, visit churchofengland.org/Christmas.
The next stop on the resources journey is AChurchNearYou.com Resource Hub, which contains more free resources than we’ve ever made available!
- Nearly four and a half hours of free Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany carols and songs from across the traditions that churches can use as part of online and in-person services and events. The Christmas music has already been downloaded more than 50,000 times.
- Customisable videos and social media graphics to invite your community in.
- Free stock photos to use online and in print.
- Backgrounds for your presentations.
- Customisable videos to encourage donations.
AChurchNearYou.com has already received 67 million page views this year, and 80 per cent of visitors were on the site for the first time. We’ll be guiding thousands of people to the site this Christmas to find events and services. Make sure you’ve added yours!
You don’t have to do everything yourself. Take a look at what your diocese is offering. Use the national online services if you aren’t able to stream throughout Christmas. Use the customisable graphics and videos to populate your social channels, websites or even for use on your screens.
You don’t have to use every digital platform. Find out where your community are and focus on those channels. If there’s a new social channel, you’re thinking of trying for your church, get help from our Digital Labs blogs.
Do a few things well. Take inspiration from other local churches and keep on inviting your local community to celebrate with you this year.
You’re doing an amazing job in challenging circumstances. We love to see the creativity and innovation of our local churches. Please do share all that you’re up to this Advent and Christmas using #AtTheHeartOfChristmas on social media.
Head of Digital for The Church of England
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