The Church of England nationally proposes that dioceses undertake strategic reviews of church buildings. This project is firmly rooted in that context, as a product of the Diocese of Ely’s own strategy for growth; and seeks to take a very outward-looking approach, both in terms of the methodologies employed to achieve the aims of the project, and its primary focus on the communities surrounding churches.
A significant feature of the project will be capacity building within deaneries to enable deanery officers and other volunteers to undertake the work with only limited intervention from outside.
The scope of the project will examine church buildings in their broader demographic and economic contexts. This contextualised approach recognises that the success and sustainability of church buildings, particularly in rural areas, is dependent on their wider communities, how they value them, and how they perceive the church as contributing to the common good.
A review of current research suggests there is much more work to be done to understand how community use of church buildings, and also community values and perceptions of church buildings, might make them not only sites for worship, but truly tools for mission. There is currently little information available about the determinants of success and failure in this context. New research will also identify new ways of measuring the success of a church’s work in its local community which go beyond financial bottom lines and weekly attendance figures.
The project supports the aims of a December 2017 report for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. The Taylor Review: Sustainability of English Churches and Cathedrals sought to “lay the foundations for sustainability and consequently secure the future of these important buildings for so long as communities value these wonderful assets”.
One of the cornerstones of the Diocese of Ely’s Ely2025 Growth Strategy is to “Re-imagine our buildings”, so this project aims to provide every parish and every deanery in the Diocese with the tools to be able to understand the opportunities open to them in the context of their own communities. This will help them to provide a church that meets their community’s needs and gains its support, giving a sustainable future to these important historic buildings.