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I’ve just completed my fourth and (planned to be final) data collection day for the longitudinal part of the research project. Over two years, I’ve been recording the number of English churches with a website I can find. In January 2009 I took a random sample of 400 churches, and looked for their websites. This was in order to establish a kind of baseline for the number of organisations that had a presence on the internet.

This has been an interesting exercise. The number of findable websites has increased for all the four mainstream denominations that I looked at, but the rate of change has been different for all four. For the first time in December 2011 the well-known search engine I used returned two Facebook pages for churches, rather than a stand-alone website. That may or may not be indicative of an interesting trend. Data is below – I’m still thinking about what other stories these numbers may tell.

Anglican 

%

Baptist 

%

Catholic 

%

Methodist 

%

Phase 1 40 57 37 28
Phase 2 46 67 41 39
Phase 3 48 72 53 59
Phase 4 58 84 63 61

With the end of my third year fast approaching the rest of my New Years holidays will be spent finalising my report, planning for a PhD research day in the department on 7 February and starting to try to recruit potential interview volunteers for 2011.

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This is probably a bit self-referential since I think many visitors here will have come via the Church Times blog article, (welcome!) but I was rather pleased today that my project was featured. I have had some good feedback and some volunteers to be interviewed which is encouraging after two years spent in glorious isolation!

Just to re-iterate though, the findings are preliminary, and I will be searching again in July and December to see if there are new websites available. In May last year, of my sample of 400 churches, I found a site for 42%, which had risen to 49% by January 2010.

So, where were we? Oh yes. .. PhD in progress. It is, at least, still in progress. I passed my first year viva in November last year, and am currently working on two aspects of the research. My first year report is here.

1. Longitudinal sample

The very nice man at findachurch.co.uk gave me a method by which I can use the database to assemble a random sample. I am collecting 100 each of Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Baptist churches across England. I will track these churches at regular intervals over the next couple of years to see if the presence or absence of websites changes.

2. Content analysis

The major meat of the project is the content analysis of websites. What are churches saying about themselves and their faith? And are they doing it nicely? So I have been pulling together the kinds of elements considered by other research, and a few ideas of my own, to create my content analysis tool.

I’m also carrying a couple of articles and a text book on research methodology around with me, with the intention to start the justification for why I think CA is the best tool for the project. But sadly I keep falling asleep on the train home and not reading them.