Rectors, priests and vicars are really recruiters in cassocks. Their job (among other things) is to spread a brand or a message, and engage with what is largely a passive population, and recruit them in some way in to the flock. I’m not a religious person, but then I’m also not unreligous .Probably best described as agnostic, I use my church when I need it for weddings (once), christenings and funerals. I don’t belong to any particular church. i don’t not believe, I just haven’t found any one religion to commit to fully. I’m a passive candidate.
I have found myself getting more interested in the conversations the church are having in the UK though because I’ve started following @RevRichardColes. I can’t see myself being born again or anything like that, but I have become aware of the conversation and I have even joined in a few times. I will do this on Twitter or Facebook, though I wouldn’t see myself going in to a church to have the conversation.
The Reverend Richard Coles came up on my radar when he was appointed Vicar of Finedon Parish about eighteen months ago. Finedon is a reasonably sleepy Northamptonshire town. My wife’s family come from there. It’s very English with antique and book shops, a few pubs and a cricket team. They had the same, traditional Vicar for many years. When en Richard Coles was appointed I was quite surprised. In a former life he had been a pop star with the band The Communards and is openly gay. Someone, somewhere made a brave decision to appoint him and shake things up a bit.It takes brave decisions to do something different.
Normally this wouldn’t have been enough to attract more than my curious attention but the Rev had a twitter account and was engaging with a few people i know. I thought he was worth a follow to see what he was all about. a few months ago I decided to pay closer attention to what he was tweeting about because his following had grown to over 17,000 whilst following only 500, and 1,740 friends on Facebook. What i found was very interesting.
Breaking down his following (or virtual flock), they are a real mix from local parishioners,those who have religious leanings and then the biggest section, the curiously interested. When you analyze his content it is almost a text-book corporate account. His tweets are about 10% business, parish affairs, saint of the day etc, 10% local news about his parish, 10% personal views and comments like train journeys etc and most importantly, 70% @ replies. The Rev replies to messages, and this makes him accessible to the vaguely curious. I don’t know how many people attend his church each Sunday, but I’m guessing it is less than 10% of those he reaches with his tweets.
Today the Rev has been very busy because the Church Of England have made statements relating to gay marriage. Theres been a lot of people joining the conversation because of his tweets. Yesterday he was very busy because his saint of the day featured a saint who stamped on the head of a pigeon who was really the devil. It is a fun and informative account to follow. Interestingly, he doesn’t feel the need to print a disclaimer that his content represents his own views and not necessarily those of God, his ultimate employer.
I wanted to highlight what the rev is achieving because he has managed to reach a wide and diverse audience. Should I ever have need for any religious guidance he would be my go to man because we are connected. I feel a part of his extended virtual community. I think institutions, companies, groups, politicians etc can learn a lot from looking at personalities like this who are becoming the “go to guy” to such a wide audience and learn from it. If all he did was tweet links to sermons, there wouldn’t be much of a following! The lesson, if you want to reach people talk to them and be reachable in the places they go.
Hats off to the Rev, and keep up the good work. If I ever need your help, I’ll tweet you. Here endeth the lesson.