Church of Scotland minister uses tech to modernise sermons

Rev Tony Stephen of Banchory West Church

Rev Tony Stephen of Banchory West Church

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A Deeside minister has urged his flock to keep their phones on during Sunday service so they can text him questions during his sermons.

The Rev Tony Stephen of Banchory West Church, who has installed wi-fi in the kirk, said embracing modern technology helped to grow the congregation and keep them engaged.

We want people to ask questions so we have a dedicated anonymous text number that is used to challenge me during the sermon.

Rev Tony Stephen, Banchory West Church

He also said that more congregation members were donating money via direct debit through mobile apps - with the traditional collection plate increasingly being overshadowed by technology.

Mr Stephen said: “We actually encourage people to keep their phones on in church.

“We want people to ask questions so we have a dedicated anonymous text number that is used to challenge me during the sermon.

“Many people have the bible on their phone and we installed wifi in the church so that people can stay connected and share what’s going on.

“We want them to be engaged and I think that’s why people respond so well and we continue to grow.”

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Mr Stephen is to appear on BBC The One Show tonight (Monday) after producers were told Banchory West Church was bucking a national trend and growing its congregation.

The strong attendance at Banchory West comes at a time when a number of congregations across Scotland found themselves in crisis following the defection of ministers over key issues such as gay clergy and loss of Christian workshop in schools.

Mr Stephen said he was very pleased that the BBC film crew saw for themselves a queue of people waiting for the church to open a week past Sunday.

Mr Stephen said parishioners donated about £120,000 a year to Banchory West Church despite the current economic challenges.

“The majority of our giving is by direct debit or a similar method,” he added.

“About 8% of our offerings come in the offering bowls - around £9000 a year.”

Mr Stephen said about 53% of the money raised was spent on staffing costs.

“We want that to be our priority - people,” he added.

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“We support our minister, a youth coordinator, administrator, music director, other support staff, a youth project and a food bank among a range of other outreaches and work with people of all ages.

“We invest in staff to support the huge team of volunteers who serve gladly and make the difference.”

Banchory West Church, which has a weekly attendance of about 190 people, gives about £25,000 a year to the Church of Scotland central fund which is used to help support Kirk work in less well-resourced areas of the country.

“We try to keep costs of the buildings, heat and light to a minimum and keep the focus on people and serving,” said Mr Stephen.

“On top of all that the church community gave around £32,000 to outside organisations serving the poor and vulnerable locally and worldwide.

“I am blown away by people’s generosity.”

Mr Stephen added: “We at the West Church see ourselves called to be a ‘blessing machine’ in the heart of the community. We believe we were created to serve the community.”

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