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Social enterprise points to social media and online giving as paths to growth

New research suggests that digital innovation could be one way for churches to draw in new people, receive donations more efficiently and plan for growth ...

New research suggests that digital innovation could be one way for churches to draw in new people, receive donations more efficiently and plan for growth.

Two of the most common reasons for churches declining are a shrinking congregation, and the financial cost of keeping a church open. Charity Checkout, a social enterprise that helps charities collect donations online, surveyed around 100 UK churches to see how digital tools could tackle these issues.

The research points to social media networks as a way of encouraging new members and online donation platforms as a faster and easier way to increase funds.

With 1.11 billion Facebook users and 500 million on Twitter, social networking websites have become the platform for a growing community, and often help develop a stronger connection with young adults.

Charity Newham Youth for Christ (pictured above) reach out to young people with the Christian message and look to build an online community. Some 40% of their regular financial support comes through their online fundraising page. Centre Director Jimmy Dale says: “this income makes a significant difference to the amount of youth projects we are able to deliver … residential trips, youth worker salaries, youth clubs and events. It is essential for churches and Christian charities to invest in online technology.”

The digital age is leaving many churches behind, and in some cases failing to modernise their communications is contributing to some churches closing down. Last month Stoke newspaper The Sentinel reported on a church in Bentilee which closed a year after its 50th anniversary. One of its members said “over the years people have passed away and young people have not come along to replace them, and the current members can't afford to keep it running”.

Dr Bex Lewis, Researcher in Social Media at the Big Bible Project, Durham University, believes that churches need to embrace the digital age. She said: “Churchgoing is no longer the cultural norm … Church digital spaces are therefore the modern doors into the church, so need to be appealing … and built into church strategy. Social media is all about the social, focus on that, and then find the right tools to help that.”

Severn Vineyard Church is part of a fast-growing network of churches that embrace the digital age. Social networking and online fundraising were their main sources when starting up as a brand new church. Co-founder Owen Lynch says: “We have found that our partnership with Charity Checkout provides an easier way for donors to contribute financially to the health and progress of the church. We first used Charity Checkout in a short campaign to raise capital for investment and half of the donations were made via this platform”.

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