We went to visit Fr. Tom Pyke, Vicar of Christ Church, Isle of Dogs, to hear about his experiences using digital forms, and the role ChurchDesk and technology play in his mission and ministry.
Welcome to Christ Church, Isle of Dogs
This is a parish church. Even before entering the building, with its lofty Victorian spire and Portland Stone features near the banks of the Thames, it’s clear that Christ Church is woven closely into the life of the Isle of Dogs community. The doors are wide open, Fr. Tom’s mobile number and email are displayed in large print on the notice banner, and a sign outside gives details of the Food Bank run by the church and the Tower Hamlets Night Shelter.
An opportunity to do more
Over the last couple of months, Fr Tom has been redoing the church’s Electoral Roll, using ChurchDesk Forms to allow people to complete their application electronically as well as on paper. We started by asking him how he’d found the experience.
“It's been brilliant. Normally the roll just doesn't reflect the number of people who have a sense that the church belongs to them and they belong to the church. I've now got lots of people on the Electoral Roll who've never been on the Electoral Roll before, even though they're here every Sunday. It's a big deal.”
By using a digital form, churches can reduce the time spent on administration, deciphering handwriting, and manually inputting data. It also makes it easier for the congregation. Fr Tom has a simple way of explaining the difference this has made to him:
“By this point I would be tearing out my hair. We're now within three or four days from closing the roll, and I'm not! With ChurchDesk it's really quick and simple.”
Though it’s really important to our work at ChurchDesk to help streamline church admin, our focus is how to help with the Church’s mission.
“People have also signed up for different sorts of communication so that they're available to us, and we're available to them. The difference is that ChurchDesk really is designed for churches. With the Electoral Roll, ChurchDesk recognises it's another significant moment in churches' lives - and has provided the opportunity for us to do much more.”
Technology for ministry and mission
I’m interested to understand how else Fr Tom has been using ChurchDesk beyond the Electoral Roll. “We've recently started a men's group, and had a meeting last week, all of whom booked on ChurchDesk, all of whom paid on ChurchDesk. It was a very different experience from anything else I've done here - everybody who booked, came.”
But Fr Tom sees ChurchDesk’s Forms as being more than just selling tickets, or managing newsletter sign ups automatically, and has been experimenting with how they can support his ministry.
“I really love Forms - being able to get people to respond straight away is really important. I've created one that is actually just getting people to say what they're going to do for Lent.... I use Forms not just as an information gathering tool but actually as a pastoral tool as well.”
As we chat at the back of the church in the kids’ play area, it’s hard not to be impressed by Fr Tom’s enthusiasm. Reaching out to people in new ways, and meeting people where they are form a key part of his approach - particularly when it comes to technology.
“I've just sent out a newsletter using ChurchDesk about Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, and I've put a link to a recorded sermon - allowing people to go back, listen, and think again - I love the way everything is so integrated.
I think conversion is a very slow process, and it includes a big dollop of people's hope for the future, but it also includes all of the baggage which they carry with them and the need to make sense of that, bin some of it, but value some of it as well, and I think the technology can allow us to do that, and help us to do those loop backs going forward.”
An extra pair of hands
Despite his calm and approachable demeanour, it’s obvious Fr Tom is a busy man, so as we finish our conversation, I’m keen to understand how ChurchDesk has helped him beyond the technology.
“I'm a chaplain in the Royal Navy, and we have this concept of force multipliers - for me, ChurchDesk has been an extra pair of hands that actually magnifies the work I’m able to do pastorally and spiritually and liturgically in the parish. I can’t be available all the time, so ChurchDesk becomes another pair of hands that actually continues to work when I can't.”