Church Lite

The New Evangelism


American know-how helps vicar breathe new life into parish
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent


An American vicar hired to resuscitate a dying parish has more than quadrupled his congregation with an innovative marketing campaign.

In an experiment that will be watched across the Church of England, the Rev James McCaskill was given the seemingly impossible task of reversing the fortunes of the parish of St Mary Magdalene in Lundwood, a former mining community near Barnsley.

Less than a year later he has increased the average Sunday congregation from single figures to more than 50 worshippers. A Channel 4 series charting his progress, Priest Idol, starts next Monday.

The fresh-faced cleric from an affluent parish in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was initially shocked by the high unemployment, the drug taking and the crumbling 1930s church sandwiched between a bookmakers and a fish and chip shop.

However, with the backing of the Archdeacon of Pontefract, the Ven Jonathan Greener, he spruced up the building and drafted in an interior designer to create a "reflection zone" for meditation. A key factor in his strategy was a glossy marketing campaign to "rebrand" the parish with the slogan "Church Lite, it's better for you".

Mr McCaskill said: "Church Lite reflects the fact that many people think of church as stuffy, preachy and boring. "It's a thought-provoking message, but I want to get people to come along to see for themselves that the church is different."

Hundreds of people who had ignored the parish for years, including a number of teenagers, were enticed through the gates of the church to enjoy a July garden party with brass band, a barbecue and fireworks.

At the Sunday service the following day, which featured a gospel choir and a sermon by the comedian Jimmy Cricket, the flower-bedecked church was packed with more than 200 worshippers.

Since then, Mr McCaskill has introduced family services with football themes and other innovations and Sunday congregations have remained buoyant.


Comments: Church Lite, will surely be the epitaph on the tombstone of the 21st century ‘church’. Seeker sensitive, purpose driven, touchy feely, ambient and airy, cool and comfortable, tailor made, non intrusive, non offensive, non convicting, non judgmental, all embracing, effeminate and politically correct.

Stripped of the fat of the truth in order to make it easy to digest. And like everything “lite” you will lose something . .  in this case, your SOUL.