Preparing for Change
Time for Change?
A church building is often the first association people make with our faith. Rightly or wrongly, it is where they perceive that ‘religion is done’ and where they turn when needing help. How your building speaks about you, your openness, and engagement with people from all ages and backgrounds is important. Those first impressions determine whether or not people will want to develop a deeper relationship with the faith they see expressed not just in you and your worship, but in your building, its facilities and openness to the public.
If you are thinking about change, see the Autumn 2015 Churchwardens' Training Day DAC Presentation on why now is the time.
Is your building fit for mission?
Click on this quick health check to find out what your church building says about you. Everyone wants a church that is welcoming, comfortable and user-friendly. We also want somewhere people want to visit, to use for their wedding or meeting, to explore, to find comfort or peace, to welcome young and old.... and not least to support the work of the church. The building alone cannot be blamed for falling numbers or lack of newcomers. If replacing the pews and adding a kitchen are not part of a well-considered and researched scheme they will not make your church grow.
Is your congregation fit for mission?
Making change is never easy. Too much will be demanded of too few; some will campaign against any alteration to the historic fabric; others will see no need to change what is familiar and reassuring, others will threaten to leave. Lack of funding, time, energy and resources will always be put forward as impediments to change.
Making changes to a building will give you much to consider. Not everyone will agree with the need to change. Some may leave and others who rarely visit your church may raise objections. Good and consistent communication, collaboration and research will help you to explain and shape the need for change. Others will be attracted by your ideas and will be excited to see something new is happening. Inviting individuals and local groups to help develop your building project can be an excellent way of injecting new ideas, skills and energy into your thinking. Read How to Start a Friends' Group for your Church and how to recruit, train and retain volunteers
Before you begin - background reading
The faculty system allows reasonable changes to be made to church buildings so that they can fulfil the evolving needs of congregation and community. It requires due consideration is given to the historic fabric and contents of a church building and its surrounding environment. Proposals to change a building need to be supported by clear evidence and detailed understanding of your church building, congregation and parish.
Whilst funding criteria may have to be addressed in order to gain support for your project, it is important to stress your proposals must be evidence-led and not based on passing trend or whim. An understanding of the wider culture and circumstances in which you are operating is useful. The following resources are a select bibliography of recent writings on some of the key changes and new developments in mission, church attendance,churchmanship and community use of church buildings that can help you determine the changes your church building may require.
The aim of changing your church building should include making it:
- Open for worship and for visitors during normal working or daylight hours. If this is not possible, is there clear information about opening times, services and where a key can be obtained?
- Open in the sense of providing a welcoming atmosphere for all, including those of other faiths or none, and regardless of their reason for visiting?
- Open for partnership, where appropriate, with community and commercial interests, and for cultural uses such as heritage, education and tourism?
- Open for use by other groups, such as lunch-clubs, reading groups, food bank or exercise classes, that benefit the social well-being of your parish?
- Open in the sense of providing wherever possible good access and modern amenities, to facilitate the above?
And involve it becoming:
- Environmentally sustainable, striving to meet the goals set out by the Church in its Shrinking the Footprint campaign, and to protect and enhance the ecological value of our buildings and churchyard
- Sustainable in the true sense of conservation, which is “the responsible management of change”, preserving the heritage value of our churches and churchyards while seeking to enhance and reveal their significance and use
- Socially sustainable, by providing a resource which is accessible and attractive to large sections of the community, and therefore able to draw on this social capital
- Economically sustainable, in terms of covering the costs of mission, social outreach and maintenance, while maintaining healthy reserves.
Discerning when change is required, what shape it will take and what it will sustain requires a thorough understanding of your church building, congregation and parish and how they have evolved over time. Producing statements of significance and need that are robust, informative, and evidence based, will focus attention on where change can and does need to take place, and will help external agencies understand why you wish to change your building.