One Church’s mission but many opportunities

The article below is a piece I was asked to write for the Church Times on Renewal and Reform’s investment programme. It was published on 23rd September 2016

FIRST, a confession: I have been unfairly critical of recent initiatives that may be considered “managerial”, such as Renewal and Reform (R&R). R&R is a wide-ranging initiative, which includes the Church of England’s multi-million-pound programme, over several years, of investment in mission initiatives. Half of it — £24 million per annum — is ring-fenced for mission in low-income areas; and half for strategic-development opportunities.The Church Commissioners will allocate funds for strategic development or growth opportunities on the basis of diocesan bids — which in itself presents some interesting challenges. The Church and its dioceses need to consider how to invest the money, as the funding cycle starts in 2017, and will last for a minimum of three years.Despite current high levels of managerially induced anxiety, the relationship between faith and management has a long history. The Rule of St Benedict provides a charter for how Christian bodies may be ef-
fectively managed. St Benedict suggests that management is a necessary precondition for mission.My interest in how the Church manages its assets stems from my pre-ordination careers in investment-management, and then in a business school, where I lectured on finance, and ethics and governance. I am conditioned to analyse R&R through the lenses of portfolio- and strategic-management theories, as there is no such thing as a single strategic-management theory: there are, instead, competing theories.The Church needs to craft its approach, blending different theories, to achieve R&R’s stated purpose: “To make sure we have the right people and resources to help us re-evangelise England and grow in the life of the Kingdom of God.”MY CRITICISM of R&R was that it looked as though the initiative — or, more accurately, the continuing conversation; for that is what R&R is — was based on a specific set of assumptions: big is best; Evangelicalism is where it’s at; urban is thriving; rural is dead. The examples of investments made in the Church Commissioners’ 2015 Annual Report lends weight to this critique.I still believe these to be the prevailing assumptions, but I no longer think that they are as dominant, and domineering, as has been suggested. R&R is capable of recognising myriad different opportunities, but it needs critical friends to be on the tour bus, where the conversations are happening. It is no use standing at the bus stop, yelling loudly.Initially, R&R’s approach to investment appears to be top-down and centrally planned: a product of an approach popularised by Harvard Business School and its guru Michael Porter. This suggests that the job of senior managers is analysis of the environment, the selection of a generic strategy, and the allocation of resources to implement it.If the outcome of R&R were to be that strategic finance was limited to investment in church-plants in the style of Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), for instance, then it could follow that the Church had been entirely guided by one management theory, betting all its “mission portfolio” on one form of dhurch, one ecclesiology, in one — urban — context. This would be both foolish and antithetical to what it means to be the national Church.Ceasing to invest in HTB-style plants would, however, be akin to selling shares in Microsoft, after its share price had risen by 100 per cent, thereby foregoing the subsequent 10,000-per-cent return. So a reasonably high level of continued investment should continue. And yet a prudent strategy is never limited to investing in one form of opportunity.HENRY MINTZBERG, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that top-down, highly planned, generic strategies alone cannot deliver an enduring pattern of returns. Dr Mintzberg asks strategists to scan the environment constantly, looking for emerging themes in which to invest.One example of an emerging theme which the Church should take seriously is the number of people who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. Resources, intellectual and financial, could be deployed to understand and access this, and also other “emerging market segments”.In portfolio-management terms, this would be akin to investing early in a sector that subsequently produced stellar returns: IT in the early 1990s, for example. Investment-management businesses often employ “sector specialists”. The Church of England needs to find its own such specialists.J. B. Quinn, who was Professor of Management at the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, in Hanover, New Hampshire, developed an approach known as Logical Incrementalism, arguing that rational planning ultimately became a substitute for control, stifling real entrepreneurial activity.Professor Quinn suggests that successful organisations experiment, learning from the success and failure of incremental investments in “interesting” initiatives. The strategic challenge is in identifying interesting initiatives, because incremental opportunities are often found on the periphery, away from the “core business” and obvious success stories.An example of logical incrementalism would be Nokian Tyres’ decision to invest a small amount of capital to create a distribution business to sell rubber off-cuts to manufacturers of the cables used in the mobile-phone industry. Several conversations later, the result was Nokia.The Church’s strategists, whether they are located in “head office”, or regionally in the dioceses, need to develop their peripheral vision, seeking out potentially transformative mission opportunities. They are out there, they need only finding.I WOULD like to see three outcomes from R&R’s investment programme:• continued investment in initiatives that are currently bearing fruit, such as the HTB-style plants;• a commitment to invest in emerging thematic opportunities: “spiritual but not religious” people, for instance;• an active programme of investing incremental amounts in interesting “peripheral” growth opportunities.The result would be a well-crafted, prudently diversified portfolio of mission initiatives, capable of generating sustainable growth “in the life of the Kingdom of God”.The Revd Andrew Lightbown is the Rector of Winslow, in the diocese of Oxford.


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