Church to launch social media 'digital evangelism' campaign to reach young people

Canon Dr John Spence, a member of the Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, at Church House, Westminster during the February 2016 sessions of General SynodRuth Gledhill

The Church of England is to launch a nationwide "digital evangelism" campaign to reach out to the one million children educated in church schools once they leave school. The social media project will also aim to reach children leaving secular schools. 

The aim is to show the "unchurched" generation what Christianity has to offer, using means of communications they are familiar with such as Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Details of the campaign were today revealed in a presentation to the General Synod at Church House, Westminster by Canon John Spence, who heads the finance committee of the Archbishops' Council. Finance is likely to be agreed at the General Synod in York in July. 

"It is unlikely we will see a net growth in church membership over the next 30 years," Spence admitted to the synod. But this did not mean there was no place for the programme of "reform and renewal" being planned for the church nationwide, and which will be "deep rooted in discipleship".

Canon Spence said: "This cannot ever be about a numbers game. It is about holistic growth."

The Church still needed to work out how to "measure success" in a way that went beyond numeric tallies of numbers of baptisms, confirmations and other demographics, he added. "More difficult work that we still need to do is how we can measure that growth in spiritualism and discipleship. Renewal and reform has to be rooted in theology and spirituality."

Spence said:  "We do not call it the social media project. As far as we are concerned it is digital evangelism. We know we have got to continue working and making sure the Church is seen in a positive light."

Church leaders had to keep "pushing hard" to let people know the Church was a "positive force" that is "inclusive" not "exclusive".

He insisted there was no inevitability of decline. The Church had to engage in a "revolutionary and almost dramatic way" with new demographics. This meant "nurturing those who are with us, reaching out to those who are not yet aware of what we do."

Jonathan Kerry, secretary of the Leicester diocese and a member of the Archbishops' Council lay leadership task group, said: "We stand at a moment of crisis and opportunity, of seismic shift perhaps in our understanding of what it is and how to be Church."

Bishop of Guildford Andrew Watson outlined plans to increase the number of ordinands by 50 per cent in 2020 and beyond, totalling 6,000 new ordinands in a decade. This is to counter the loss of the baby-boomer generation to retirement, with 70 per cent of existing clergy expected to have retired by 2030.

Rev Arun Arora, spokesman for the Church of England, referring to Spence's prediction of no growth in 30 years, said: "The reference to 30 years is based on projections which assume no change and underscore the importance of the renewal and reform programme. They do not factor in the changes being proposed. Most crucially, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said this morning, we trust in the grace and transforming power of the Spirit of God, who  empowers and equips the church."