ROGER HARTLEY reports
During the GA meetings the delegates were asked to approve the ‘Next Steps’ document - available from this link: https:// www.unitarian.org.uk/resources/ document-library/vision-actionnext-steps
The introduction to the ‘Next Steps’ document said: Eighteen months ago, we embarked upon a journey that invited Unitarians and Free Christians to imagine a vision for our future. We are still on that journey, exploring new possibilities that can keep us relevant to the world, increase our reach and ensure that Unitarians and Free Christians will continue to make a difference.
The document ends with the question:
…and what can you do?” which listed a number of helpful answers including: Keep up to date with technology and Become more visible.
To explore this further I went along to a group meeting entitled ‘UKunitarianTV’ which was about the technological methods Unitarians should be using to communicate with one another and also with the non-Unitarian world.
James Barry, from UKunitarianTV, said that Unitarians need dragging into 21st Century. The technology which has changed the game above all is the smartphone. The film ‘Back to the Future’ from 1985, predicted some of today's technologies, but did not predict smartphones. For those of us with an addiction to their phones, if it's not visible from your phone then it doesn't exist.
A younger person coming into the church won't pick up a leaflet, but they may take a photo on their phone of the leaflet. They very probably will not read a newsletter on paper. Most congregations make their newsletter available electronically, but often it is produced on a printed page, which is often difficult to read on a phone’s small screen.
Today e-mail is becoming old-fashioned; there is much more information available from social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
The digital revolution has changed every thing. If we are not part of it, we will get left behind. Amazingly, UKunitarianTV can now compete with BBC. We can broadcast in real time over the Internet, or produce videos to be viewed on YouTube or other social media. We can film a service on catch up, to be viewed on a smartphone.
In order to maintain our membership we need to ensure potential new people can find and research us on the Internet. If you have a guest at a wedding in a Unitarian church, they may look up the word ‘Unitarian’ on their phone there and then. If they are not engaged quickly by what they find, then an opportunity may be missed.
Our websites need to be simple, uncluttered, clean and start with simple statements that people can explore. Unitarians, as chapels and churches inevitably close, will depend more on online activity to feel like part of the community. We increase our internet presence by good local websites. These require good content, and plenty of it, and this need to be accessible via a smartphone. The increased content leads to better indexing, which means our websites are found more easily and more often. It may be that we start to engage people perhaps not via worship, but by a fashion show or a concert advertised on the website.
With this in mind, the Edinburgh website team are working to improve and update St Mark’s website, to ensure that we bring new members into our community, and that we offer our philosophy, resources and venue to the wider community in Edinburgh and Scotland.