Module 2 in the toolkit looks at defining the roles of our church buildings more clearly so that they can fulfil their potential. The deanery audits, deanery plans (where available), and parish buildings audits (see strategic review part 3) will provide the information needed to make this decision.
The diocese should work with the deaneries to seek to place all churches within one of these categories, after discussing this with them.
Parish Churches and Chapels of Ease
These churches provide a traditional model of ministry, mission and outreach, and are comfortable in doing so, which may include innovative complementary uses and partnerships (see toolkit module 3).
The way that parishes are organised can provide relief to understaffed PCCs. The parish has existed as the primary building block in the Church of England for centuries. Increasingly, however, parishes are struggling to find sufficient numbers of people to be on a PCC. Each PCC needs two churchwardens, a treasurer and a secretary, and the number of vacant positions grows each year.
The Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 offers a framework allowing parishes to unite, thereby reducing the number of PCCs. Hence Parish A may unite Parish B creating a new Parish of A with B. Alternatively, one church can remain a Parish Church and the other become a Chapel of Ease, or a PCC can be formed which covers several Parish Churches within a benefice.
Deaneries (and/or deanery plans) should study the options available including the uniting of parishes, and look at how management of Parish Churches within multi-parish benefices can be best provided, perhaps separating buildings maintenance work from mission planning to allow enough space for the latter. Trusts can be set up to manage the maintenance of the building(s) (see toolkit module 3).
This model of church may work best within a local pastoral reordering as set out under Chapels of Ease above, and within the framework of a deanery plan or other strategic mission objective. Whilst recent changes to Canons B11 and B14 release the requirement for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Holy Communion to be celebrated in every church in a benefice, thus allowing them to have more flexibility, there still remains the option of a ‘Festival Church’, which by its name will just have services on principal Feast Days.
This flexibility can avoid the requirement for a predetermined and inflexible rota of services in a number of isolated rural churches, which can lead to poorly attended services, a sense of failure and a waste of resources.
Utilising an interim Festival Church model can be a lifeline for struggling churches who with breathing space of 12–18 months can give time for working with the community, and with diocesan assistance create a sustainable church which would otherwise most likely have closed. To counter the argument that such designation avoids parish share, a package of measures including training and support should be provided, on the basis that a fair contribution to parish share continues.
That information is circulated concerning the ability of a church to become a Festival Church through available channels, and that the diocese should support churches considering this model, working with the Church Buildings Council and the Association of Festival Churches.
Resource or Resourcing Churches
These are large churches, often in urban locations and often ‘planted’, which are identified as having potential for growth and possible expansion, which may need to be supported or learned from. Some of these may have a special role which may go beyond the parish, deanery and even diocesan boundaries. Resourcing Churches may use existing church buildings, or appropriate others for their use.
Work is currently underway nationally to explore the idea of rural Resourcing Churches, which may grow from Fresh Expressions Groups, or be strategically planted into market towns, with the intention of further planting into the countryside around. This model might work well with existing Parish Churches and Chapels of Ease or Festival Churches, which can provide traditional ministry and services such as weddings (if licensed by the Bishop) and funerals at the local level to complement Resourcing Churches.
Deaneries (and/or deanery plans) should clearly show how this is to be taken forward in a structured way, which complements rather than competes with existing congregations, buildings and parochial structures; if local resources are not in place to do this, the diocese should be asked to consider how it may give support. The possibilities of planting within the diocese and even outside it should be considered as part of the diocesan strategy. Bishops Mission Orders (BMOs) should be used where appropriate.
Major (and Greater) Parish Churches
Major Churches as identified by the Church Buildings Council (CBC) may require a higher level of attention from the diocese and the CBC due to their special functions, significance and potential. The list and searchable map can be found on the Church Heritage Record. The criteria and more detail can be found on the Church of England website.
The CBC has recommended that all churches in this group should as a minimum compile a Conservation Management Plan to allow them to recognise the risks they face and maximise their potential, with which the CBC can help.
If a church is not on the present CBC list, an application can be made to the CBC who will assess it against their criteria. If the church makes the list the CBC offers to visit the church and discuss possible ways forward. The report recommends that information is circulated through available channels concerning the ability of suitable churches in the diocese to become a ‘Major Church’. Further to this, Major Churches should be encouraged to work together and learn from each other’s examples, forming a local group which meets regularly and communicates through an online forum and/or social media.
Although not clearly defined legally, the new status of Minster (as opposed to an historic honorific title) can be conferred by the Bishop to allow a church building to adopt an extra- or super-parochial role beyond that of a Parish Church. This can be adapted to circumstances but should always be carefully considered within an overall diocesan mission plan.
The new Telford Minster is a case in point. This pioneering church in the heart of Telford is housed inside Meeting Point House, Southwater. The new 350-seater worship centre has been created from warehouse space; Telford being chosen as an area growing in population whilst being among the least reached places for the church. A successful Church of England Strategic Development Funding bid has pump-primed the new Minster, which has the mandate to set up congregations in up to 10 housing neighbourhoods.
That more possible candidates for Minsters are considered, although the final decision will be made by the Bishop. Bishops Mission Orders should be used where appropriate.
The population of the diocese is increasing, and new homes are planned in existing towns and villages across the diocese. There may be occasions where a new church building should be considered, and where new housing developments are planned, representations should be made to the local authority that provision should be made for a place of worship. Fresh Expressions Groups or other new forms of church congregations may also come to need a permanent building.
But, conversely, in some situations it may be preferable to hire existing community facilities so as to not repeat the risk of spending too much resource (time and money) on maintaining a building at the expense of mission and ministry.
The diocese should be proactive in such cases. Sometimes a new church can be created within a new development on the site of an existing church which is demolished, using the benefits of sale of part of the plot; this can be achieved under faculty. The CBC should be informed and consulted on new churches. The diocese will also encourage parishes and deaneries to be aware in this respect of, and where possible contribute to, Local Authority Housing and Neighbourhood Plans.
Churches under review
As explored in the next module, some deaneries and parishes may need to review the sustainability of their church buildings in their present roles. The diocese will seek to support such parishes in exploring their future role, or an orderly process of closure if this is necessary (see toolkit module 3). In this way it should be possible to better manage the pastorally painful and often expensive and time-consuming process of closure, and indeed avoid unnecessary closures.
Prior to this there needs to be a positive policy of early intervention (see toolkit module 1) to recognise the warning signs, and step in with support and advice on reviewing and considering options other than closure.
- Produce a 5-yearly ‘traffic light’ report on the health of all the church buildings in the diocese using the deanery church buildings data (see strategic review part 3), leading to better decision making, whether regeneration or change of role is the eventual outcome
- Parishes, deaneries and diocese need to be aware of, review, and where necessary contribute to, Local Authority Housing and Neighbourhood Plans, as together with the deanery data everything can be considered in a proper context
- The diocese to adopt a policy of early intervention (see toolkit module 1), where personnel (salaried and voluntary) work with and help individual churches on holistically reviewing their church buildings and mapping a sustainable way forward for all concerned (congregation, community and diocese)
Church halls, buildings and land
Other parish building assets ought to be included, in the context of Shaping for Mission, in any holistic audit asset review, for opportunities to utilise space in a different way or with other partners, such as for market or affordable housing. The recent Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community encourages parishes (and others) to look for opportunities to provide affordable homes by reimagining existing buildings or creating new-build properties.
Engaging with the community other options may surface including sharing facilities (including the church) with other denominations or uses.
Encourage all churches to carry out a thorough buildings asset review, recommending use of the Crossing the Threshold national toolkit for this purpose.
Next section: Toolkit module 3: Options and models for change