Digital Easter: Church service to be streamed on Facebook

20 April 2019, 22:37 | Updated: 20 April 2019, 23:39

The Church of England says it is on target to train nearly 2,000 church teams with digital skills - including streaming services live on Facebook - in a bid to boost congregation numbers.

In-house developed apps and voice commands for Amazon's smart speaker Alexa have seen the CoE's social media reach more than double since 2017.

The digital push is aimed at increasing the number of people attending church, with Sunday service attendance in decline nationally.

One church leading the way is St Matthias in Plymouth.

From today on Easter Sunday it will begin streaming its services live on Facebook.

It also produces high-end videos for Instagram and Facebook to boost engagement.

Reverend Olly Ryder has seen this social media boost his congregation from 40 to 600 in just a few years.

"We have more than 1400 people liking our Facebook page and on Instagram," he said.

"What it means is we're not just bound to what we do on Sunday, we can be feeding stuff throughout the week as well - bible encouragements, other fun things, or things that we're praying for the city, so people have got it throughout their week in their homes, in their work so they can pick up on it wherever they might pick up social media," he added.

The CoE has hired the former head of digital communications at Tesco, Adrian Harris, to help drive digital engagement.

He told Sky News the results are proving impressive.

"I think one of the biggest changes in the last couple of years has been to really transform our national websites. They now receive about 25 million page views across the year and a really good spread of age ranges.

"One of our biggest innovations has been when we launched a skill for Amazon Alexa for the smart speaker which went live last year. Tens of thousands of people have engaged with that and the reason we built it was to put Christian content onto platforms and devices that are in millions of homes across this country."

Elsewhere in Devon, Reverend Nick Shutt looks after a number of churches around Dartmoor.

He has worked with a local internet company to install a broadband transmitter inside one of his church clock towers, enabling farms to stay connected.

"We've got to stay one step ahead of the game. The church needs to engage with people to be able to bring them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Everyone walks around with a phone in their pocket so we've to be savvy and make sure we can engage with people," said Rev Shutt.

Statistics from the CoE show that the number of people attending services on a Sunday at nearly 16,000 churches is continuing to fall.

But it says the "worshipping community" - a measure of those people who regularly attend church - increased in 2017 to 1.14 million people, 20% of whom were aged under 18.

Latest figures, for 2017, also show the number of people attending Christmas services increased by 3.4% to 2.68 million.