THERE are many ways of encouraging people to visit your church, and different methods can be used for different types of visitor. And, although it is great when people visit for services, it is also good to encourage occasional visitors at other times. It can be a form of soft evangelism, seed-sowing, or simply letting people know that the church is not a strange and dangerous place, but one that welcomes people.
One way to do the latter is through geocaching. This is a modern-day twist on the old letter-boxing craze that began in the Victorian era. Hunters would follow a series of clues to search out a letter-box, in which they would find a rubber stamp and a notepad. They would write their name and the date in the notepad, and stamp their own notepad as a record that they had found the box.
The craze is global. And, to help the hunter, the location of letter-boxes — or caches, to give them their modern name — is stored on international databases, with their GPS co-ordinates. Hunters still have to use their brains to unravel the clues to help them find the cache, but mobile phones and hand-held GPS devices will help to send them to the immediate area.
I now use the Geocaching app by Groundspeak Inc. The basic app is free to download, but optional memberships are available, ranging from £4.99 per month to £28.99 per year. One of the benefits of membership is the creation of lists of potential caches you want to visit.
Caches are physical finds that include a notebook for you to record your visit. Unlike the letter-boxes, the record is on the app.
Anybody can create a cache and record its presence on the database by following the links on the app’s website. And churches are ideal locations. The cache — which can be anything from an old camera film tube to a washed out jam jar — can be in a suitable location outside the church, or inside, if you can find a suitable location which won’t result in weddings and funerals being disrupted by geocachers.
Of course, you might be more interested in generating visitors for worship services and other activities. In which case, the C of E’s own A Church Near You (ACNY) is more useful. ACNY is an often overlooked tool of the national communications team. Originally created by Phil Hind, the new media manager for the diocese of Oxford, the web-based app now contains details of every C of E church and many Fresh Expressions.
Yet many churches do not update the site with details of their services, facilities, or basic contacts. With more than 13 million page views per year, this is a mission opportunity that is going begging.
Church House has just announced that an overhaul of ACNY will be rolled out in November, making it more user-friendly for both churches and visitors. A fuller review will be offered once the new site is live. Before that, there has never been a better time for churches to ensure that their entries are up to date.