Fishing in a Digital Age – creating community and connection in a Rural Diocese

After two years of being the Diocesan Radio Officer, Bishop Kenneth asked me to take on the role of Diocesan Communications Officer – a wide reaching role which brings with it responsibility for the website and all the other social media channels as well as dealing with the outside press and media.

I realised very quickly that I knew very little about the internet and the potential it holds and so set about trying to find out how these tools could be applied in our diocese. For the last 6 months I have been looking into the problems of Communications in a Rural Diocese and how we might use the tools that are available to enable us to build our church communities.

Recently I was asked to give a presentation on Communications in a Rural Diocese in Dublin at a conference of Church of Ireland Diocesan Communications Officers and Magazine Editors and this article is based on that presentation.

While I was preparing for the conference I was very taken with the Gospel for the Third Sunday after Epiphany (Matthew 4: 12-23) when Jesus called his first disciples.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’

In the older translation I remember that is worded as,  Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.
That is what we are all called to be  ‘Fishers of Men (and women and children!)’

We are all called to tell people about where we see God working in our communities. We all have stories to tell; we just have to find ways of sharing them with others.

That said, I’m afraid I do not know much about fishing- but I have a friend who is a great fly fisherman and teaches others to fly fish, so I asked him. He told me there are just two rules for fishing.

Rule One: Fish where the fish are.
Rule Two: Use the right fly.

For our Diocese, I think the problem is we have such a vast pool to fish in!
When our diocese of Limerick, Killaloe & Ardfert (Light green below) joins with Tuam Killala & Achonry (Brown below) the new diocese will extend over 310 km North to South and around 100 km East to West.

This will cover over a third of the area of the country!

Church of Ireland Dioceses

Finding the fish in such a vast pool is tricky – we cannot rely on engaging with people by meeting them face to face. This may still be a possibility in our larger towns and cities diocese but not for the huge expanse of rural Ireland which forms the major part of our new diocese.

When it comes to using the right fly, I think the answer is to use the internet and digital communications to tell our stories.

This can be quite an overwhelming task to face, but there are some reasonably simple places to start sharing stories and news, taking advantage of the many free tools that we can use which come via the internet.

The first is the Parish Website. This should be the hub and central reference point which all the other tools come from or point towards.

Then there is Facebook, Instagram, Podcasts, Twitter, WhatsApp, eMail, Snapchat, Pinterest and others. I won’t look at each of these but will just take a couple.

Facebook Users in Ireland

As you see from the graphic above by there are 2,200,000 users of Facebook in the Republic and 920,00 of them live in rural Ireland. 21% are aged 18-24, 28% are aged 25-34, 23% are aged 35-44 13% aged 45-54 and it then tails off to just 4% in the 55+ age group.

Isn’t Facebook just the place we where we should be fishing? Fish where the fish are!

St Columba’s Church in Ennis regularly posts on the parish Facebook page, and typically each post reaches around 250-300 people. A recent post about the result of the Christmas tree festival reached 896 people!

Using Facebook to advertise special events, share photographs, and engage with the local community helps us to connect with our existing congregation in a different way, but also makes it easier for them to share content, stories and events with the wider community.

I have a special interest in Radio and Podcasting and think they hold great opportunity for churches. We should be building relationships with local radio stations, putting up people for interview, telling stories about our church communities and where we see God at work in those communities.

Local radio in rural Ireland is very strong, in Co Clare 48% of the population listen to Clare FM each week. By comparison, the BBC local radio station I am involved with in UK reaches less than 5% of their population.

According to a survey last year by Reuters 37% of Irish people have listened to a podcast in the last week. Our nation has the third highest listenership to podcasts in the world after high-tech South Korea and Spain. 76% of those are aged 18-44 with 81% listening with headphones through their mobile phones. 70% listen while commuting. That is where the fish are!

You can find all of our Diocesan Podcasts at

I believe the internet and digital communications can enable each of us to reach out to people and to build our church communities by engaging with them where they are and telling them our stories of where we see God working in our different communities.

It is well worth looking through the treasure trove of resources to be found in the C of E Learning Blog HERE. It is fully searchable and covers many interesting topics of direct relevance to our needs and all written from the perspective of the ‘ordinary person in the pew’!

Here are some straightforward, easy to follow instructions, specifically designed for Parishes where there is no IT or Social Media experts, do check them out and let me know how you find them.

Here are The C of E simple ‘How To Guides’ I mention above.
How to create a Facebook page for your church
How to set up and use Mailchimp for emails.
Seven social media post ideas, with examples
How a Typical Parish is using social media to reach their community
Five Simple Design Tips
Ten tips on creating a logo
Five pages every website should have
How to boost a Facebook post
How to create an Instagram profile and business profile

There are many resources to help us to set up and use these free internet tools. I provide a list of them in my regular eNewsletters, if you are not on my circulation list then please send your email address to me at and I will include you.

Happy fishing!

Stephen Fletcher, Diocesan Communications Officer. You can call me 089 448 9353