Who could argue with Renewal and Reform’s stated purpose: ‘the re-evangelisation of England?’
The Church ought to be passionately interested in evangelisation, Jesus did after all mandate His followers to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28, 19). According to St. Matthew these were Jesus’ last words to his apostles.
It is fit, right and proper, to paraphrase from Poldark (t’aint fit, t’aint right, t’aint proper), that Renewal and Reform seeks to honour the Great Commission. And, yes, R &R is also correct in stressing that this will require having the right resources, both human and financial, in the right places in order to achieve the stated aim, the re-evangelisation of England; that is all of England.
In order to (re) evangelize England in its entirety the C of E needs to take seriously the claims of geography, both physical and human and, demography. It needs to reach into every nook, cranny and, hidden corner in this land we call England.
The Bishop of Burnley, correctly, stressed this point in an excellent article by Madeleine Davies (‘Funding decision sharpens debate about the vision’) in last week’s Church Times arguing that: ‘We need to think very carefully about what a healthy state church is.’
I would want to suggest, once again, that a healthy state church is one that reaches into every nook, cranny and, hidden corner in this land we call England!
Strategic development finance will be made available from the Church Commissioners to dioceses on the basis of successful bids. Now, it is true that every patch of land in England is part of a diocese but, this does not mean that the diocese is able to reach each and every person in England.
So I have a nagging concern: are diocesan bids the best way to ensure that all nooks, crannies and hidden corners are accessed? Can our prison ministry, our ministry to the armed services, to the terminally ill or those in residential education be best served through the process of diocesan bids? If not, is it too late to re engineer or modify the process in some way, so the Church of England can really re-evangelize all of England?
The Church of England also needs to develop new ways of assessing projects building in a several guiding concepts or, ‘evangelistic virtues.’
Projects should be only invested in on the basis that they are generative, that is to say they are capable of giving birth to other new initiatives, thereby maximizing the Return on Resources Employed. Projects that are only ever capable of being successful on a standalone basis should be rejected, however glossy they look and feel; only those initiatives which contribute to the meta purpose (the re-evangelisation of all of England) should be considered.
Those charged with assessing bids need to make sure that they are capable of discerning between the shiny and stand alone and, the dull yet generative. Does the C of E have these skills?
Projects should also be capable of replication. Arun Arora the C of E’s Director of Communications made precisely this point, again in Madeleine Davies’s article:
‘However, for every project, we would expect there to be either evidence that it has worked in another setting, or, if it is more innovative, a logical and well thought through rationale for how the proposed project or activity will deliver the anticipated outcomes.
Projects that are both generative and capable of replication possess that mystical quality called leverage. It is through leverage that maximum returns, in accordance with the stated purpose, may be achieved.
So the panel of assessors (does such a thing exist – if not should it?) should always seek to identify whether an individual proposal possesses what we might think of as ‘structural leverage.’ If it doesn’t all the project can ever be is successful, on a standalone basis, and therefore of limited real value to R&R’s overall stated purpose.
I would also like to encourage those charged with assessing bids to consider the project in isolation from its leadership.
Now, I fully accept the need for good leadership but, if a project is only capable of succeeding because of its leadership then it may be highly unlikely that the project will meet the requirements to be both generative and replicable because, too much of the anticipated return is invested in the individual and, insufficient in the project itself.
Strong, decisive, alpha leadership can, in the short-term, make a project or initiative look good and, can achieve short-term results that exceed the real project potential. It is therefore vitally important that projects are judged on their own merits.
Leadership can always be deployed to manage projects and initiatives that meet the requirements for investment if required, as frequently occurs in the world of venture capital (which is R&R’s world!) but, as already stated, ‘leader lead projects’ are best avoided. By definition they lack the level of leverage required to contribute to R&R’s meta purpose.
We mustn’t, in the C of E, allow ourselves to be seduced by the notion of the charismatic leader-led initiative; the temptation will be there! Buyer be warned! In the world of investment management, my old business, significant amounts of money have been lost in backing charismatic, high profile, leaders in the mistaken belief that they possess the midas touch, and are capable of turning every project into a pot of gold. Even if they do succeed such leaders tend not to be very good at sprinkling others with gold dust and distributing more widely the spoils of ‘their’ success.
Finally we need to be realistic. Not every project will succeed. However, every project is there to be learnt from. In business the phrase ‘first user advantage’ is often used. The reality is, however, that is frequently better to be the second, or even third , participant to enter into a market. Why? Because, the ‘first mover,’ by necessity bears the full cost of innovation. Sometimes the first mover ‘lucks out,’ but not normally. The basic idea, concept or product was often good but the operational difficulties of bringing the product or service to market weren’t fully realized or anticipated. The second mover has the opportunity to watch and learn from the mistakes of the so-called first mover. The good news for the C of E is that it isn’t in the competition business and, therefore can genuinely learn from and improve upon earlier projects and initiatives, in fact it will need to develop the systems to do so in order to succeed in its objective; the re-evangelisation of England!
So if R&R is to succeed it needs to ensure that all of the projects it invests in have real, missional, leverage. For a project to have leverage it must be both generative and replicable. In a learning culture it is accepted that the first mover may fail, but, may also lay fertile ground for those following. Those assessing bids must differentiate between project and leader lead initiatives and, methods must be found to ensure that those who reside outside normal diocesan structures are not simply ignored. Finally the success of R&R will be contingent on accepting that a healthy state church is one that reaches into every nook, cranny and, hidden corner in this land we call England!