10 million rely on church community support shows new research

Published: 15th July 2014

New research conducted for the Church Urban Fund, CUF, shows that 10 million adults a year in England use community services from churches. This is more than half of all those who access these services. The wide range of support includes food banks, luncheon clubs and night shelters along with relationship courses, financial advice and access to computers and the internet.

The results of a survey, which accompany a new report from CUF and think tank Theos, show that churches in England reach around 10 million people each year through their community activities,excluding regular and other church services such as baptisms, weddings and funerals. Over half (51%) of all adults who say that they, or a member of their family, had accessed community services in the last year, did so via churches or church groups*. This equates to just over 10m adults -providing a significant social footprint.

In a foreword to the Theos/Church Urban Fund report Good Neighbours: How Churches Help Communities Flourish, launched today, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said: "This report demonstrates the scale and nature of that love for neighbour in practical action. It shows that relationships are at the heart of every community, and that churches are at the heart of local communities. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the Church is part of the solution for building community blessing at every level."

The research project set out to understand the impact of local churches in deprived communities in England; looking at what churches do, and also how andwhy they do. Researchers spent time in 12 relatively deprived parishes across England, interviewing residents, church members and local leaders and observing church-based projects. The findings underline the importance of Church contact which forges 'neighbourliness', concluding that strong relationships and social networks, which churches offer, can help communities become more resilient in the face of social and economic change.

The Bishop of Stafford reflected on the report: "I'm not at all surprised. I'm well aware of the way many of our churches are responding to urgent and desparate needs in our parishes, giving sacrificially of their time and energy as well as money. But I've never seen it added up in this way, and the combined efforts of all the churches across the country are clearly able to have a positive impact on those Jesus urges us to look out for."

And David Primrose, Lichfield Diocese's Director of Transforming Communities adds, Here in the Diocese of Lichfield, individual churches are already involved in providing support for some of the most vulnerable in our community, often working closely with other churches in their localities. Some churches have been working in partnership across the wealth gap that increasingly fragments our society, enabling the stories of ordinary people living in times of austerity to be heard. Some church schools are opening school banks with their local credit unions to help pupils learn how to save. We are planning for a consultation in September, bringing together clergy from the Black Country, so that together we can maximise the impact we make on tackling the causes of poverty."

Support for financial advice projects and credit unions is widespread in churches in the diocese - for example, all four bishops have signed up to their local credit unions.

And the Near Neighbours project has now opened here, providing seed capital for local groups and organisations who are working to bring together neighbours to develop relationships accross diverse faiths and ethnicities in order to improve their communities.

The report also states that churches are aware of working closely with other faith groups and statutory agencies but nevertheless concludes that the community engagement grows from nothing other than Christian commitments and practices and a desire to "seek the welfare of the city".

The Rev Paul Hackwood, Executive Chair of CUF, said: Many people wrestle with the problem of poverty in this country and I am delighted that this report shows that churches are providing such a huge and significant part of the answer. We cannot underestimate the importance of neighbourliness in helping people and communities flourish. [Rev Hackwood is no stranger to the Diocese of Lichfield having grown up in the Black Country - and was keynote speaker at the Sandwell Churches Link Project conference earlier this year]

Paul Bickley of Theos, the reports author, said: Most people know that churches and other faith based organisations do a huge amount in areas of high deprivation, but the nature of churches engagement isnt well understood. The research shows that its not just what churches do, but how churches think and operate, that helps them give something distinctive to their communities. They do offer material and practical support, but they also offer relationships and social connection in a word, neighbourliness.

St Chads Job Club at Bilston, Wolverhampton is one of many projects with which the church is a key partner in providing appropriate support in response to the needs of a local community.

Page last updated: Tuesday 15th July 2014 10:30 AM
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