Church trends — highlights from the Digital Labs conference

Last week we attended the Church of England’s Digital Labs conference and we want to share with you a few things that were highlights for us. The conference was such a timely opportunity to discuss positive and exciting perspectives on the way the Church can grow in the online space — not only in size and reach, but more importantly in relational terms. And it was really great to hear so many inspirational journeys and experiences of the world of online Church, especially this year when the online reach of churches became so crucial. 

Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell opened the Saturday morning session with thought-provoking reflections on the ethical and liturgical context of the digital world. We were really pleased that he asked leaders in the digital Church environment to be standard bearers for positive and ethical practice. We agree with the foundational importance of making churches safe and positive spaces, including when they are online, which is why we put the Church of England’s Digital Charter at the heart of what we do. The Digital Charter can be found here, and we would encourage you to reflect on what it might mean for the way your church works! 

We also very much valued how the Archbishop spoke of a new liturgical context being opened up by Church online. “What we are doing is not simply pointing a camera at a church service,” he said. This is a very exciting perspective, and we certainly agree that it is a hopeful, creative and energetic time of growth for the Church as it moves into new ways of communicating. 

There were also some excellent practical sessions in the conference. We found the session on turning sermons into podcasts detailed and immediately useful. Podcasts are a huge area of growth, especially among the 20s and 30s demographic, and can be a simple and inexpensive way of making sermons and other reflections available more widely.

We also found the session introducing the Church of England’s Comfort and Joy Christmas campaign really helpful in terms of hearing about the range of free resources being made available to churches. Something that caught our attention is that there is going to be a Comfort and Joy Christmas Instagram filter! 

It’s interesting to look back at the Church of England’s Digital Team reflection in December 2019 on the main trends in social media for churches, and see that they had already identified the rise of user-generated content as being important. This was also one of the key points emerging in discussions at the Digital Labs conference — that finding ways of encouraging people to participate actively, for example through taking photographs, playing games, posting questions, commenting —  was key in building engagement that has the potential to extend well beyond the “traditional” congregation. 

As a final note, we’ll add that this was the first fully online conference we attended that had some of the buzz of a real-life conference. In part we attribute this to the use of the Whova platform and app, which succeeded in facilitating interaction between presenters and participants through chats and Q&As in an engaging and dynamic way.