Welcome to commsblog.

Welcome to commsblog, the blog from the Communications Team at St John’s Church. We want to use this blog to share a little bit about our experiences in running communications for a large, modern church. We’ll try to cover all aspects of our communications work, not just the digital. We’re also keen to talk to others in similar roles doing similar things. Please do get stuck in and comment on what we write, we’ll be very grateful if you do.


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‘From four heads to zillions of fonts’

It has been said that: ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. Well take heart fellow dinosaurs, this can be proved wrong! Who would have thought when I first started to work at St John’s 40 years ago, that I would have ‘mastered’ so much new technology, by the time I left. (Well, mastered is a bit of an overstatement, I have often got by on a wing and a prayer.)

In 1976 the height of technology was acquiring a new ‘head’ for the electronic typewriter. For my younger readers a ‘head’ was a device which had to be fixed individually by hand onto the typewriter in order to achieve a change of font. I had four ‘heads’ in all, from which I could choose the following fonts: Courier, Arial, Italic and Times New Roman. If you find any old copies of the notice sheet from the 70s and 80s you will see them. There are of course zillions of fonts now and choosing the right one for the task, mood, design, etc. takes a great deal more time.

On to more exciting things. Letters and document could take ages, especially if you made mistakes. Frequent use of ‘tippex’ (what’s that?) was required, or you simply had to start again if you left out something vital. At a pinch you could ‘cut and paste’. This really happened of course, it wasn’t just a name for moving something around in the text. So scissors, a ruler and glue stick were vital tools of the trade.

Printing as we know it was a thing of the future; instead we had carbon copies and a Banda machine. Real printing was done by printers on a printing machine. Fortunately St John’s had their very own printer, Phil Jackson, who faithfully printed our notice sheet every week in the ‘Print Room’.

By the time I returned to the staff team as Office Assistant in 2003 things had moved on apace. We had email, and a delete button, and computers, and mobile phones the size of bricks, and mice. I had taken exams in word processing and achieved the European Driving License (this was a computer qualification in case you think I was holidaying abroad on the church finances). I was now computer literate – well almost, despite being over 35 yrs!

Things started to be a lot more challenging… especially for those over 35 (probably 45 by now), but help was at hand if you could find someone under 35 who had done IT at school. I discovered that no sooner had I a mastered some new bit of technology or software, than three more new forms appeared from nowhere like rabbits. I settled for the realisation that some people were always going to be a lot better than me at all this new stuff.

Then Jon Foster came along with ideas of a new kind of email for us all, and for this I had to learn HTML. (I had always wondered about the funny, seemingly meaningless strings of letters and symbols which occasionally appeared alongside text in emails.) The fact that I had never bothered to find out what they were proved that I was a dinosaur, it seemed.

Well, I now entered a whole new and exciting world; the world of the internet and the website and the ‘Roundup’. The thing is, it truly was exciting, and I enjoyed the challenge of doing posts for the website and links to our Weekly Roundup, and playing at being younger than 35.

As for Social Media, well I can do Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and all that stuff, but we were a team so I left that to Fran! However, I am quite good at SPAG*
All good things come to an end, and so the time has come for me to leave the world of communications at St John’s behind. No more new tricks for me for a while.

I can truly say that I have enjoyed providing information for you all and helping the mission of the church, and I wish the new team every success.

I have often said to those who inquire, that I learned all I know about communicating effectively from my journalist husband, Peter. So I need to thank him posthumously, as well as all the others who have helped me along the way.

*Spelling, punctuation and grammar

Colossians 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters …. for it is Christ you are serving.”

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Why do we ‘count’?

stella at computerEver wondered why we do ‘the count’ every year?  I decided to look into it.  Here are my findings after a very brief research at the church office recently:

In the year 2000 a major review of how annual statistical information was to be collected from parishes was undertaken; and attendance measures were designed.

These are generally based on a four week count by parishes of their attendance levels at church worship in October.

There is no single period in the year when church attendance could be said to be ‘normal’ or even ‘average’ but October was accepted across the Church of England as the easiest and most comparable month in which to carry out this quantitative exercise.

Attendance figures are defined below and these are worked out from the returns from each week of ‘the count’

  • Average Sunday attendanceThe average number of attenders at Sunday services    typically over a four week period in October
  • Average weekly attendanceThe average number of attenders at church services  throughout the week typically over a four week period in October
  • Highest Sunday/weekly attendanceThe sum of the highest Sunday attendances  over a four week period in October
  • *Usual Sunday Attendance - the usual number of attenders at Sunday church services
  • Children & Young Peopleindividuals under 16 years of age
  • Communicantan individual who takes Holy Communion
  • Electoral RollThose who have their names on the electoral roll of the parish.

*Usual Sunday attendance is normally lower than average Sunday attendance and there are variations in how ‘Usual Sunday’ figures are estimated.                                            (What is a ‘usual Sunday’ anyway! Do we have them at St John’s?)

The information above is taken from ’2009 Church Statistics’.

So what about our church? 
If you want to know our average Sunday attendance then read the 2013 statistics for St John’s on pages 3-5 of our 2014 Annual Report which can be read online

These are compiled by our Church Wardens from ‘the count’ in October 2013.

So what about our Diocese? 
The Birmingham diocese covers an area of nearly 300 square miles, the diocese includes parishes in the West Midlands including Birmingham and parts of Solihull, Sandwell, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

There are 188 Church of England churches/worship centres in our diocese.  The average Sunday attendance is 14,000 from a population of 1.3 million.

Information has been taken from the ‘Diocesan Annual Report, 2013′.

So what about the church in England? 
On average 1.1 million people attended Church of England services of worship each week in 2011, slightly under 900,000 of these on Sundays.
Totals for the Church of England in 2011:

  • Average Weekly Attendance 1,091,500
  • Average Sunday Attendance 898,300
  • Usual Sunday Attendance 807,500

Results shown are from ‘Statistics for Mission, 2011′.

So what is the answer to the title of this blog: Why do we ‘count’?
Could there be a clue in the title of the document above: ‘Statistics for Mission, 2011′?.
To me it says it all, and
 there is a lot of work to be done!

Your views? I am sure there is lots more to say on this subject. If you have further insights or information please feel free to comment on this post.




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The intrepid reporter’s day at New Wine

Well, I managed a whole day at New Wine without any rain!  My thoughtful line manager Tents at New Winehad texted me to say that he ‘hopes it rains so you have an authentic experience’.  Thankfully this was not the case.

I visited our St John’s Group at lunchtime on Thursday 8th August and found them dry, warm and happy.  Here’s what they had to say:

Helen Baines on her best experience of the week:  “Pete Hughes speaking on ‘Living Life to the Full’.”  Pressing her for a bit more detail she said it was about matching Jesus’ life journey in the gospels with that of the Israelites.  She also added that she had been “blessed with being cooked for.”  Judging by what I saw I think she also blessed a lot of parents by helping to look after their children.

Children eating their lunch

Lunchtime chez Varleys, Willis, and Wilton

Continuing on the children theme Greg Willis gave us a very profound comment when asked about family life at New Wine: “Over the years I have come to realise that I have more children than I thought I had; and that the children have a lot more parents than they thought they had.”  The extended family at work I thought, and there were nods of agreement all round.

Fran Varley was pleased that the “100% guaranteed all day rain that had been forecast for Monday did not happen” but was sad that the morning bible readings had been exchanged for stand alone talks with different speakers”.  This was new this year, so I guess ‘they’ would be glad of hers and others feedback on this.

Photo of Richard and Jane in their tent

Richard and Jane Lovell

Later I caught up with Village Hosts, Jane and Richard Lovell.  This was their first year in the role so I was interested to hear what they had to say.  Richard said that: “at the beginning it was all about making sure people were pitched, dry and where they wanted to be camped in the village”.  It was obvious he had carried this out as there was much talk of him helping people to pitch their tents in the rain; and while we were sitting there three tent pegs that had been lent were returned!

Phot of the Delves

Steve and Amber Delves

Jane felt it was all about making sure people were happy and feeling included.  She added that it was “good to be able to spend time with the church family who you would not normally have time to speak to at church.  Also to meet people from other churches and to catch up with old friends”.  (The Delves – pictured right, and the Hocking families were camping with St John’s village).

There were 70 people from St John’s at New Wine this year, 12 family groups and some others camping on their own, but they seemed well linked into one or more of these groups at lunchtime when I visited.

Children on their bikes

Ready for a quick get away

Reflecting on the children’s work at New Wine both Steve and Richard felt that there was nothing to beat it anywhere in the country.  They told me that: “There are approximately 5000 children at New Wine this year. They arrive expectant and eager for the children’s groups.  For them it is a wonderful experience of not being in the minority – as is the case in their classroom or school.  This is a very positive experience for them which builds up their faith”.

Asking for a picture which might represent the children at New Wine, I got one word: Bikes!  So we lined up some of the children from St John’s and took a picture.  Certainly the show ground is a wonderful and safe place to ride a bike.

WAsp trap

What is this? Answers on a postcard please

Other images from a well-set up campsite:Gas cooker at camptea pot with red tea cosy




Jula Savage in steward's gear

Julia Savage

Final word from a former Village Host, Julia Savage who had exchanged her role to that of a steward:  “Its good to have a specific job to do.”





Day visitors Sue Clegg and Antony Spencer enjoying hospitality.

Sue, Ant, and Featherstones family round the lunch table at New Wine.

Sue and Ant at lunch with the Featherstone Family



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Doing Stuff Quickly

So today we switched on the new Living Stones Blog. I say ‘switched on’, it’s been live since we started making it – yesterday evening. It’s actually taken under 3 hours to go from nothing to what you see now.

It was quick for two reasons – 1) we already had most of the infrastructure in place via WordPressNetwork‘ [of blogs] and 2) because it’s WordPress it’s quick and easy to deploy and customise.

It’s web tools like this that allow us to do stuff quickly. And doing stuff quickly is important.

Doing stuff quickly allows us to do more. Plain and simple. In the last 2 months we’ve launched 3 blogs, lined up another, built the infrastructure to support them, begun the process of replacing our printed Welcome Sheet with a weekly email (thanks to Mailchimp), started posting all church news on the website and all the while carried on doing everything else.

Doing stuff quickly allows us to iterate. The Living Stones blog you see now (depending when you read this) is almost certainly not what you’ll see in a month or two. What we’ve built is a Minimum Viable Product. In practice this means we can get a working product out there, see what reaction’s like and then do more work according to that. It’s far easier to talk to someone about what they’d like to see from something when it actually exists.

Doing stuff quickly allows us to fail. Failing’s important, if we don’t fail we don’t learn. If we can’t/won’t respond to a failure by iterating what we’ve got, we can pull the plug without losing too much spent resource down the drain – because it was quick to build.

Doing (tech) stuff quickly allows us to focus on the important stuff. Tech really isn’t very important in this. It’s the culture change and helping people that really matters. Getting the tech build out the way quickly gives us more time to do that.

So there you go – that’s why we use web tools like WordPress and Mailchimp to help us do stuff quickly.

What have I forgotten? What have you done quickly? You know where the comments are people…

(Stuff like this also allows us to do stuff easier, cheaper, better, etc. as well as quicker. But they’re whole new posts!)

Creative Commons photo credit: Speed Wagon by Peter Roome on Flickr

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That Was The Week(ly Roundup) That Was

Last Thursday we sent our first Weekly Roundup email, it was an exciting moment, and a proud one. A grand total of 194 of you had signed up to receive the emails when we hit send, and I’m really pleased to be able to give you some more details from our analytics:

168 of you (86.6%) have opened the email so far. This is the stat that makes me smile most. The average for the “religion sector” as a whole is under 25% – so good going you lot!

Those 168 people clicked the links inside the email a total of 115 times, with the most popular link being the volunteer needs, closely followed by the Healing & Prayer Centre, and then Nigel’s most recent set of notes.

The email has been opened a total of 407 times. With our top opener opening it a whopping 25 times! (We’ll be sending her a trophy)

On the day we sent the email, we around 50 more people visited the website than do on a normal Thursday.

And finally, none of you un-subscribed from the email or reported us as spam. Yay!

So – thank you so much for actually reading our little email – and do keep the feedback coming – Stella is ready and waiting!

PS – all of these stats are minimums – not every email program allows our clever analytics to work – so there’ll always be more opens than we can report.

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Personal Information and the Weekly Roundup

At the moment, when we include personal information (such as contact details or prayer news) in the Welcome Sheet, we only do so when we have been asked by the person concerned and/or have their permission. The same applies for the ‘Weekly Roundup’.

To coincide with the Weekly Roundup starting, we will begin posting news and information on the church website as a ‘first point’, and then refer you back to all the week’s news and information in the roundup email. The information on the website will be posted in two categories:

The majority of information posted on the website will be posted normally, and therefore in the public domain. However, some posts will not be accessible except via a link in the Weekly Roundup email, for example, prayer news will be posted in this way. If you change your personal contact details, and would have previously placed a note in the Welcome Sheet, these can be posted on the website and included in the Weekly Roundup; or, if you prefer, we will happily include them in the email only.

To put things into perspective, we should remember that personal information is available from the web fairly easily already. The kind of information we are talking about is unlikely to be of interest to anyone with malicious intentions.

By using our website like this, we do not feel we are increasing risks around misuse of personal information. All print publicity (Welcome Sheet, Prayers News, Living Stones Updates) are effectively available to the public each Sunday and throughout the week to anyone who uses our premises – and they can of course pass things on to whoever they choose. Similarly, recipients of the weekly roundup will be able to forward on the email – just as those who currently receive Nigel’s Midweek Notes can.

If you’ve got any queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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New weekly roundup

Many people have asked me what will happen for those people who do not have email or internet access and who rely on paper copies.  Well, we have obviously been thinking about this as well and we do realise that we need to meet everyone’s need for up-to-date information from St John’s.

There will be a transition phase of a few weeks as we make the change to the weekly roundup email from the paper based Welcome Sheet.  Also some paper copies of the email will be made available for as long as is needed… but there could be another way.

Do you know someone who does not have email access?  Are you concerned to help them?  Would you be willing to act as an ‘weekly roundup email buddy’ and print out the email for them?  If so please let us know.  Or maybe there is someone out there who would be prepared to do this for a group of people and distribute the printouts?

This kind of thing has been happening every week for many years already with our blind and partially sighted friends and members.  There is a small, dedicated team headed up by Ian Uden who record the Welcome Sheet and other publication – and now Nigel’s Notes as well – and the tapes are sent to those who need them.

This new web based age requires a similar group of people who will see the need to help others to keep in touch and informed, and who are willing to follow the lead of this team to serve their fellow church members.

Will you step up to the plate?  Please contact me on stellajennings@stjohns-church.co.uk


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Where is everybody?

Just a quick note for anyone wondering what’s going on with our social media accounts at the moment. Continue reading

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WordPress Freelance Work

We’re making some changes to our website at the moment and are looking to commission some freelance work on our (WordPress powered) homepage.

Continue reading

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Communications Survey Results

Thank you to everyone who filled in our Communications Survey in May and thanks to  Sue in the Church Office for inputting all the data.  The charts below (click to enlarge) show the main findings.  There are some interesting results and implications for how we ‘do’ communications at St John’s.

What news or information are you interested in receiving from St John's

What you most want to know about is ‘what’s on’ – but it is interesting looking at this chart, to see that receiving prayer requests is very high up on your agenda.

Acceess to sermons that you may have missed or you want to hear again, or the notes is also important to you.


What methods and media would you regularly access for communications from St John's


You have converted to New Media!  To be fair this is only to be expected and reflects current trends.

You can easily see that using Email tops the list .  If we ignore the next column for a moment then all the others are examples of digital communication.

But …. the ‘old-fashioned’ printed word does get a good showing, as it is the second highest selection.  As I compile the Welcome Sheet each week I do wonder to myself “does anyone ever read this!”  That over 100 people ticked this box encourages me.

Are you intersested in an online group for sharing information and news with church members?


Now this one surprised me.

You are really keen on the idea of an online group for sharing information and news.  My question for you – is there anyone out there who would like to organise this?  Leave a comment below or drop me an email.



 Some overall statistics:

262 people completed the survey and over 50 of these included a comment on their thoughts and ideas about communications at St John’s. Sadly, most of you who gave a comment did not supply your contact details and so I can’t get back to you.  However, we have taken notice of what was said, and where you did give your details I will be getting back to you shortly with a response.

The Communications Survey has clearly shown that communicating by Email is something that we cannot ignore and is favoured by you as a method of receiving information.  We will be addressing this during the next few months.

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