Can we help you bring folk into your church? In rural places even finding your way to a church often leaves folk cold. In this article we look at the problem and some quick and easy fixes available free for every parish church.
We need a method for helping people find our churches. It has to be as easy to share locations on a poster or invitation as it is on a web page. It needs to be precise ‘enough’ to find a gate in a hedge. This is a problem that every ministry team in a church that has a postal address that isn’t entirely clear for visitors need to attend to. As Revd Canon Gary Philbrick Area Dean of Christchurch said: It’s a pretty constant problem especially for baptisms, weddings and funerals, when they are just travelling to a church and haven’t sorted out beforehand.”
This article is about helping churches wanting to give visitors (especially invited visitors) an aid to finding a carpark, turning or accessible entrance we review we review three easy to use methods. They all offer an ‘address’ for places which don’t have one. First Plus Codes, Second What Three Words, Third for comparison - the venerable OS Grid Reference.
Can I avoid the problem altogether ?
The ideal would be to avoid the problem altogether. We say that because especially on the web user behaviour is usually simply to search using a platform of their choice. If you can specify your location for map providers sufficiently well that a naive search on any mapping provider gives the right result then you’re problem disappears. Unfortunately because church names and dedications are often very similar it isn’t always possible to even get people to the right village (let alone help them find the car park)
Lacking certainty around this may be the root cause of problems like this:
I did cremation first and then we went back to the church for the thanksgiving service. So the family hadn’t been to Fordingbridge or the church before - they traveled from afar. They tapped in ‘St Mary’s Fordingbridge’ in "Google Maps" and got taken to St Mary’s Breamore (near Fordingbridge) and we’ve tried to correct it on Google maps without any success, largely… We were half an hour late starting the service by the time we had gathered them all up from the wrong place.
Plus Codes originated with a team inside Google (Alphabet). They were designed to be able to ‘look like a human readable address’. So the west door of Canterbury Cathedral is 73HJ+XP Canterbury, UK. Because of the need for machine readability there is a less human friendly version which adds a four digit prefix 9F3373HJ+XP
- +Plus codes work in Google Maps - you can enter either form into a Google Maps search box and the system finds the location you are looking for. For many local churches this will be the thing that tips the balance in their favour.
- +Plus codes were proprietary, but Google open sourced the project. This means that anyone can build on their foundation, and there are no licensing fees. This may be attractive to both tech wizards and treasurers.
- Shorter codes work… So dropping trailing parts of the codes identifies successively larger grid squares.
- To achieve 3m precision (which this problem needs) +codes requires seven digits with a city suffix. Although this is address like it is at the limits of short term memory for accurate reproduction later. If you primarily envisage this system as being a location solution for print publications this may knock +Plus codes off the top spot for you.
- Apart from Google Maps +Codes aren’t widely supported. This may be an issue if you are particularly concerned about cross platform compatibility. However, none of these solutions has been adopted universally
An example of a 'find my parish church card'
A real world problem
‘It’s also quite common for our church of St John the Baptist to be confused with Baddesley Baptist church (on the same road or with St John’s Rownhams (in the neighbouring parish). I spend quite a lot of time disentangling these problems and wish there was a simple solution.
W3W starts with an engagingly simple idea. Give the location of every 3m square on the planet a unique address which consists of three well known words. So again for the West door of Canterbury Cathedral ///bonus.ahead.caring. W3W team say that their product for is particularly good for locating specific entrances as well as any other key points on the grounds - like a tree fall or wall damage. In this system order matters (permutation).
- As the W3W team say ‘three words are much easier to remember and communicate without errors’ than any other method. This makes W3W very attractive for passing by speech or for copying by hand from a poster and later entering into a digital system.
- W3W isn’t supported by any of the big three web mapping providers. The company does license excellent mapping and has good apps for phone and tablet in both iOS and Android.
- W3W hasn’t got the degree of consumer understanding the main mapping companies have.
- The system locates 3m squares: thats it. There is no ability to reference a bigger area.
- W3W is a proprietary system. While it is ‘effectively free’ for an individual or small organisation to use a license fee is required for wider scale use - for example if Church of England adopted it nationally.
Older users and serious outdoors folk will all be familiar with the venerable OS Grid Reference. In this coding system the West door of Canterbury Cathedral is at TR 15019 57927. This system was conceived before the idea of ubiquitous web mapping was unimaginable.
- For locating a place with a paper map in the UK, the system is probably unbeatable
- Dropping trailing digits creates a reference to a larger grid square so TR 1501 5792 is a valid reference
- Supported by OS in their excellent site and open data systems which makes incorporating these references and maps into print publications attractive, free and legal if done right.
- Not supported by any of the major web mapping providers (except OS themselves)
- A system from ‘another world’ for ‘digital natives’ and ‘millennials’ who will struggle to use the codes
- Accuracy in codes is essential. Grid References are known to be difficult to pass in stressful situations, or over the telephone, particularly when reception is poor.
Use more than one method?
Sometimes the best solution will be to identify locations using two of these methods. Perhaps W3W or +Codes primarily for use on the web and mobile devices and a grid reference for paper map users. That could work up into a card folk could be encouraged to put into invites for weddings etc.