The project aims to help churches connect to their communities through better use of these historic buildings. 

The church has been very focused on defining its product, but less good at identifying and addressing its market. This project seeks to find out how communities perceive and value the churches in their midst, and how understanding those perceptions and values can be used both to support the long-term sustainability of church buildings, and also help the church succeed as a Christian presence in every community. 

While primarily used for religious services, church buildings are already used for other purposes such as the provision of nursery spaces and rehearsal spaces for theatre groups. There is currently, however, little information about the determinants for success and failure in making these buildings effective tools for the churches’ wider community mission.

The challenges facing church communities and their buildings have been extensively studied in the light of declining church attendance over several decades. This project aims to address the less-well-understood opportunities for churches to engage with the 97.7 per cent of their local communities who do not attend church.

It is the key aim of this project to understand the community value of church buildings and to identify how it might be used to promote both the long-term sustainability of church buildings, and the missional objectives of the church itself.  

  • Can a church building really be a “tool for mission”, or merely a site for worship?  
  • Can community use of church buildings facilitate the growth of the church as an institution, or merely prop it up in the face of long-term decline?  
  • Can such community uses alone sustain church buildings in the long run?  

This project will answer these questions, and others, in the context of existing strategies for churches and church buildings, national & local, sacred, and secular.

Project outcomes

The outcomes of the project are divided into three categories:

New ways of defining missional success will be devised which are a more genuine measure of the church/community relationship and missional outcomes than historic measures of attendance.

The contribution that churches make to the common good will be demonstrated over a diverse range of communities and buildings.

The position of churches as community assets and locations for community enterprise activities will be demonstrated.

The individual churches of the diocese will, for the first time, have a real understanding of the people in their communities, their attitudes towards the church, their needs from the church, where opportunities lie for the church.

Tools will be developed and provided to churches with support from their deaneries to assess attitudes, needs and opportunities.

Training will be given to deaneries and churches in:

  1. the application of these tools to collect data
  2. the processing and interpretation of the data to show the attitudes needs and opportunities
  3. the application of these findings in strategic planning for their church and community.

In places where this project reveals high need and many opportunities to be grasped, churches will be encouraged to apply these findings to their buildings through a development project using the methodologies recommended in Crossing the Threshold.

In places where this project reveals low need and no opportunities, both church and diocese will have good evidence to support their decisions for the future of the church building in that place.

Churches seeking funding support from grant givers will be able to put a strong needs-based case that differentiates churches from their competitors for funding.

The methodologies and tools developed for use at deanery/parish level during the project will be presented as an accessible and engaging toolkit.

Materials used for training at diocesan and deanery level will be distilled into a digital training manual, suitable for presentation by existing diocesan staff.

Both toolkit and training manual will be published and made available to other dioceses.

An online community will be set-up for sharing experience and good practice. This will be web-hosted and initially run/moderated by the diocese of Ely for its churches; but designed to admit to other dioceses and other denominations joining in due course

In order to ensure that the Ely Diocesan Board of Finance (EDBF) continues to equip new generations of leaders, EDBF will fund training sessions using the training manual, annually.

The replicability of the project in other dioceses will be facilitated via the training manual and the toolkit, which will be made available for free, and designed to be used without expert/professional input.  However, any local resource/capacity issues will still require to be met.