I did say that I would reflect on the Gracespace website – the Bradford Fresh Expressions group.
Let me first say that I love what they are doing and it fills me with hope that such a group exists. I just wish there were more groups like this and that they were easier to get involved with.
One of the great things about boring old church buildings and congregations is that it’s easy to wander in and observe. A strength of many churches is that when you visit people totally ignore you. This absence of interest in you means that you can see what’s going on in an unthreatening way and engage at your own pace. Much better than being put on a church rota five minutes after showing up. Gracespace looks like a family to which you may have to join by adoption. Wonderful once you’re in.
Gracespace appears to be a group of friends who meet to explore ideas of faith and creativity together. Their values are around food, friendship, creative expression and exploring together. The core values are explained on a dedicated page.
The website speaks the language of brand which makes it accessible to those outside the church. Symbols and visual shortcuts to establishing values and identity. The coffee cup is such a familiar symbol for people meeting, talking and doing business. I have such an icon on my laptop.
The cafe – itself a symbol of the new business environment and networking – it is a space which can also accommodate elements of a sacred space. To reflect, to pray, receive sustenance, to congregate, to be creative. Is the coffee cup a contemporary chalice? Is the website an extension of that space?
The design of the website is from a generic WordPress template (i think) which has been adapted by adding the name Grace Space and the categories of content.
Templates are used often because they are inexpensive design options which give the website a professional feel. But templates are more than an economical option. In a sense the template has become a brand choice – like wearing Nike or Timberland. Instantly you know what sort of group this is and some of the values to which they subscribe. The design is the clothing and to a large extent the message. Churches sometimes look like they are wearing an old cardigan made by an elderly aunt and using morse code to communicate. This one doesn’t mind adopting the language of Neros or Starbucks.
It is significant that Grace Space has chosen to go down this branding route. Many churches would rather shun these template choices, but don’t have the resources to design their own. As a compromise they might opt for a Christian supplier of templates like 123church or Church Edit. The look and feel of many church orientated templates perhaps reflects the desire of some christians to ignore the visual language understood by the rest of the world.
The challenge for Gracespace in its communication will be to express itself clearly and not get absorbed by the style it has adopted or any bagage associated with the template. With the absence of a building, a set service or other regular, authentic signature pieces there may be a risk that it becomes fuzzy in its identity.
There may also be a question about who the website is aimed at?
While many fresh young minded people will be attracted by the look and feel of the website it is not clear how best for strangers to engage. This is probably a word of mouth church, friends of friends are welcome. The church meets at a few locations and as a consequence is a moving target.
As an outreach the website doesn’t provide an easy way for strangers to engage. I really would like to see a big red button on the front page saying, this way to get in.