Does growth need management?

churchOver the weekend, two articles appeared in the Guardian by Harriet Sherwood, citing Martyn Percy’s disagreement with the direction the Church of England is apparently taking.

The first cites comments from the conclusion to a forthcoming book, which appears to express Martyn’s overall discontent.

One of Britain’s senior theologians has warned that the Church of England is in danger of becoming a narrow sect “driven by mission-minded middle managers” who are alienating clergy, congregations and the general public.

His concern appears to be in two directions: an intentional focus on mission as a goal; and the use of management techniques in the delivery of that goal. It’s worth pointing out that these two do not automatically go together; for many years evangelicals have complained about anyone who appears more concerned about management than about mission. And many who have focussed on mission have hardly been competent managers.

On mission, Martyn seems to be concerned that this is increasingly becoming a central focus—though this is quite difficult to disentangle from his worry that the Church has a focus at all.

According to Percy, the strategy is fundamentally flawed. “It will take more to save the Church of England than a blend of the latest management theory, secular sorcery with statistics and evangelical up-speak,” he writes. A cure for the ailing church “would require a much deeper ecclesial comprehension than the present leadership currently exhibit … There seems to be no sagacity, serious science or spiritual substance to the curatives being offered.”

Rather, he says, the church “is being slowly kettled into becoming a suburban sect, corralling its congregations, controlling its clergy and centralising its communication. Instead of being a local, dispersed, national institution, it is becoming a bureaucratic organisation, managing its ministry and mission – in a manner that is hierarchically scripted.”

Bishops are forced to operate like area managers, with targets set by headquarters rather than by spiritual pastors. He writes that the archbishop, a former oil industry executive, “has set about reforming and renewing the Church of England with a zeal and zest more usually associated with secular management consultants”.

It’s worth subjecting one or two of these criticisms to further scrutiny. What might ‘secular sorcery with statistics’ mean? One of the things that has dogged the C of E is lack of accurate information about what is happening, and we now have better information than ever. In what sense can this be described as ‘sorcery’?

Is the C of E becoming a ‘suburban sect’? Only one-fifth of the population lives in rural areas, but C of E attendance there represents two-fifths of the total. When a curate, I remember a rural minister bemoaning having only himself, a curate, three retired clergy and three readers to cover his nine villages. Population? 3,600. There was I, with my training incumbent, responsible for a parish of 10,000. Given that the ‘science’ shows that greater ministry resourcing typically leaders to greater numbers of church attendance, this was no surprise. To her credit, Harriet Sherwood includes in the second article a good number of answers to Martyn’s complaints in the first—largely from Ric Thorpe, recently appointed Bishop of Islington responsible for overseeing church planting.

Where the population is denser, there are fewer clergy around to reach those people. If we are an outward-facing church we need to position people where they’re most needed: 83% of people live in urban areas, but 83% of [church] finance doesn’t go there. But it should.

Is it better that the Church should be ‘local and dispersed’ in its ministry? One of the frustrations of many parish clergy is the time they waste on local administration (including maintaining churchyards!) that could be centralised—and I find it baffling to see 44 different dioceses replicating processes that could more easily done nationally. With tight diocesan budgets, centralising common processes becomes not just attractive, but essential.

So the more we look at Martyn’s complaints, the less support there is for them in the actual facts. So much for the appeal to ‘science.’

A much better, alternative view is offering in the recent report from the Centre for Theology and Community (not, Martyn please note, an evangelical organisation). It is anecdotal rather than systematic, in that it arises from interviews with church leaders across denominations rather than statistical analysis (sorcery!), and looks at ministry in the East End of London, including from some seriously deprived areas. It explores what these leaders understand by ‘growth’, and groups answers under three headings: numerical growth; growth in depth of commitment and discipleship; and growth in impact in the local community. It would be interesting to know which of these kinds of growth Martyn is opposed to.

One of the key findings is, perhaps, no surprise, though does offer a challenge to approaches like Martyn’s:

Although our sample is not statistically significant, it is interesting to note that there was a strong correlation between those who expressed a lack of interest in numerical growth and congregations which had not grown…In our sample, perhaps unsurprisingly, it does seem that the degree of intentionality behind growth is related to the likelihood of growth. (p 30)

In other words, if you don’t think growth matters, then it is less likely to happen. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford (and not an evangelical) comments in response:

Instead of talking about bums on seats, let’s instead talk about disciples being made and hearts changed; or best of all, let’s talk about lives transformed. It seems to me that the best way of answering the question, what sort of growth do we need, is not to say shall it be numbers or shall it be impact, or even to say shall it be both, as if these things were different from each other, but to say let it be growth in transformation.

Martyn’s second major complaint is about ‘managerialism’. Although it is possible that he is concerned with one approach to management rather than another, his comments appear to object to the idea of drawing on management theory or insights at all. Again, it is worth asking what the alternative might look like. Rochester Diocese recently announced that it has run out of cash; would an answer to this be more deployment of good management, or less? What would a ‘non-management’ approach look like? The Church Commissioners’ spend last year on the C of E (they are separate organisations) was £220m. Is it better or worse that there is some serious, reflective, strategic thinking about how this might best be spent in assisting the Church’s mission? Ric Thorpe again:

What’s changed is that [the church] is now saying, we want this money to go towards growth – which, when it’s in decline, is a wise investment. In this new thinking, you’ve got to demonstrate that you’ve got a plan, that you’re putting [funding] to good use, that it’s not going to something that’s dying. There’s an urgency about this.

Richard Peers, newly appointed as Liverpool’s next Diocesan Director of Education, and not an evangelical, commented online:

For me, the deep suspicion of managerial good practice in the church is disturbing. Good management, good systems and good processes keep everyone safe. The CofE it seems to me is only just beginning this process, I really believe we need it and will benefit from it.

There was some negative reaction to an early part of the Renewal and Reform programme, the ‘Green’ report on developing future leaders. (This was chaired by Lord Stephen Green, and not Sir Philip Green, for the avoidance of confusion!). But this was acknowledged and addressed, and the programme now has very wide support, not least because criticism have been listened to and problems attended to. Martyn claims to be speaking for the ‘largely silent majority’, and yet, if it exists, it is so silent that the support for R and R in the latest vote in Synod was (as Harriet Sherwood points out), unanimous. One wonders what kind of ‘majority’ this is. Harriet does cite one or two critics. Rob Cotton was a member of Archbishops’ Council prior to my appointment:

Membership is not the language that I and those that live in the soggy middle of the CofE often use. Of course we want more people to come to church, but I don’t think of the church essentially as a membership organisation.

Eddie Green, not an evangelical but a charismatic Anglo-Catholic, responds:

I cannot see the church surviving without becoming a membership organisation with high levels of commitment to growth from all the members of the church. But I understand where Robert is coming from. The difficulty is real and it needs to be addressed. Yet the soggy middle of the CofE does not have a great track record when it comes to growth.

It might then be asked: what exactly is Martyn Percy’s alternative vision for the Church, and does it have any merit? When I asked this about the similar concerns of Linda Woodhead, Robin Ward (Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford, and not an evangelical) responded:

It would seem to me does have a constructive message: the ethos of the Scandinavian style Volkskirche is the model you need if you want (fairly lukewarm) mass participation in a very devolved set up. Clericalist, organisational/managerial models produce corrosive contracting groups of feuding keenies rampaging through institutions designed for a much lower temperature of national participation.

My response was: that is a very big ‘If’! It is tempting to ask, do we indeed want the C of E to resemble the National Trust, a collection places of historic interest, to which people visit on their days off, but which does not demand a very high level of commitment as long as people pay their subscription? It might be tempting for me (as an evangelical) to ask: is this the vision of Scripture for the church? But a more problematic question for Martyn Percy, and others like him, is to ask: what is there in the formularies of the Church of England itself which would support this vision? It is very hard to read even a page of the BCP and imagine that its vision is for a ‘much lower temperature of national participation’.

So I think that is a resounding ‘no’—not based on sorcery, or evangelical narrowness, but on the basis of the C of E’s own words.

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35 thoughts on “Does growth need management?”

  1. Ian, thank you for this. I believe this is the most important debate we can have as a church at the moment. As Eddie said I don’t think there have been enough Catholic voices speaking clearly about the need for growth – and the biblical mandate to make disciples. I am in the middle of writing a blog in response to yesterday’s articles, you have responded better than I could on many of the issues raised so that gives me a the opportunity to think about a Catholic response, but perhaps more importantly to reflect on my experience as a Head teacher for the last 7 years and as a senior leader – in the jargon of schools – for the last 18 years. Not, I hope totally irrelevant experience .

  2. Transformational growth is 15 years away. It is based on a few Ifs though :

    1. IF those in their 20s and 30s at these vibrant evangelical churches have children and raise children who grow up in faith and remain, i.e. will this be a generation who, as they become parents, are able to pass on faith to the next generation more effectively than previous generations? (At least, those of the last 50 years . . . )
    2. IF the very best of all that is happening is generously shared. There is a particular “model” that feels very homogenous (HTB church plant = A middle class white couple (always a couple, always presented as a couple leading a church . . . with the bloke being the actual priest. I’ve hunted through the HTB church plants, yet to find a female priest leading one . . . or even a female curate or ordinand . . . I might have missed one trawling through all the blokes though) – and, It would be great to see the development of a minster model where the wealth of resources in terms of people particularly, ordained or otherwise was shared widely.
    3. IF one large regional church was not seen as a panacea for growth. Brighton is a great example – one church like this is not enough to serve the whole of Sussex. I live 14 miles away in a town of 35,000 (and growing) . . . I am in that part of the “Rural world” which is NOT about remote villages in the middle of Norfolk serving 3 sheep and a donkey . . . but small to medium sized towns where the Church of England needs support and encouragement : Worthing, Eastbourne, Chichester, Crawley, Horsham . . . these are all towns in need of revitalised ministry. Hastings now has a church plant from St Peters, Brighton so will be interesting to see how that develops.
    4. IF statements like this don’t become the accepted terms for our current trajectory :
    “Where the population is denser, there are fewer clergy around to reach those people. If we are an outward-facing church we need to position people where they’re most needed: 83% of people live in urban areas, but 83% of [church] finance doesn’t go there. But it should.”
    – two problems with this statement from, is it Ric Thorpe you are quoting here?, Firstly, “there are fewer clergy around to reach those people”, it might be semantics but with the Reform and Renewal programme emphasising a fresh impetus around developing the laity the continued default to clergy “do” it and clergy this and clergy that doesn’t help . . . yes, clergy often lead by casting vision and lead by example by getting stuck in to evangelism . . . but, it is an old vision of mission being cast. Clergy – just how do they reach people in their work place? It is their congregation, in their workplaces best placed to reach people – clergy need to be equipping people for this work, not thinking they need to be the main people doing it. Secondly, messing about with stats. Here is a thing – 300,000 people live in Brighton . . . good place for a church plant, ok – but across Sussex there are something like 1.7million people (most of those rural / semi rural / small towns . . . ) London is 8million, the whole of Scotland is 3million . . . you just can’t lob out these stats and say here is our proof for re-directing investment and support for growth. Huge towns surrounded by a large county or area of the country with many smaller population centres massively skews the focus – yes there needs to be re-balancing, but it needs to be better articulated and more nuanced than this blunt way of thinking about the money.

    Those are my IFs. Of those, if in 15 years we see children and young people from these HTB church plants and others remaining in the church then this will be the most thrilling marker of genuine growth. We have made disciples who can in turn nurture the next generation as disciples.

  3. Does the ‘new strand’ of the C/E need management? With all ‘good’ answers it is yes , and no! As I recall administration is a gift of the H/S, so yes…. However does it need micro management? No, would it help if each cong was given £X to get on with it as it were, and thus become more autonomous… Within reason each cong is automous anyway, but maybe a bit more… Thus supplying local needs….. I note with interest that the prev.ious comment was very SE orientated… Aren’t the northan and midland regions with saving…. Thus I have betrayed my evangelical roots! Sorry

  4. To an outside observer it can seem as if the CofE is pursuing “effective management” as the end in itself, rather than a means to an end. The ‘higher-ups’ often confound people further by not stating clearly enough (and sometimes disagreeing about) what the ‘end’ should actually be in the first place! I therefore think Martyn Percy is right to point out that this is a risk, even if his choice of language is knowingly provocative. Even if it is untrue, or based on a misunderstanding, it is still the perception a lot of people have; nothing seems to be being done/said to challenge or gainsay that notion.

    That said, I’m in agreement with Ian that the biggest issue with what Percy says is that he throws some ‘accusations’ at the CofE but offers no solutions, or even hope. It is piece of one-sided criticism and so lacks balance.

    As an aside, I’m certain Martyn used the word ‘sorcery’ knowing it would get a reaction from people he feels have an overly-bureaucratic, or numbers-driven attitude. I think in parts of this blog you’re giving him the response he wanted.

  5. I think the key to Martyn Percy’s discontent is in that other quote attributed to him:

    “The way Evangelicals talk about God is highly off-putting.”

    I think his main problem is that all of this is being driven by Evangelicals; whether this is because HE feels put off by our language (and theology?) or whether it is because he feels that it will put off rather than draw in the unchurched, I can’t say, since I don’t know him.

  6. I am fascinated by this piece as though I started in London I then moved to the USA where we use attendance not population as the most useful base, it is then correlated to the size of the local population. This gives an idea of the potential for outreach and mission. I understand the goal to be that of making disciples for Christ who will then make disciples. However in our outreach we seek to transform the society in which we are placed and follow the call to be “leaven.”

    Once we look at the size of the congregation based upon attendance then it is mostly leadership styles that make the most difference. Are we a benevolent dictator or a team leader/part of a team? Do we share authority? Do we use rigid job descriptions or let each person minister according to their gifts and maintain the vision? The very dynamics of size make a huge difference. The Rev Arlin Rothauge wrote a seminal leaflet back in the 80’s called “Sizing up a Congregation.” The sizes were “Family,” “Pastoral,”Program” and “Corporate.” Since I have pastored in each of these sizes I know that not only are different leadership styles needed but also how can we change the system that coheres in each type.

    The Rev. Kevin Martin, now retired, used to teach leadership courses for clergy. We were able to learn how best to be effective clergy, understanding our different styles and gifts of ministry in the context of our different parish types and recognizing how long it might take to be an effective parish priest. Always the deal was growing by making disciples. Rather than build a bigger church might it be better to plant a new church.
    There is lots here that may be more applicable to newer countries such as the USA. I have been involved in some work in South America in the planting of Anglican Churches where our goal has been Social and Spiritual transformation by the planting of new congregations among the very poor.

    I am running on a bit – my point is that the categories of the above conversation seem to exclude some other approaches to parish ministry. How did Jesus lead and train his disciples? How did Paul plant and develop churches? I now that we can learn from some modern practices and principles of leadership and management. However two things are constant. Jesus must be the head of the Church, not mere men. And, The Holy Spirit must lead, direct and empower. All else is vain, built on “sand” or simply the “traditions of the elders.”

  7. I think an interesting point in the Centre for Theology & Community report was this quote:

    “It’s a priority, but it’s not clear what works…Of course we would like to see numerical growth, but in my experience, I don’t understand it, it doesn’t seem to correlate with effort.”

    I sometimes feel that, while it’s great to celebrate growth, those that are not seeing it, despite their efforts, need support. I can imagine that if you have been struggling for years and then a plant shows up with 25 young people from elsewhere and a nice video & lots of praise, you might feel a little hurt. I say that as someone at a plant! I know of a priest in a very deprived area who’s increased his congregation by a dozen or so – I feel he needs encouragement too.

    It’s interesting that in the CTC report, immigration seems to have played a bit part in church growth. I also think it would be good to see some more in-depth analysis of church-planting – is it fair to say, as per Guardian, that it’s just moving people around rather than attracting new people? I’m not sure that we know? Although I think an earlier CTC report found that 20% of those going to plants in East London were either returning to church after several years or were completely new to church.

    I would query the line about evangelism and “zealots” as evangelism seems to be one of the topics that actually unites Synod – it is not just the preserve of Evangelicals! Does charismatic worship make people feel uneasy? Maybe. Although I brought a friend along to church once (not generally a fan of church) and was worried he’d be alarmed by the women with both hands in the air in front of us and he told me, to my surprise afterwards, that he thought it was really moving and great to see someone look so free. “Repulsed” is a very strong word and I’m not sure there is evidence behind the claim that “more people are turned off than turned on.” I could be wrong! I’m not sure we ever really explored this enough

    I think what worried me about the article is that it paints the CofE as a rather unhappy place, with an internal war that requires “decoding” for the unchurched. Maybe a few people will be fascinated, but won’t more be put off? I wish we could be a little kinder to each other, on all sides.

    When our plant was in its early stages there was local concern and one of our biggest champions was Philip North (then Anglo-Catholic vicar next door, now Bishop of Burnley). There are pictures of him somewhere literally sleeves rolled up helping to clean and tidy the building. If evangelicals are becoming the dominant force within the CofE I really hope that we can be humble and generous in return.

  8. Great dismantling of Percy’s position. It is a worrying trend, this anti-mission, anti-organisation guff. The church shouldn’t be intentional about mission. Great plan. This presumably comes from the same Bible that is enthusiastic about same-sex marriage.

    One thing I would dispute: your eagerness to centralise administration in the CofE. This puts too much faith I think in the ability of a central office to administer systems competently and efficiently. Better to help dioceses to do things better than engage in any wholesale transfers of areas of responsibility.

    • Hi Ian,

      I’m actually with Percy on this, having read his critique of Reform and Renewal: On Not Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Titanic

      The essay gives some idea of what Percy means by secular sorcery with statistics,

      Particularly, in relation to the top-down fear-fuelled intolerance of dissent on the Reform and Renewal proposals, he wrote: :This helps explain, in part, a conversation I had with a clergywoman several months ago, whose bishop had spent a day in her rural parishes. One of her churches had an electoral roll of 25, in a village of 400. ‘This will all be gone in a decade, unless something radical is done’, the bishop opined – both bleakly and critically.

      The same bishop conducted a ministerial development review just a few weeks later, for a clergyman running a ‘fresh expression’ – a new congregation of young people in their 20s and 30s. The congregation had enjoyed stable-but-flat numbers of two dozen. Apparently, these statistics were fine for the bishop, and the clergyman’s ministry was duly affirmed.

      You further state: When a curate, I remember a rural minister bemoaning having only himself, a curate, three retired clergy and three readers to cover his nine villages. Population? 3,600. There was I, with my training incumbent, responsible for a parish of 10,000.

      That’s one way of looking at it. However, Ric Thorpe’s declaration that: 83% of people live in urban areas, but 83% of [church] finance doesn’t go there. But it should.,is a facile response to current ministry challenges. For, despite the higher population density in urban areas, 66 per cent of parishes are rural. And we know that the vast majority of rural churches are in multi-parish benefices.

      As one parishioner explained in last year’s report, Released for Mission: Growing the rural Church (GS Misc 1092): “Our parish priest has 13 churches and he spends half his life in a car! And he’s never going to get to know our individual people here as if he’s only seeing the people who go to church once a month. He’s never going to meet the people who don’t go to church.”

      I don’t think that Percy opposes ‘an intentional focus on mission as a goal’, but he does oppose a narrow panic-driven doctrinaire position on what counts for mission (according to the catechism of From Anecdote to Evidence) and the pursuit of those kinds of mission at the expense of ministry to less densely populated rural areas. ‘We can’t do both’ is not the right answer, when the Church Commissioners are earning 8.2 per cent on a £7 Billion portfolio.

      As he explained in contrasting rural ministry with a recent Fresh Expressions:Both forms of ministry are valuable within a mixed economy. But one contributes much more to the diocesan coffers than the other. Only one connects with many hundreds of people every week through baptisms, weddings, funerals, other services, and numerous village events. Only one preserves and fosters a rich heritage of buildings and practices, cherished over many generations. So my hunch is that the village church will be active and alive for many years to come. ‘Out with the old, in with the new’ is a strangely dissonant motto at this juncture.

      I think he has a point.

      • I’m sympathetic to what you say – I think rural ministry is very important for the reasons you give. I was very dismayed by the anti-rural sentiment running round last year, led by Giles Fraser in the Guardian. But still, you do get the sense that Percy is not very keen on evangelicals and evangelism, or being intentional about growth.

        Having said that I do think the Church is in danger of wasting quite a lot of money in the coming several years on short-term but unsustainable projects aimed at growth, and am sceptical about Fresh Expressions for that reason. If the Church sells too much silver for frothy projects it will pay a heavy price.

  9. Intriguing discussion for someone who isn’t really an Anglican though is heavily involved. The most interesting thing for me was the comment attributed to Martyn Percy in one of the Guardian articles to the effect that preservation of the institution was the main thing; growth might follow or it might not. Quite apart from the fact that committing the institution to a path that may not lead to growth seems a strange way of preserving it given the human propensity to die, don’t you end up with a suburban sect – parish churches in other locations seem likeliest to die first if current trends continue. So what is achieved?

    More confusing is the concern with mission as a goal. I thought the church was (God’s) misision and if it wasn’t it wasn’t the church?

  10. It’s worth reflecting on what management is for. If I think about management positions I’ve held in secular employment, the key has been to facilitate those who I’ve managed, to help them do their jobs as effectively as possible, to provide opportunities for growth and training, to provide vision and strategy and, occasionally, to correct inappropriate or even down right dangerous (define dangerous how you want) behaviour. Why some like Martyn Perry *don’t* want our senior leaders trained in doing this better is beyond me.

    • I suspect he would be less unhappy with that model, as would I. But I have had very different experiences, where good front-line managers struggled to keep all that good practice going in the teeth of formula-driven, spreadsheet obsessed, senior management who constantly micro monitored on the easily measured while the actual job could barely be done for the difficulties ever increasing recording, re-recording (no one system ever cross-linked to another) analysis and comparison interposed between the worker and the work. And don’t get me started on the jargon…
      Anyone else who’s ever been exposed to poorly applied packaged programmes such as Lean (the best known, but plenty of others) and still shudders at the sight of a whiteboard will be seeing something different to those with more fortunate histories.
      Also, the plan does seem to be a lot more top-down than your model – delegation and trust are essential to good management and avoiding managerial burnout. We have good, experienced Churchwardens and PCCs who often already have financial and management skills and should be encouraged to share the load. Too easy where the priest is a former business boss to slip into that familiar comfort zone and forget they have changed Masters?

  11. If you were to start evangelising a country from a base of zero Christians your activity might well be of the mindset of HTB, but using methods appropriate to the culture you found there. If, as time progressed and by the grace of God, you came to rejoice in much fruit for your labours you would necessarily look to organise local church groups where the new Christians could grow and support each other in their faith. You would be keen to ensure the most gifted and mature people were in place as pastors to the new churches. You might even wish to produce a common form of liturgy which enabled and ensured Godly and recognisable worship in each of the churches…etc, etc.

    It might indeed have echoes of our parish system. The rural churches would experience different advantages and disadvantages from the town churches – solutions to issues raised would vary accordingly. As the years went by in the (hopefully) more Christianised country you might take delight in the maturity of the ‘parish’ churches and see them as a natural place from which more growth would come. Given that a vision for mission was your starting point it would be surprising and disappointing if that were to fade as the complexity of maintaining your structure of parish churches started to absorb your energy. Hopefully, a vision of maintenance and mission going hand in hand would cause you to see the necessity for both. What you would not want to see would be one arm of the enterprise arguing against the other – both should be working for the glory of the Lord whose power to transform lives never lets us assume that the job is done so long as we have breath left in our bodies.

    We in Britain are now many centuries along that path and there have been all manner of hiccups and anomalies in our history. But it remains as true as ever that our job is not finished, and because if we are not going forward we are almost certainly going backwards, we need to manage ourselves well; our situation is endlessly complicated but the essential job remains the same. Some of our management will be the tedious ‘churchy’ stuff which some evangelicals will dread, and some of it will be involved with the more unpredictable (more exciting?) missional endeavour which will turn a good proportion of clergy pretty queasy. But it all needs to be done and done to the glory of God. I would guess we all see the need for this, we just need to work out how to become more efficient while avoiding becoming slick.

  12. In the Guardian report I thought it was disgraceful that a church leader equated those who are focussed on evangelism as fringe zealots. No wonder the CoE has been dying. I also find the phrase “the soggy middle of the CoE” both hilarious and horrendous. Also this ridiculous anti mission and specifically anti evangelism rhetoric needs to be called out for what it is, utter rubbish. If the apostles and Christians for the past 2000 years hadn’t shared the Gospel, the Church wouldn’t exist, we wouldn’t know the reason we were created and we’d have no hope for eternity. It actually makes me really angry ! Regarding the management stuff – what’s wrong with being good stewards?

  13. In some ways we do want the C of E to resemble the National Trust! The National Trust manages a huge collection of listed buildings and with quite stunning efficiency and value-for-money. How if the C of E were restructured to have a central department to do just that? – churchwardens could get on with all the other great work that needs to be done to support incumbents, congregations and mission, and they might get a life back as well. And as a member of a C of E electoral roll I would be delighted to subscribe 20% of my contribution to Central Maintenance and the other 80% to my parish.

    Other organisations operate a two-tier membership system also. Both the English Chess Federation (ECF) and Table Tennis England (TTE) expect you to “belong” principally to your local club – but if you are going to compete, then you also pay an annual sub (less than £50) to the national organisation which tracks results, insures you for public liability while on club activities, publishes rankings and does the other things that a central bureaucracy does best. It works brilliantly.

    • In several European countries the “heritage” Churches are maintained by the State, with or without a dedicated tax. In England I suspect that would end with a lot of rundown churches, new “quirky mediaeval” homes and pubs, but there is clearly a template for centralised property management that might be worth learning from.
      Only caveat might be that every little local dispute about Uncle Fred’s donated pew or whether teddy bears can be placed on a grave would become a National Issue for yet another bashing journalist short of “controversial” copy…

    • Jamie, I’m a member of the Church Buildings Council, the body that oversees a lot of the C of E’s work with church buildings, and although sympathetic in some ways with your point I don’t think it would work in practice. Local ownership and responsibility are an important plank in the ongoing strategy of looking after and developing our church buildings in a way that facilitates mission.

      Put it another way, it would be lovely if ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ are) would take away the challenge of maintaining our church buildings, and of course the fundraising. But ‘they’ don’t know the building as well as the wardens and local congregation – every one of the 16,000 buildings is different with its own quirks and history. ‘They’ won’t fundraise as well or passionately as the locals, would charge for their services (unlike the wardens) and would not be able to give the attention the different buildings need. So a centralised model of church care would probably be a lot more expensive and not as good.

      It’s the same sort of principle for churchyards, which Ian mentioned. I’m the vicar of 3 open churchyards myself, and if someone wanted to take the responsibility away from us I’d fight tooth and nail against it. I don’t have the confidence that anyone else would look after our churchyards with nearly the care and attention that our team at the church does. Yes there are a few times I’d quite like not to have them, but hey this admin side is why I’m a ‘Clerk in Holy Orders’, and they’re actually really important in our ongoing mission and connections with people in the villages – not just through bereaved families, important though that is, but also locals on grass-cutting rotas etc.

      • Well Peter, you are an expert and I am not. But in general when I visit a NT property it feels that the property side is being done well. Too often when I visit a church that confidence is lacking – I get invited to admire the 15th-century corbels and politely hide my efforts to make sure I’m not standing underneath one of them in case it collapses.

        Or let me put it another way. So many churches have installed loos, disabled access, and the achievement, given the structure of the building, fills me with breathless admiration for the local people who have done it. When I visit the NT, loos, disabled access and top-class hygiene are just routine.

        • Yes I wouldn’t disagree, but that’s probably a function of the way that the National Trust and C of E are at their heart quite different organisations, with different ultimate aims and challenges. Property maintenance is (of course) a key strategic aim for the NT, but in the C of E it’s (rightly) lower down the list of plates to spin. If a church community put ‘maintaining their corbels’ at a higher value than ‘preaching the good news’ there would be something deeply wrong….not that there aren’t some churches that do.

          A few other practical differences:

          According to the website the NT has about 500 different properties, compared with the 16,000 C of E buildings (12,000 listed). The NT properties tend to be in nice areas, focussing its appeal to middle class people, whereas the C of E has buildings in – and a wider mission to – every parish in the country, rich or poor.

          Those loos in the NT property are generally not in the (heavily listed) main house – they’ll be somewhere in the extensive grounds. Churches generally don’t have much free land to locate a nice café and shop – it’s a tricky job getting planning to build over graves. So planning has to go through a lot of compromises, even if the DAC is friendly. And most churches don’t charge for admission – but the ones that do will usually have good facilities.

          All in all I think it’s comparing apples and pairs.

    • Just to add that in July there was a fairly modest proposal in General Synod to centralise procedures for Quinquennium inspections. Each diocese has its own policy at the moment. I spoke in favour, but it got blocked by Synod as a whole – even the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke against it. People wanted to keep their church buildings management local !

      • I was most pleased to see that blocked by Synod, and I didn’t realise Justin spoke against it too, but that is very reassuring. In Coventry (where I am DAC secretary) we were opposed to what looked suspiciously like more CBC empire-building. Local management is a part of the CofE’s DNA, and is beneficial for all the reasons you outline above. CBC does a fine job in many ways, but we have no particular desire to see it do more, especially of what we are already doing.

        • Hi Will, I’ll just say the GS debate was a learning experience for the CBC….

          The whole centralism vs decentralism debate/ discussion is of course very much a theme across the C of E. I think part of the challenge is that we do need a reasonably strong & coherent voice on a national stage – in general, but certainly in buildings where we have such a vast portfolio – but at the same time we are very much a grass-roots organisation. There’s always going to be a tension in one form or another between Church House, the dioceses and the parishes, but hopefully that’s usually a creative tension, and perhaps usually best managed on an issue-by-issue basis.

  14. All,

    For the Experiences of Ministry Survey 2015: Respondent Findings Report, which was published in Complete and useable responses were received from 1251 stipendiary, 547 self-supporting and 162 active retired clergy, including representatives from all Dioceses in the country.

    I was particularly interested in Table 1: Time spent (hours) across activities during previous seven days by role.

    I crunched the numbers on this table and was startled that the proportion of clergy time which is spent on Administration and Organisation (between 14 to 23 per cent).

    By comparison, the following activities add up to a substantially lower proportion of the clergy’s working hours:
    *Running nurture courses for new Christians and/or new member
    *Working with children and/or young people
    *Use of social media; Intentional outreach
    *Leadership role in local community

    So, here’s an open question to clergy. Would it be possible to delegate any of the following typical admin activities:

    Develop and, before circulation, review meeting agendas, papers and commissioned reports for PCC, standing committee and sub-committees (hall, catering, social, fabric and furnishings, publicity, environment, disability awareness, finance)
    Review reports on premises, health and safety, maintenance requirements and safety inspections; maintain list of premises key holders;
    In conjunction with PCC, review/approve office budget, purchases of equipment and supplies and bookkeeping statements
    Prepare job specifications and conduct staff interviews/appraisals
    Complete/approve statutory returns, registers, certificates and applications (e.g. Marriage, baptism, funeral, usual Sunday attendance)
    Review/approve rotas for preaching, intercessions, communion assistants, sides-persons, hospitality
    Reply to parish/deanery and diocesan communications: e-mail, post, telephone
    Prepare/review orders of service for worship
    Review information on baptisms, funerals, christening and birthdays before publication in weekly notices
    Review contributions and drafts before publication in parish communications
    Editorial scrutiny in production of the Annual Report in readiness for Annual Parish Meeting

    • David, the short answer for me is that I can and do delegate at least some of them. Actually if a vicar/ church leader was doing everything on that list they’d probably go mad, and would probably be in the wrong job. I have a fantastic supportive team at the 3 churches where I’m vicar. But there are realities to being the only full time staff member working in a volunteer-based organisation. That mean that at times there are limits to what can be delegated.

      There are also some of those tasks on that list that it wouldn’t be appropriate to delegate. If I’m leading worship preparing and reviewing the Orders of worship is really important. There’s no way I can ignore the preaching rota either and playing a major role in putting it together.

      Similarly for major admin things it’s sometimes important I’m properly on top of things – for instance in one of our churches we have quite a complex heating project going on at the moment – at times I’ve needed to be hands-on to co-ordinate the PCC, the DAC and the folk ‘on the ground’ to steer through levels of approval. Similarly, responding to emails & communications from the deanery or diocese – usually there’s a reason that I’ve been contacted myself so it’s appropriate that I answer.
      I’m sometimes the only person who can do these things, and as the overall leader I always have ultimate (human) responsibility.

      I think that that your list does show how much admin is involved in running a church. I’m deeply grateful to the people in my churches who have the gifts and who share the load.

    • David, if 14% to 23% averages out at 18.5%, or just under one-fifth, I’d say that’s an entirely suitable proportion of time given over to Administration and Organisation, just as it would be for any other middle-manager. Given that the incumbent is the spider at the centre of a complex web of interrelated activities. In fact I’m surprised it’s so low.

      But what were the big percentages, that’s what we want to know. What was it that took up 30% or 40% or even 50% of clergy time?

      • Jamie,

        The survey was fairly granular, but here are the averages across four categories of stipendiary ministry: (Incumbent; PiC; Chaplain; Diocesan; Dual role)

        Administration and organisation 17.92%
        Working with colleagues – 10.53%
        Preaching/Teaching incl. preparation – 9.36%
        Exercising pastoral ministry – 9.22%
        Participation in corporate/individual prayer – 8.63%
        Engaged in liturgical duties – 7.79%
        Leadership role in local community – 5.01%
        Working with children and/or young people – 4.72%
        Other – 4.65%
        Intentional outreach – 4.17%
        Conducting and preparing for occasional offices – 4.13%
        Engaging in your own CMD – 3.91%
        Travelling time to and from worship centres – 3.69%
        Use of social media – 1.87%
        Fund raising – 1.76%
        Enacting legal responsibilities – 1.57%
        Running nurture courses for new Christians and/or new members – 1.06%

        I don’t need to be reminded of the category error, but when I compare my secular role as an IT manager of a team of six consultants, a significantly higher proportion of my time than 4 percent is involved in intentional outreach. And I certainly can’t spend one-fifth of my time on admin and organisation.

        These church statistics go some way to explaining some public perceptions that most clergy have little for (or genuine interest in?) intentional outreach; that they prefer to preach to the receptive adherents who comprise their congregations.

        Laity take their cues on intentional outreach from the clergy who are authorised to lead them. And that involves incumbents leaving the centre of the spider’s web for more than 4 percent of the time, doesn’t it?

        • I believe Ministry Division thought that the Administration and organisation category was problematic because different respondents defined its contents in different ways – it’s a bit of a general category for a leader of an organisation like a church. I’m not sure how they resolved this definition issue in the end (they did more work on it I think), but it is worth bearing in mind with this research.

        • Thanks David, that’s really helpful.

          At just over 4%, I agree with you that “Intentional Outreach” is emphasised a lot less than it should be. Also I’m surprised that Fundraising shows as under 2% – there is scope for some ministerial self-deception on this point. Apart from that it seems to me that our clergy have got it very well balanced.

        • I would have liked to see one extra category – “Managing Upwards” – ie proactively building relationships with Rural Dean, Archdeacon, Bishop etc etc, whoever is the person in whose good books it is great to be when a new opportunity, possible promotion or crisis comes up.

  15. In response to David Shepherd, I would say that in my parish it is difficult to delegate because there are insufficient people with the necessary skills or confidence to take on the type of tasks you mention. (It ranks 1,256 out of 12,599 in the Church Urban Fund poverty index where 1 is the most deprived parish).

    To others I would ask where does traditional pastoral work fit in? Sometimes in a post funeral visit or other pastoral encounter, I sense a mythical person from the diocese or central church on my shoulder asking ‘Is this person going to come to church? Is this person going to give any money? If the answer to those questions is ‘no’, then like a salesman walk away’. But that is not what Jesus did!

  16. I’m currently vicar of three rural parishes, but until then all my church experience had been in single-parish evangelical town/suburban settings. I’m still evangelical, just not suburban any more! I think one thing that exercises me in the current debate is the way some commentators seem to pit urban *against* rural, rather than working towards gospel interdependence. I’d love to ask him more about what he meant, but I have Ric Thorpe’s comments particularly in view at this point.

    Until I moved to the country, I had little understanding of the wonderful work going on here. Rural churches can be vibrant, committed to mission and outreach, with a far greater “market penetration” (to borrow language from the corporate world) than their urban sisters. Looking just at raw population data may not be the best way to assess where clergy should be deployed. (And even if it were, with the huge numbers of new homes being built in rural areas it would be a Beeching-like shortsighted move to shut churches only to have to open them again when the 10,000 new homes are finished…)

    With respect (genuinely, not in the Sir Humphrey Appleby sense!) Ian’s curacy experience is no longer typical. The vicar with nine parishes is not likely to have a curate, and may not have retired clergy to offer support either. Not all churches will have a service every week, or even every fortnight, and that really is a plan for decline. The likelihood is that the vicar will have some Readers (wonderful people) but will be the only priest/presbyter for all nine parishes. All occasional offices will have to be carried out by that person, and there is a far higher demand for clergy still to take those in rural areas than in urban. I have personally witnessed church growth as a direct result of those occasional offices.

    I think the thing that really troubles me is the idea that rural churches are a problem to be solved, not an opportunity to be grasped. Either that, or we’re ignored altogether. The Church Commissioners’ latest annual report had *no* examples I could find of any funding or projects in rural areas. That doesn’t mean they’re not happening, but they’re not highlighted, which makes it all too easy for people to assume everything in rural areas is dying. It really isn’t. The “soggy middle” may need toning up, but that’s a different question. Growing churches are not exclusively suburban, nor are they exclusively evangelical.

    I am all for growth and renewal; it’s why I answered God’s call to ordained ministry, to lead Christ’s people in proclaiming his glorious gospel, so that the good news of salvation may be heard in *every* place, and to build up his people for acts of service, so that yet more people’s lives may be transformed by the gospel and God may be glorified.

    So, what I’d like to see is admin/structural reform and renewal in order to free me and others for the work of leading our congregations in mission. I’d like to see partnerships between urban/suburban churches and those in neighbouring villages, sharing resources, people, clergy, etc, supporting the deeply-rooted work already going on in the area. There are some exciting things going on in our Diocese (St Albans, also home to Fr Eddie Green) seeking to do just that, but it will take time for their fruit to grow.

    • Hi Fiona,

      What I love about your comment is that it combines understanding gained from experiences ‘in the trenches’ of urban and rural ministry with your obvious yearning for mission.

      I am also disappointed by the conspicuous absence of rural examples in Church Commissioners’ 2015 Report. However, I’m not surprised, since re-branding the Church as ‘young, hip and urban’ has become so central to the marketing of Reform and Renewal. The hype that began with From Anecdote to Evidence Has continued unabated.

      Ultimately, hype, however well intended, involves a good measure of deception: in this case, turning a blind eye towards the disparity in rural church resourcing. It’s why we still need to scrutinise any ensuing proposals critically and expose flawed thinking whenever it surfaces. And that may well be unpalatable and contrary to the mantras of church growth orthodoxy.

      As an example of insightful scrutiny, I would highly recommend Mark Hart’s excellent critique: Frrom Delusion to Reality It’s a real eye-opener!


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