So, Modern Church went to Greenbelt. I realise that lots of Modern Church members go – I met quite a few of them there. Some – for whom we are very grateful – volunteered to help on the stall we shared with Inclusive Church and Women and the Church (WATCH).

But Modern Church was there as a Partner: we sponsored three of the acts: Vicky Beeching, Peterson Toscano, and Welcome Wagon.

I had the privilege of representing Modern Church when the opportunity arose, even though – and this is a big admission – it was my first time at Greenbelt (GB). Thankfully, I was guided into this novel experience by some old hands: friends we met there, Modern Church’s Administrator Diane, and the very helpful volunteers who make the whole festival work.

It’s a fair question to ask why Modern Church went at all, and there’s a number of ways of answering that. Our Communications Strategy operates under three broad headings (the things we would like to do through it):

  • broadening our reach
  • deepening our impact, and
  • creating engagement,

and I think our presence at GB helped with all three.

As a small organisation we don’t always reach a very wide audience of people for whom the liberal, open and non-dogmatic approach of Modern Church might be both helpful and encouraging. Being present at GB helped reach people we don’t normally reach. First, 12,000 people attended and saw and heard that Modern Church was there as a Partner – that’s more than 34 times our current membership. And second, the diversity of the people who attended GB means that those for whom Modern Church is a mystery went away at least aware that we exist and can do and be involved in interesting things, in things that matter to them.

We also had a chance to speak to people and give out some literature. This is proper engagement, and those of us who spent time on the stall can attest to the good conversations we had with people about their faith, or the questions they have about the church, or simply about the fact that they had never heard of Modern Church and were glad that we exist and wished us well. I guess you could say we planted seeds which I hope will grow into a mature and thoughtful faith. Time will tell (and we may never know).

GBbannerwebThe banner on the stall we shared with WATCH and Inclusive Church asked people to imagine their ideal church community

Did we deepen our impact as an organisation? That’s hard to tell, and numbers won’t tell the whole tale. That said, because I was tweeting about our presence there and the wonderful acts we sponsored during the festival, my own number of followers on Twitter went up by about 35%. We’ll soon know if traffic to our website has increased. Perhaps more importantly, I was able to meet with a rich range of people who wanted their organisations to work with us in the future, and those contacts are being nurtured. I think we can say that GB offered Modern Church an opportunity to create a platform on which we can build for the future.

It might be that the most important thing for Modern Church was that we were there at all, that we were seen to be engaged with an organisation and an event which for many who go is more important than church itself. Greenbelt is an event where no one tries to control what you think but offers you food for thought. Greenbelt is an event which reaches those who are often marginalised by the church, without abandoning faith, and where worship plays an integral part. Greenbelt is an event which puts justice at the heart of Christian engagement without relegating spirituality, and Pussy Riot was a good example of how faith can engage with justice in a powerful – and sometimes costly – way. GB is also a great example of how the arts, a commitment to justice and open engagement with faith can add up to some powerful theology. I think Modern Church can learn from GB how deep and profound theology can take many and varied forms.

It is, in itself, a good thing that Modern Church was seen to be a part of Greenbelt. Being there and being seen to be a part of such a rich and varied offering was noticed and opened new possibilities for us. The programme of building on those possibilities has now begun.