Speaking of Renewal and Reform; money, numbers, and growth

Just to be clear and upfront: I am a big fan of Renewal and Reform.

Fanship is an interesting concept for it implies loyalty and support, in good times and in bad. Fans are supporters, friends and members of whatever it is (normally a sports team), but also critics and lobbyists. Fans can also be agents for change.

In my fanship of Renewal and Reform I hope I am, and will remain, a critical friend; an ardent supporter who wants the best possible set of outcomes. Fans can of course be unrealistic -seeking to gorge themselves on an ongoing pattern of short-term success – but I suspect that the majority of fans are in it for the long-term, ‘in good times and in bad,’ ‘for better for worse.’

I am a fan of Renewal and Reform for the very simple reason, that like Bishop Paul Bayes,’ I want to see ‘a bigger church making a bigger difference.’ I also think that Renewal and Reform is a way of honouring the Great Commission.

My critique, not criticism, of Renewal and Reform is that it has thus far been too Reform focused. I think and believe that, during the next stage, far greater attention needs to be given to the much harder subject of Renewal. But, here is the good news: this is happening. It may not be obvious that it is happening, because renewal is less obvious, less ‘in your face’ than Reform, but it is happening.

In the early days of Renewal and Reform, it felt as though the entirety of the conversation (and the the flow of funds) was dominated by two models of church: Plants (and grafts) and New Congregations. These can be thought of as new forms – or reforms – of Church. Now there is nothing wrong with starting with these models for they are tried and tested. A fairly robust operational model exists that means it is reasonably likely that these approaches will be ‘successful.’ Success for such models of reformed church is quantifiable; numerically so. And just to repeat, I have no problem with numbers: ‘a bigger church making a bigger difference.’

But, and its a big and perhaps controversial but, I think that these models whilst being perhaps obvious ones to start with will, over the long-term, be smaller scale contributors to the overall ‘success’ of Renewal and Reform.

Yes, they are currently seen as the ‘successful,’ models of how to do and be church, but as any fan will tell you success comes and goes. Very few clubs are able to achieve a never ending ongoing pattern of short-term success. In the world of both sport and business today’s success is tomorrow’s not quite success (let’s not use the word failure!).

In the world of both business and sport very few entities flourish over the long-term. It’s a simple fact of organisational life. If you doubt me why not do a simple google search and compare the constituency of the FTSE 100 index when it was launched in 1982 with its make up now. Comparing the make up of the Premier League in both football and rugby (my sport) at their launches with now is also revealing.

At the other end of the scale very few small businesses, or small sports teams, ever achieve the heady heights of the FTSE 100 Index or Premier League. Conclusion: it is the destiny of most entities to spend the majority of their corporate lives as either medium or small sized concerns.

This is to my mind a basic, very basic, fact of organisational life. If this is true looking to the big to make the biggest difference is, as a long-term strategy, predestined to fail. (The ability of large entities to spawn other entities which survive beyond the life of the ‘founding entity’ should not, however, be discounted. RACAL Electronics, for example , which no longer exists is said to have created more ‘shareholder value’ than any other listed company).

If my thesis is correct then far more attention needs to be focused on, and strategic funds directed towards, initiatives that seek to renew the that which already exists. In many cases this will mean medium sized churches. We need to make sure our medium sized churches first sustain and then grow. To my mind this should be a significant priority. The trouble for strategists is that sustaining and growing the medium sized (and other forms of church which are crying out for renewal) is hard-work, long-term, and difficult to quantify. Renewal is the nitty-gritty of strategy and in the long-term will be both the engine of sustainability and growth.

I have enjoyed reading the recent Church Times appraisal of the Renewal and Reform initiative, but I can’t wholeheartedly agree with the last week’s ‘Leader,’ which seemed to criticise the decision makers for ‘the splashing of large amounts of cash on a relatively few projects.’ This would be fair if this was all that Renewal and Reform is doing, but it isn’t, for there are a great many renewal focused conversations looking at, for instance, outer estates, coastal towns, market towns, and medium sized churches more generally.

Where I think the Church Times is correct is in identifying that such churches ‘simply need a lot more money;’ not that money is the be all and end all. Churches in such contexts for sure require money, or the very least alleviation from parish share schemes that appear to be exercises in pure Reaganomics, combined with good leadership, diocesan support, and stacks of enthusiasm. What these churches also desperately need is long-term and stable support (from the central church and the diocese) combined with an acceptance that numerical growth doesn’t happen overnight. In fact overnight numerical growth could be a stimulus for concern.

I am currently enjoying reading Andrew Bradstock’s biography of David Sheppard (Batting for the Poor) and was struck by the nature of the mandate he received from Bishop Hugh Gough for the renewal of the Mayflower Centre. Bishop Gough believed that building a congregation was a thirty year job! Maybe he was right? After ten years the Sunday congregation at the Mayflower Centre numbered between 100 and 150, so maybe Bishop Gough was too cautious? But the one thing that Bishop Gough was not concerned about, even with his super star priest, was short-term, or overnight, success.

Renewal is harder than reform. It requires support, commitment and patience. But ultimately it is through Renewal that the church will sustain and grow. The architects of the SDF need to ensure that they are as committed to renewal as they are to reform; the evidence is that they are.

One thought on “Speaking of Renewal and Reform; money, numbers, and growth

  1. Many thanks for this. So, I’ve attended services at >5,000 churches, and nearly 500 this year. Of those attended this year, I would say that rather less than ten have viable demographics (though not all of the services I have attended are necessarily representative of the demographic health of the church in question; most are, however). About one or two had an age distribution representative of the wider population.

    The Commissioners are spending about 100m of their 8.3bn patrimony on ‘growth’ projects. Those who want the cash have to bid for it in most cases. The money is being distributed in proportion to population. This means that the large majority of parishes, which are rural (and which are frequently in straits) can expect little more than 17m. This is causing no little bitterness in a number of places: in some instance there is a risk of it making the strong stronger and the weak weaker. In any event the spend is in no way proportionate to the scale of the crisis. Much of the investment will be wasted; much will yield a return which is not proportionate to the outlay; it will, however, work here and there – but for how long?

    It is also, frankly, impertinent for the Commissioners to be playing Lady Bountiful in this manner. When the Pensions Measure 1997 (an overreaction to the disastrous Lovelock years) came into effect on 1/1/98 the Commissioners had assets of 2.4bn. No doubt, they would attribute the rapid growth since then to their own innate genius, and perhaps that is the case *to some extent*. However, the Commissioners have received considerable assistance, in that they ceased to be liable for prospective pension accruals from 1998, the liability being passed to the dioceses (i.e., to the parishes via the parish share system) thereafter on a PAYG basis. The dioceses had relatively modest assets in 1998, but few would have bargained on there being net negative real interest rates for 20 years (i.e., no compounding). The prospective superannuation of the stipendiary clergy (many of whom provide less value-added than their SSM colleagues) rests on rapidly declining congregations. The authorities also seem to harbour the delusion that the number of stipendiaries should be increased to offset the current bulge of retirements, but new ordinands are likely to be an insupportable burden on the increasingly parlous parish share system. What churches will have to die (i.e., be closed) so that the clergy who have served them (sometimes indifferently) might live? Having more stipendiaries in the past did not halt declining attendance; it will not do so now: to believe otherwise is a typical specimen of clericalist thinking, and an instance of the principal/agent problem. Indeed, why was it that the acerage possessed by the Church declined from over 2m acres before 1900 to less than 100k acres now? In part it was because freehold clergy sold their glebe; they burnt the furniture to keep the house warm after their income from commuted tithe fell with the price of corn in the late nineteenth century and then vanished altogether. This was one of the reasons why the Endowment and Glebe Measure 1976 became a necessity (it coincided with the final abolition of the residuum of tithe). Frankly, much of the clerical profession has been unaffordable for the wider Church for more than a century.

    So much, if not most, of the Commissioners’ asset growth since 1998 has been attributable to a regressive form of taxation, where the lowest and most vulnerable tier – the parish – provides an implicit subsidy to the highest and most affluent tier – the Commissioners. This strikes me as being highly invidious.

    My suggestion for preserving the existence of the Church ‘in every community’ is this: (i) confiscate about 6bn from the Commissioners (about 1.3bn is for pre-1998 accruals); (ii) create a Religious Buildings Agency under DCMS; (iii) amalgamate the CCT, the FFC, the little trusts like the NCT and parts of the Pastoral Division to form this Religious Buildings Agency; (iii) transfer the 6bn to the Agency as a dowry; (iv) vest title in all pre-1830 foundations and certain Grade I and II* buildings erected since then in the Agency; (v) grant the Church a perpetual free right of use in the whole vested stock; (vi) encourage parallel uses of the stock, where possible, to prevent the erosion of the dowry; (vii) create a panel consisting of a judge, a representative of the Church and the representative of the Agency in order to determine whether or not a parallel use is appropriate; (viii) consolidate all remaining diocesan and parochial assets in the Commissioners; and (ix) consolidate all of the administrative functions of the dioceses in the Commissioners.

    The dioceses would continue to exist but they would be purely pastoral agencies; their administrative functions are, essentially, a relic of the medieval baronies. Bishops and archdeacons could then concentrate on their pastoral activities; a huge amount of clerical time, which is dissipated on fretting about the upkeep of buildings, would be freed to concentrate on mission and pastoral work (after all, the clergy have not been trained to be adjuncts to the heritage business).

    The Agency would therefore have the economies of scale to procure materials and resources for the upkeep of the stock which tired and elderly PCCs will never have. The Commissioners would have the economies of scale to administer the Church which the dioceses decreasingly have: it makes scant sense for a diocese like Eds & Ips, which has nearly 500 churches, fewer than five of which have viable congregations (I have attended almost all of them), and regular attendance of little more than 20,000 (mostly elderly), to have a separate administration. We have also seen how the parish share system can be manipulated by extremist congregations/clergy to exert ‘moral suasion’ (i.e., blackmail) over the bench. We have also seen how a plethora of safeguarding teams have produced very variable outcomes, sometimes to the discredit of the Church. The whole organisation militates against economies of scale; it is very inefficient, and it risks accelerating collapse. R&R currently looks set to be almost as successful in stemming decline as the Decade of Evangelism. The Church has a dual responsibility: as the provider of pastoral services and as the custodian of what is arguably the most important part of the nation’s historic patrimony; it cannot hope confidently, like Mr Micawber, that something ‘will turn up’; the longer it does, the more [grossly] irresponsible it becomes with respect to both of these functions.

    To paraphrase the over-used aphorism of Lampedusa: ‘everything must change so that things can stay the same.’

    Apologies for the great length, and thank you again for your essay.

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