The end of the road for C of E growth strategies?

At last week’s Diocesan Synod in Chelmsford Diocese, a paper was discussed which proposed a radical reduction of stipendiary clergy posts from 275 to 215 within the next 18 months, a reduction of 22%. (Since these papers are in the public domain, you can read it for yourself here.) Despite some of these positions already being vacant, this will almost certainly involve making actual clergy redundant, which I think must be unprecedented in the modern era. With our (appropriate) current pre-occupation with the question of racism in society and the church, this might get overlooked or thought of as a local issue—but in fact this could be a turning point, since its implications point to a radical rejection of a commitment to a strategy of growth for the Church of England.

The introduction to the paper sets out the paradoxical pressures that has faced both dioceses and the national Church for some time:

a. On the one hand, it was widely predicted that 40% of serving clergy would retire in the next ten years, creating a kind of ‘cliff edge’ for stipendiary ministry. In fact, this has not been realised, since dioceses cannot control exactly when clergy retire, and many have been staying on longer than expected.

b. On the other hand, the Church of England nationally has never consistently reached its giving target of 5% of net income of those attending, and dioceses across the country are reporting growing deficits.

c. This paradox has been brought to a head by a very significant change in the way that the Church Commissioners distribute their funding. Prior to 2015, the Commissioners distributed funds according to what was known as the ‘Darlow formula’, which paid attention to needs in the dioceses in different ways, but paid no attention to commitment to or potential for growth. John Spence was the leading voice in the 2015 report Resourcing the Future, which proposed that the Commissioners money was divided into two: the Strategic Development Fund (SDF), which would give grants for church planting and church growth initiatives, each of which would need to become self-sustaining over a five-year period; and the Lowest Income Communities Funding (LInC), continuing support for the poorest communities across the dioceses.

This proposal was radical, in that it provided central leverage to see a change in diocesan strategies—radical, in the sense that it challenged the autonomy of the diocesan bishop to have complete control over his or her diocese. The proposal was accepted, but in order to work, it needed every diocese to make the radical reorientation to church planting, mission, discipleship and growth that the shift in finances assumed—and this has not happened, at least not uniformly.

Chelmsford Diocese have faced all these pressures, and appear to have been considering these issues for some time (friends in the diocese said to me ‘None of this comes as a surprise to us’). In fact, the proposals are potentially more radical; beyond the drop to 215 posts, the paper mentions the next move to 202, and that only 150 will be secure in the longer term—a potential 45% cut.

I am not involved in the diocese, so am not privy to discussions that have been happening. But I think that there will be some key issues to be debated there in the next few months—and there are enormous implications for the national strategy of the Church of England.

1. What has been happening in teaching about discipleship and giving across the diocese? There is a sense in which financial giving is the measure of discipleship; someone once said ‘If you want to know if someone is converted, look at his or her wallet’. Peter Hill, suffragan bishop in the diocese, commented in his Presidential Address (in the absence of a diocesan bishop):

Do you realise that if 20,000 of our roughly 30,000 church members across the diocese gave an average of an extra £1 a week it would raise £1m per annum and begin to address our immediate financial crisis; an extra £2 (one cup of coffee) would solve it and an average extra £5 a week would transform our mission capacity and enable us to plan to deploy more clergy and lay leaders! That is the simple reality. It really isn’t that big an ask for some of us, although of course it is for others.

2. How has this decision-making process been handled? I was intrigued that this radical plan did not appear to be presented as a decision for the Synod to vote on, but as a paper to note, with a decision to be made in November. But, six months on, with only 12 months then left for execution, this will surely be too late to make a decision—it appears to be assumed that this plan will be implemented.

3. What will be the criteria for deciding where the cuts will fall? The paper includes the proposal:

Prune in order to enable growth. Based on Jesus’ teaching in John 15, our aim mustbe to enable gospel growth. Care will be taken not to cut posts that have strategic potential.

But the nub of the question will be the interpretation of that phrase ‘have strategic potential’. Does that relate to current clergy? Or physical location? Or theological tradition? If it happened that most of the churches currently growing were of a particular theological tradition, would it be acceptable to retain these and lose the others?

4. What will be the parallel approach to senior clergy posts? I understand that the diocese has recently increased the number of archdeacons to seven, in order to support growing churches. But if clergy numbers in parishes are being cut, what reason is there to continue to keep non-parochial clergy posts? Why, for example, do we now have half the parish clergy that we did a hundred years ago—but twice the number of bishops? Now, there is a catch here, in that episcopal posts are not funded from the dioceses, but by the Church Commissioners. But if we can make such radical change as moving from Darlow to SDF and LInC, why not divert this money as well?

5. In a similar vein, what will be happening to central diocesan staff? In our diocese, just under a quarter of those in full-time work or ministry for the diocese are employed centrally at the diocesan house (40.27 FTE employed in ‘central’ roles out of 186 in total, which is 22%, of which 142 are stipendiary parochial clergy, including curates). I don’t know what the proportions are in Chelmsford, or whether there is information about the national scene across different dioceses. But when clergy are being cut, should not economies be made there too? Why not look to centralise some of these functions nationally ?

6. Perhaps the biggest question for the future is about what this cut will lead to. As I have discussed before, one of the most robust findings in research on church growth is that total numbers attending correlate strongly with investment in stipendiary ministry. This is, in fact, a key conviction behind the whole SDF grant process. So there is every reason to believe that cutting these stipendiary posts will not be a ‘pruning that leads to growth’ but will in fact accelerate overall decline in attendance—leading to a further drop in income through giving, requiring further cuts. What is to prevent this being a spiral of terminal decline for the diocese?

7. This then raises a question, for this diocese and more nationally: what is the coherence between cutting clergy in existing parishes, and investing in church planting and pioneer posts funded by SDF grants? In fact, if those posts are factored in, presumably the historic posts and parishes will need to be cut even faster than the overall numbers suggest?

8. Part of the national response to the anticipated dramatic decline in clergy numbers through retirement was a commitment to see vocations to ordained ministry increase by 50%. But if posts are now being cut, how can that be effected? Why would people offer for ministry in a situation of declining opportunity? And, in any case, will there be posts for them to be deployed to at the end of training?

9. A more personal question for those of us in the Northern Province of York relates to strategic leadership. Stephen Cottrell was bishop of Chelmsford since 2010, so has been overseeing the diocese for a whole decade. He will very soon be inducted as Archbishop of York. We might now be wondering whether this approach—cutting clergy to address budget deficits—will under his leadership become a more widespread strategy. If so, I don’t think that is a very hopeful scenario.

At the moment, this is a decision being made by one diocese. And yet there are at least ten others who are, I understand, facing major deficits. The structural problems and strategic challenges were already there, and have been gathering momentum over the last five years. But all these have been rapidly accelerated by the pandemic of Covid-19 and the impact of the lockdown. The virus does seem to have created a krisis moment of judgement.

If this is the wider response of other dioceses (from conversations, it appears that at least a quarter are now actively considering clergy redundancies) it is hard to see how all the elements of the strategies for growth in the Church of England can remain intact.

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85 thoughts on “The end of the road for C of E growth strategies?”

  1. The end of the road for C of E growth strategies? No – the beginning of the end of a reliance on stipendiary clergy? Possibly / Probably. Part of the structural problems continue to spin around the value – in terms of “mission money” placed in clergy or laity. Is “Setting God’s People Free” part of the overall strategy for growth? What about “Growing Faith”? Where does that fit? The greatest challenge the national church faces is agreeing what it wants to do and having national teams work together in a coherent fashion. Too many initiatives, too much reliance on “let’s have an HTB resourcing church” has led to Diocese being unclear about local strategy whilst getting mixed messages about priorities from the national institutions. It’s a structural and strategic mess.

  2. “…since its implications point to a radical rejection of a commitment to a strategy of growth for the Church of England”

    As Ali comments above, I can’t see the correlation here. As long ago as 2003 Exeter Diocese faced the same question and published a far reaching report. It started by looking at Stipendiary numbers and trying to predict the very minimum the diocese could be run on. We had well over 500 parishes. But the members of the working party, of which I was one, soon saw that the future of church mission and growth should never just be about stipendiary clergy numbers and had to be more about laity. Each unit – be it parish, Mission Community (which is what we called them) or Deanery had to have a whole team of ministry – some of it ordained, some of it stipendiary. It recognised that stipendiary clergy were not always going to be the best leaders for mission. it recognised that some stipendiary/salaried lay people would be needed. It recognised that the local church could have as many clergy as they wished – they simply had to call them out and support them whilst they were trained and formed, and expect that not many of them would end up stipendiary. It was a far reaching and quite radical strategy. The complexity has been around the structures of parish administration and a parish system that doesn’t always fit a strategy for growth.

      • I see your point regarding clergy and believe it is undeniably true that if we want to see growth in the Church, then more clergy is ultimately the way to get there.

        The issue is that we need to get to a point where growth in clergy is sustainable – and at the moment in Chelmsford (like elsewhere in the Church) this isn’t possible. Clergy are deployed to parishes where the return for their stipend is not high enough to be sustainable. Addressing this issue is not abandoning a growth strategy, it is re-orientating with the intention of getting to a place where clergy numbers can grow, but in a way that does not put the diocese at risk.

        We can play the hindsight game and arguably this could have been avoided had the diocese have cut less people, but sooner, and redeployed earlier. But it didn’t – and we are in the present, so it is about the best way forward from this point – not from a hypothetical ‘if we did X 5 years ago’. Use the past to learn, but not as a scenario to base future planning decisions on.

        I dislike analogies, but here it is apt. There is a skyscraper in the City of London currently under demolition. This is to allow a building of greater height to replace it, as the existing foundations and structure would have proved incapable of supporting a building of the desired height and size.

        If we are aiming to build God’s Kingdom higher, we need to ensure the foundations of the dioceses can support our ambitions. We either get this right now, or we don’t get it right ever. I see this not as running from growth, but transforming dioceses so that they are bodies able to make strategic calls – tough calls, but necessary ones – in order to get to a stage in 10/15 years, we aren’t looking back and wishing we had done something sooner.

        • But I understand that there has not been a focus on giving as stewardship, led by the bishop.

          If clergy numbers are not sustainable, one of the main reasons for that is that those attending churches do not see giving as an integral part of their discipleship. As others have commented elsewhere, giving churches are growing churches.

      • Not without considerable research I guess. Which dioceses have increased their ASA numbers since 2003? And do we know what the change in stipendiary clergy numbers was in those cases?
        Can you be sure that an increase in stip clergy numbers correlates with ASA growth?
        I suspect the whole equation here is very complex and multi faceted.

      • Ian – many protestant denominations have no paid clergy (at least in valid orders recognised by Church of England), but have seen rapid growth (e.g. Hillsong and other Pentecostal movements). This is mostly a tongue-in-cheek comment… but I would point out that the ‘ministry’ status is probably less important than the ‘paid’ status. What matters is paid staff: I would place a bet, if I were a betting man, on growing churches correlating more strongly with paid administrative posts than with stipendiary clergy posts.

          • “That is why I avoid talking about correlation between ‘clergy’ and growth…”

            But the whole of the first paragraph of your post is about clergy makes exactly that correlation:
            “….since its implications point to a radical rejection of a commitment to a strategy of growth for the Church of England.

            For the avoidance of doubt then: ‘ministers’ does not mean clergy? If that is so, you need to make your first para rather clearer.

          • I am quite careful to talk about ‘investment in stipendiary ministry’ not ‘in clergy’.

            I think it might be the case that there are as many employed lay ministers in C of E churches overall as there are clergy. The growing church in whose parish I live has two stipendiary clergy, and four other paid staff.

          • I must be missing something Ian. The whole of your first paragraph is about stipendiary clergy.

            “At last week’s Diocesan Synod in Chelmsford Diocese, a paper was discussed which proposed a radical reduction of stipendiary clergy posts from 275 to 215 within the next 18 months, a reduction of 22%. (Since these papers are in the public domain, you can read it for yourself here.) Despite some of these positions already being vacant, this will almost certainly involve making actual clergy redundant, which I think must be unprecedented in the modern era. With our (appropriate) current pre-occupation with the question of racism in society and the church, this might get overlooked or thought of as a local issue—but in fact this could be a turning point, since its implications point to a radical rejection of a commitment to a strategy of growth for the Church of England.”

          • That is their terms. They have no plan to replace these with lay stidendiary ministry, so they are overall reducing stipendiary ministry by making clergy redundant.

            I didn’t think that part of my article was quite so difficult to understand…

          • The issue here is that you claim reducing stipendiary *clergy* numbers goes against the strategy of the C of E for growth and then go on to claim that you avoid talking about clergy and only talk about ministry.

        • And it’s no surprise that those growing churches pay their staff very well, and their pastors even better. In Aus all the Hillsong pastors get free cars, last time I checked about 10 years ago the Hillsong London pastor was on ,£120k (maybe after tax), a free 5 bed place in central London, a driver and a car, a pension, and at least 2 flights back to Oz a year for his entire family.

          • Well, I have read an allegation that Hillsong promote the New Apostolic Reformation Prosperity Gospel, the main aim of which is to bring prosperity to the church leaders.

      • Or, to put it another way, when there were many more stipendiaries than there are now, did it make one whit of difference to the remorseless trajectory of decline?

        It didn’t.

        Numbers of attendees jumped at my last church when its stipendiary was ‘encouraged’ to retire. He was replaced by an SSM.

        Whilst there are many excellent stipendiaries, there are also many coasters, and a not insignificant number who have done active harm to the churches they purport to ‘lead’. Which in the current straitened climate must make them worse than useless.

        Many thanks for your analysis, however. I agree with much of it. The abolition of the administrative and financial functions of the dioceses, the centralisation of administration in the Commissioners (who already manage the payroll inexpensively), and the consolidation of diocesan and remaining parochial assets in the Commissioners would realise economies of scale which increasingly desperate dioceses will never yield. Thus stripped of their bureaucratic retinues (surely a legacy of the pre-Reformation concept of the bishop-as-baron), bishops would function solely as pastoral and prophetic agents, instead of being constrained to act as CEOs or pen-pushing jacks-of-all-trades.

      • Hi Ian,

        Long time no see – hope you are okay! We turned things round in St Davids for a while through bringing in unpaid local church leadership by Focal Ministers. Focal Ministry is clearly both cheaper and better for growth than multi-church incumbency and is the most obvious way forward. But also at present, on average, online congregations are about 50% bigger than pre lock-down. If churches can keep that growth long-term and learn how to enable onliners to give, then finances will improve not deteriorate. Diocesan strategy should be about consolidating and developing the online growth – a far better solution to short term crisis than redundancies. I believe Stephen Cottrell does get that.

        • Thanks so much for your comment Bob! A couple of questions in return:

          1. I wonder how robust the figures are for online attendance? I have looked at a couple of situations, and in fact it is not quite as positive as first thought, not least because people are getting Zoom fatigue and the novelty is wearing off.

          2. The big question here is how do you translate online passive participation to real life active involved? There are a lot of barriers…

  3. Study the Pentecostal churches. Basically great use is made of voluntary help of all kinds. You need a small number of clergy mobilising a large number of laity.

  4. Chelmsford Diocese is planning to review the viability of posts that are unable to cover the costs of a full time stipendiary priest (“alternatives include interim ministry, a self-supporting priest-in-charge, or a licensed lay minister.”)

    But what about those parishes’ contribution to the coffers in terms of fees and glebe? Both have have been sequestrated by the DBF revenue streams be taken off the books? Income from glebe is derived from the generosity of past donors in previous generations; it has long since been sequestrated by the DBF — does it now count for nothing towards the costs of the parish to whom it was given?

    Is the future that we are increasingly congregationally funded and epsicopally led? Because this is the worst of both world for parish clergy.

    • Glebe was sequestrated as long ago as 1978. Before then much of it was badly managed as clergy were not necessarily gifted in land management. Most of such land was given nearly 1000 years ago. It was also very unevenly spread with glebe rich parishes often having far more than they needed and poorer ones none at all. There were villages which had an archdeacon as incumbent who had a curate to do the work all paid for by the glebe. At the same time there were large urban parishes with no glebe at all. Do you really want to go back to that? The historic purpose of Glebe was to fund the clergy as this continued as the income goes to the Diocesan Stipends fund which is a restricted fund.

  5. A few observations from a Chelmsford-born area dean in a diocese (Sheffield) that has been going through these dramatic changes for a few years now.

    In respect of point 1. Sheffield is one of the most generous dioceses in the country in terms of amount given per worshipper (especially when income is taken into account). The diocese has made a huge effort to grow common fund giving through Biblical teaching and appeals to generosity and yet year-on-year giving has declined. I suspect that at the root of this lies the difficulty in presenting a diocesan, rather than a parochial vision, to churches and congregations. It is easier to encourage an increase in giving when the end result is seen as an employed youth worker or community outreach. It is harder when the (justifiable) incentive is to provide Christian ministry fifty miles away.

    There is another point here, that Philip North has raised. Dioceses like Sheffield and Chelmsford were given very little financial help or reserves when they were carved out of the mediaeval dioceses. They have very little wiggle-room when common fund giving falls.

    In respect of point 5. In Sheffield central office staff were cut back a few years ago, in the eyes of some, too severely. Clergy and churchwardens frequently voice complaints that there isn’t enough central support to help them do their job. This is particularly acute as we see an increase in data protection, safeguarding, risk assessments etc. etc. Replacing Church House officers with on-the-ground clergy plays well with congregation members until advice and assistance is needed and is not forthcoming.

    I don’t see a clear correlation between clergy in posts and growth in churches. I have seen too many clergy ill-equipped for local church ministry bring about precipitate decline in their congregations. I have also seen fantastic priests bring about energy and change in multiple congregations. I don’t want to underestimate the cost for clergy of taking on additional churches. I have done so myself in the last year.

    You mention the question of tradition and churchmanship as a factor in church growth. Equally difficult is the question of demographics. Both Sheffield and Chelmsford have a huge disparity of wealth and deprivation. It can be easy to envisage growth in prosperous middle class areas. It can be difficult (without the eyes of faith) to see it in the tough estates and inner cities. The Bishop of Sheffield has been very clear that his strategy is not to push the clergy into the middle class areas, even though that might be the obvious strategy for growth. Investing in the tougher parts of the diocese may not lead to church growth (of course, it may do!) but it seems the right thing to do from a Gospel point of view.

    • Thanks–really helpful points.

      On the ministry/growth correlation, this is not a magic bullet; you need the right leaders, not just leaders, and again the research say an intentional approach to growth is key. But these two things (numbers and intention) are behind the SDF funding—and I am not aware of a better alternative view…

  6. Your point 6 – a clear correlation but what is the evidence that the causation is the way round you assume (investing in ministry results in more Christians) rather than the reverse (having lots of Christians means the diocese can afford to invest more in ministry)?

  7. Ian, I found the Anecdote to Evidence and then Evidence to Action reports both compelling reads. The reality laid out clearly with stats and research, We have been declining for years and only 40 years to go at current rate before we die!
    If this is true, they’re a few years old now, what has the strategy been? What is the strategy going forward? What might the new way ahead be now we have learned new things about our potential audiences?
    The major point of course is with all these reports who is listening and who might help put the answers into action?
    I agree with previous comments about charismatic churches, it’s my own background and the teaching is clear 10% we give, we keep 90% for ourselves, then we give our offerings to mission as God prompts us.

  8. Thanks for this Ian. I think the suggestion of a link between numbers of stipendiary clergy and church growth as measured by average Sunday attendance (ASA) needs still to be proven. I am a bit of a statistical nerd so have run some figures to compare changes in clergy numbers by diocese (2011-19 is the only period I have data for) with changes in ASA by diocese (2010-18) and there is no obvious correlation. Indeed the line of best fit goes in the wrong direction, whether you look at stipendiary clergy only, or all clergy (ie including self-supporting).

    By way of example, Lincoln has grown both stipendiary (+3.8%) and self-supporting (+6.3%) over the 9-year period but has seen one of the steepest declines in ASA, down 31.4%. Peterborough has shown the only double-digit growth in stipendiary clergy (+12.9%) but has shown a bigger-than-average decline in ASA (down 23.9%). At the other end of the scale, Birmingham has seen an 18.5% drop in stipendiary clergy but managed to limit its ASA fall to one of the lowest of any diocese, down 6.1%. The only other single digit falls in ASA (London down 7.5% and Canterbury down 5.1%) showed differing changes in numbers of stipendiary clergy: London was up 1.8% (and SSMs up 16.8%) while Canterbury was down 4.9% on stipendiary clergy and a massive two-thirds on SSMs. So only London really proves your point (ie increased stipendiary clergy reduced the rate of ASA decline), but there may be other demographic factors in play.

    Happy to share my stats!

    • Thanks Jeremy. We are focussing on one of my nine points here; to see the full debate about this point I need to refer you to the much earlier post specifically on this issue.

      The data from Church House analysts is pretty thorough…

      I wonder if part of your analysis here is not taking account of where people are deployed. Many of Lincoln’s appointments recently have been to central staff roles, rather than parochial ministry…

    • Many thanks. This reflects my experience of every diocese (I’ve attended services at more than 5,000 churches). There is seldom any meaningful correlation between the strength of attendance at the presence of stipendiaries. FYI, I have attended services at every parish in Canterbury diocese, in most of London and in about two fifths of Lincoln.

      Indeed, the absence of stipendiaries reduces the pressure on parishes to provide parish share subventions. Of course, the parish share system is largely about funding a hopelessly unaffordable defined benefit non-contributory indexed linked final salary scheme plus lump sum – even the civil service scheme now demands increasingly high contributions, whilst almost everyone of working age lives with miserable defined contribution schemes in an epoch net negative interest rates (i.e., unlike retired clergy they will run out of money only a short way into their retirements). Not much solidarity there between stipendiaries and the laity, especially at the moment.

      Whilst stipendiaries are often wont to complain about their pay and rations (in my experience) they are comparatively spoilt. That the post-1998 accruals function on a pay-as-you-go basis adds insult to injury: a huge amount of capital has been diverted from the parishes to DBFs and from thence to the beneficiaries of the CEFPS; what would the parishes have been able to achieve (at a time when the post-1993 liberalisation of Sunday trading was having a radical impact on weekend timetables) if only a fraction of that capital had been invested within the parishes funding the parish share?

      Stipendiaries, in short, are utterly unaffordable save in very small numbers (1,000? 2,000? tops).

      The virus and the economic consequences for the Church have exposed a malign zero sum game, between churches and clergy. Which is more important: the preservation of the national footprint or the economic interests of the current generation of stipendiaries?

      • There are many other factors which determine the size of a congregation. But the question is, what difference does stipendiary ministry make ceteris paribus—all other things being equal?

        Bob Jackson some time ago found that, on average, an 18 month interregnum took 5 years to recover from in terms of attendance and giving…

  9. It’s a rather peculiar attitude within the Church of England that its leadership functions can be performed by people who are live without a reasonable and regular income! There may be a few fortunate people with ‘private means’ or generous pensions; but who’s to say how many of these people are within the more active (younger) age range and have the talent, mental energy and full time commitment to perform what is a complex and demanding role? Volunteering is of course at the heart of much Christian endeavour, but if full time paid leadership were not a requirement to make successful organisations work, one wonders how businesses (which need growth as well as repeat customers to survive) have never discovered this truth long ago.

    At the heart of this issue is the need to get our heads around the paradox of recognising spiritual value through working within a Church of England which sometimes appears to be little more than a self perpetuating national institution gripped by a Faustian pact tying it to the secular state. In theory one would hope that the church infects the state with its spiritual message; sadly it seems (currently at least) that it’s the other way round and the church becomes corrupted by secular influences. It’s an ever present issue, but now is not the time or the place to discuss it. Instead, if we want to derive good from the situation in which God has placed us (ie the Church of England), we have to make it work within the parameters that it allows.

    And those parameters involve the parish system with its fixed church buildings and vicarages, large numbers of full time paid clergy, a body of doctrine which we believe can fulfill the spiritual needs of parishioners from cradle to grave, and of course the hierarchy of bishops, archdeacons and their ‘civilian’ assistants whom we all love dearly. There’s surely no disputing, that’s what we have; and if we want to make it work as best as may be possible under God’s grace, we’ve got to be businesslike, well organised and disciplined in the worldly sense even if our motivation depends on a far more compelling and exciting spiritual vision. There’s surely no alternative, and we should accept that because we can be sure God (who we believe has placed us where we are) also understands and accepts it.

    If I’m anywhere near right in this (other views are available!), we can perhaps embrace the graphs with enthusiasm and look on them in acceptance that God can tell us useful things through them. If they tell us that full time stipendiary clergy actually yield more fruit than ‘house for duty’ or other voluntary arrangements, then it must make sense to act accordingly. It may require considerable faith when the accountant’s report is grim, but we should realise that ordinary secular enterprises regularly take investment risks when things are challenging: but the successful ones do what it takes to make those risks pay off.

    We can either plan for decline on the basis of ‘realism’ or we can go for growth on the basis of ‘doing what it takes’ to make our risks pay off. And it’s in the area of doing what it takes that we really do need to be confident that faithful commitment to the Christian gospel will be rewarded by growth. There’s nothing else. If we don’t believe that, we may as well all go home.

  10. I wrote a piece on this a few weeks ago, here’s my main proposal:

    For years now parishes have been combined, abolished and occasionally created. This has often been done to make savings or to reflect the changing reality on the ground (motorways and new housing estates and so on). Sometimes it is to even-out the size of an area that a vicar looks after or to redistribute resources more equitably. All very commendable. My own parish, while still huge, has ceded territory to two of its neighbours in the last 30 years. It was good and right to do so; it made sense, on the ground. And yet these reforms still haven’t gone far or fast enough. More parishes need to be combined, formally or informally, or even abolished.

    However, perhaps the single biggest stumbling block to this is the Diocese. I am in Tamworth, right on the edge of one of the largest Dioceses (Lichfield). My parish is down in the far south east corner (I stick out like a peninsular: if the Diocese was the UK then my parish is Kent. And just as Kent is not far from London, so I am only about 8 miles away from the Cathedral. Because, like the UK, the capital of the Diocese is itself nowhere near the centre but is in also the south east.) Yet in my otherwise town-wide deanery there are two parishes from Birmingham diocese. This breaks up what could and should be a coherent urban unit and prevents all sorts of opportunities for sharing staff or making new benefices. Because while parishes boundaries are increasing written in pencil and prone to be merged or altered, the Diocese is still sacrosanct.

    I began by saying that parishes’ wealth has been centralised and their powers reduced. It’s now time to do the same to the Diocese. Except: who can? The DBF is almighty and no-one want to either give away their wealth or take on another’s poverty. So we have a crazy situation where some Dioceses are tiny and some huge; some rich and some poor; some with expertise in this area and others with it that area. Some do this well, other do that well. Kent, a small county, is home to two dioceses; other Dioceses contain two large counties. It’s uneven, it’s unfair and in it’s un-Christian.

    So my proposal: no more Dioceses. A single Church of England HQ in, say, Coventry. Cathedrals might still need to be separate, independent entities (at least for the time being) but all parishes and schools and chaplains and everything else to be run centrally – efficiently and equitably. This requires a spirit of true Christian cooperation and generosity. A pooling and sharing of resources. It would be ironic if Dioceses behaved in a “parochial” manner by rejecting and refusing this. We are the national church, the church in and for and of the nation: let’s nationalise and act as one body.

    As for Bishops: they would be free to perform their duties: the pastoral and spiritual and administrative and so on and obviously would retain oversight (“episcope”) of their Diocese or area. Disciplinary matters (in particular CDMs) are harder to resolve and anyway are the subject of a current review. But policies, money, communications etc can and should all be centralised and harmonised.

    • Two intial thoughts on why this wouldn’t work, – though I’m sure you’ve thought them through.

      1: You say that Bishops would be free to perform their duties, and would retain oversight of their diocese or area. But you’ve also said you want to abolish dioceses? How do you decide who the Bishop of Chelmsford (for example) has oversight over if there is no longer a Diocese of Chelmsford? Or is this like the idea that we should abolish the police when what you actually mean is simple remove admin functions from them?

      2: This idea will run into the same issue that the Westminster government does. One of the big complaints you hear from places like Hull or Cornwall is that Westminster is too far away and too cut off from life in the rest of the country to understand it properly, and thus it legislates not based upon need but upon bubble ideas. How will this not lead to the same problem? If central administration is in Coventry and all decisions – for example about growth strategy – are made centrally how do you avoid creating a one size fits all idea that works on paper but not for the areas as far flung as Newcastle and Truro.

      London (largely urban) has very different needs to Hereford (largely rural). Those needs are much better dealt with on the ground by people who know the area, not in some office on a Conventry industrial estate

    • Very good Oliver. What would It take? Have you suggested this to Michael? The trouble is that there is no such thing as the C of E, but rather 42 Vatican cities each with its own curia. The ABC hath no jurisdiction outside the realm of Cant, though he seems to want it. One would think that it would be easy to move the parish in B’ham diocese to Lich (Mellor moved from Derby to Chester not long ago). I think the bishops are paralysed by fear.

  11. Looks like Chelmsford diocese are beginning to face reality.

    Church attendance is collapsing, and COVID-19 will accelerate the trend. Levels of giving are similarly collapsing and these were low to begin with. Many churches have congregations with an average age of over 65, and will cease to exist in 10-15 years time.

    What is the point of ordaining stipendiary clergy when there will be no churches for them to work in and no way of paying them? The Church of England should be telling all future ordinands to prepare exclusively for non-stipendiary ministry. If stipendiary posts are available – either funded by the diocese or perhaps by a specific local congregation – that is a bonus, but no-one should be assuming this will be the case.

      • “…or, they could be told ‘You will be paid by whatever congregation you grow…’”

        As if numbers are everything….

          • Numbers are one thing, not everything. The Church of England is currently there for everyone, not just members. Your aim might work well for suburban Nottingham but deeply rural Devon is quite different.

            So I think of Rectors of multi parish benefices with perhaps 8 rural churches, where the average age of members of all the churches is over 75 and the ASA of the highest is 22. Try as they might, it has not been possible to make one parish, so the benefice still has 8 PCCs to service, 8 APCMs, 8 safeguarding reps etc…, but can’t recruit Churchwardens.

            I think of parishes in Plymouth with the highest level of deprivation – as high as any place in the country.

            In just these two scenarios numbers are important, but I know that the clergy are working effectively and unceasingly but not seeing return in terms of numbers. Such clergy should not be written off as useless in ministry.

      • Not a bad idea, Ian

        I’m not sure if the increased attendance at online services relates to churchgoers watching multiple services or non-churchgoers watching what is effectively an expanded version of Songs of Praise. Either way, I doubt it will lead to any increases in physical attendance or giving. Or perhaps revival will break out the second church buildings are open for Sunday services!

  12. This should not be news for anyone in Chelmsford diocese. One of the first things that Bishop Stephen did, 10 years ago when he arrived from Reading, was to ask us all to plan for the halving of stipendiary clergy by 2025, which is not far away. Now he has the chance to do the same thing in the national church, as one of his first tasks as ++Ebor is to undertake a complete strategic review.

    However, as usual, the loudest silence comes from the bench of bishops. Having attained the status of Managing Director of their diocese, they now find the company failing beneath their feet. Worse than that, they find that the sales and marketing department has been neglected for so many years that it almost doesn’t exist. Even worse, there are many people in the company who appear to be unclear about what product it sells. I’m sorry to use a commercial simile to describe all this, but that is what the C of E has come down to – is it viable financially? And just like any company that asks itself the same question before declaring itself insolvent, leadership is necessary, leadership that has spent too many years managing decline.

    There are parts of the C of E, however, that saw all this coming a long time ago and have invested in leadership and training and church planting, action that is starting to bear fruit, action which the SDF was set up to support, and which also led to the establishment of such facilities as St Mellitus College. Outside the metropolis, these might be foreign things, but they are the only way that the C of E can go from here. Simply oiling the wheels is not an option any more.

    • Thanks for this Richard. I am glad you see it as positive.

      but I have to say ‘preparing for the halving of stipendiary clergy’ is, I think, a strategic disaster—and it completely contradicts the moves to increase vocations to ordained ministry.

      • How so, Ian? Surely if you lose stipendiary priests you will need more non-stipendiaries to cover their roles. The only case against this is if the stipendiary is in some way not able to be replaced by one or more non-stipendiaries – that they are in some way distinct from a non-stipendiary. I suppose that a case may be made that in devoting themselves full-time they are able to gain a greater depth of learning, skill, experience, and even perhaps spirituality. But a case might also be made that three non-stipendiaries are better able to serve three parishes than one stipendiary. I would suggest that the answer is not obvious, but you may be able to point me in the right direction for some more detailed deliberations in support of your contention.

      • Ian,

        Bishop Stephen’s original plan was inspired by the thought that there would not be enough clergy to go around and not (much to everyone’s surprise) the fact that we couldn’t afford them. As we look to see what’s left after lockdown, that might also be the case. I’m aware (as you said) that some clergy are a long time in retiring, an action that often delays, but doesn’t remove, the possibility of a pastoral reorganisation, but they can’t hang on for ever in the way that clergy used to, pre-1970 ish.
        However, my ‘positive’ ideas are surely going to lead to a rebalancing of the C of E, because the clergy currently being trained are mostly not Anglo-Catholic, and the large ‘liberal Catholic’ element among clergy shows few signs of replacing itself. We can look forward to a less ritual and a more fundamental type of Anglicanism in the future. I hesitate to call this ‘evangelicalism’, because the word refers both to theology and to liturgical practice, which do not necessarily correlate, and because the word is now freely used as an insult in certain places.
        So, strategic disaster or no, I don’t think there will be much choice that the church will radically change in the next decade, and that it will become more, not less, reliant on non-stipendiary ministry.

  13. This to me is one of the fruits of the centralising tendency within the Church of England in the past twenty years where more and more staff have been recruited at the centre. What has been so interesting about the current pandemic is how individual parishes responded so effectively to a sudden lockdown each in their own way. And indeed one of the things I am not looking forward to is the return to running a bureaucracy on behalf of a central organisation.

  14. Never mind the small detail of the wheels apparently falling off the entire Church of England; our visionary bishops have saved the day by introducing baptismal services to celebrate gender transition.

  15. The reason for it being “take note” was because we met via Zoom, and therefore as an advisory synod, not a legal one. The plans are interim, and based on where we are, but given we may have a new bishop soon (unless we’ve scared everybody away) then there was also a sense that whilst we can plan and ponder, we need to wait (given Covid, vacancy and the number of synod members that don’t Zoom)
    We are going through a Deanery by Deanery process to discover (locally) what our strategic churches are, and to try to match possible stipends with income. In my Deanery, only one parish lays the full costs of a priest (mine).
    But it is a challenge. As for stewardship, we have run courses and schemes and plans for years. Some parishes do well. Many are poor. We have the East end and Thames corridor, including Dagenham, Thurrock and Southend.
    But I take your point, fewer stipendary clergy on the ground Isn’t a recipe for growth.

  16. I was ordained in 2004 and by the grace of God each church I’ve led has grown in attendance, financial strength and parish share greatly outpacing inflation in my time as incumbent. I left the Church of England this year because I can’t accept the transgender baptism thing but, since I took my decision a year or so ago, I have found it harder and harder to justify my tithes and offerings contributing to a £110k parish share that helps to keep open some dysfunctional “not even Christian” (area dean), “most depressing place I’ve ever been” (suffragan bishop) parishes. Some of the stories I heard about at chapter meetings were utterly shocking and morale sapping.

    I think a quite savage severing and burning of branches that bear no fruit, and pruning for greater fruitfulness of those that do, is now unavoidable in the Church of England. It cannot and will not survive in its present form. We are accelerating towards a Beeching moment.

    It has been demonstrably unsustainable for some time, but I suspect coronavirus will bring forward by some years the inevitable humiliation of mass downsizing: hundreds of closures and redundancies, and an end to the laudable but undeliverable ambition to provide every citizen in every square foot of the land with a chaplain.

  17. What is the core business of the CoE any Christian Church?
    It seems that the CoE, in general, has done a Gerald Rayner. It has rubbished its Gospel USP.
    Even on a social context, it seems that a well functioning voluntary sector organisation does better, at serving its target population.
    And as the Bishops in the House of Lords seem to serve little than a secular function, with no unique voice, what is their political purpose ( and that is leaving aside the disgraceful abstention of some of them in the N Ireland abortion vote)? Who or what do they represent? Self- serving?
    As Chris Bishop says in a different way, maybe the writing is on the wall, Daniel – like, for disestablishment.

  18. Thanks as ever Ian for a very stimulating article.

    One ‘equation’ that I consider important In this debate is the ratio in a Parish budget between the cost of stipendiary (front line) ministry and other items. I would say that in a healthy church the ratio should be something like 50:50 or 60:40. However, typically, what I see in many Anglican churches is something more like 80:20 ie the vast majority of income is spent ‘paying for the Vicar‘ with the remainder going to keep the lights etc on and so leaving little or nothing for outreach or new initiatives.

    What’s the solution? In some churches it may be increased giving, but in many the stewardship approach has been taken about as far as it can go. More likely what is required is a combination of: church closures, the refocussing of ministry towards evangelism and discipleship, more varied leadership teams with a greater proportion of lay leaders, better twinning between those churches that have spare capacity and capability and those that do not. These are all moves that are currently under way, but could and, I believe, will be pursued with greater vigour over the next few years.

    And so to return to your question: I do not think that this is the end for Church of England growth strategies, rather a mid-course correction.

    • I’m lay and while I’ve advocated for greater lay input, have been on a PCC, I’d counsel caution about wholesale adoption of lay leadership.
      Yes, lay people may have skills, abilities in different directions but many do not have a Christian theological underpinning which, to me is crucial.
      Welcoming older people into ministry and senior positions, such from high ranking secular careers, thinking that skills can be transferrable, and they can, is counterproductive without a foundation of conversion, discipleship and robust Christian theological, biblical training.
      There is also a disconnect where lay people are unsettling to clergy when they know more, have wider experience are significant funders of the church.
      Maybe, lessons could be learned from independent churches and their eldership teams.

  19. Thank you, Ian – very important conversation.

    Have you seen the recently-released Ministry Statistics 2019, and the projections for number of stipendiary ministers in the coming decade or two? Current projection is fairly flat, but projected to rise if R&R increase in vocations is sustained … but I’m not sure how to square that with reductions in clergy numbers in dioceses up and down the country.

    A couple of quick thoughts:

    On (5), I’m not sure it’s really fair to compare those working in *all* roles centrally with those working only in *stipendiary* roles in the parishes. What about, for example, people employed by parish churches as administrators and the like? Part of the argument for having diocese staff is similar to the (very sensible) argument for centralising some roles nationally: that if the work wasn’t done by diocesan staff, it would have to be done in each and every parish, which would be less efficient. Do you have figures in your diocese for how many people are employed *in* the diocese, whether for the diocese, or for parish churches? That would be a fairer comparison, I suspect.

    On (6), we have discussed before my contention that this particular correlation does not imply causation. It is no surprise that a very white British area such as Hereford has more Anglican attendees per population than does a very ethnically mixed area such as Birmingham. And it is no surprise that if there are more Anglican attendees, there will be more Anglican ministers. You could make a similar plot of the number of mosque attendees per population against the number of Imams, and find that Birmingham is near one corner and Hereford near the other – but that doesn’t imply anything about whether an influx of Imams leads people to convert to Islam! The obvious explanation would be that both factors have a common cause: the underlying demographics of the region.

    • ‘but I’m not sure how to square that with reductions in clergy numbers in dioceses up and down the country.’


      I agree with you that it would be interesting to know total numbers working in all the churches. But I don’t suppose those have been collated anywhere…

  20. Should we not be asking the bigger question? Jesus commanded us to make disciples; what’s wrong with the harvest? Are too many clergy not gifted – or minded – to lead people to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord? Are our church fellowships worth joining – what is on offer that presents a radical, truthful, loving alternative and different narrative to interpret life in Christ?
    I’ve been ordained 37 years; the doom and gloom merchants have purveyed their wares throughout, yet I’ve seen lives changed by Jesus, and church growth, home groups blossoming, and laity mobilised; it’s been patchy and were I serve in the countryside it is much harder work as community culture is hard to break where you either go to church or you don’t, and where those who do often don’t want their social grouping upset by newcomers who can be frozen out by regulars not wanting to make new friends. Are we passionate for mission, and use every means possible, or are we trying to keep the old show on the road? Bishops and hierarchies forget – it’s local people sharing their faith with others that makes the difference and those who put themselves above us should be serving by asking what help they can give to help in evangelising our parishes. Jesus changes lives when the gospel is presented in a meaningful way: bishops think they run their dioceses; they don’t; the people and their local clergy together run the dioceses, give the money, and it’s high time bishops are put in their place to serve the mission, not dictate it ( and are often ignored by parishes as they are rarely seen nor heard). Jesus is building His Church – through Community Churches, other denominations, regardless – He only has one church on earth, and to belong to it by being born again is to join in His mission. Where is HE working to grow the local church? Ask those questions and share how He is growing His church; we need to pray for many more evangelists to be raised up and empowered by the Holy Spirit across our nation, to engage with every community to share the gospel. I have heard about diocesan strategies ad nauseum; using some analytical tools such as Natural Church Development – the 8 characteristics of Growing Churches is a good place to reflect on “is my church worth joining?”, and change to make it worth while. Where there is obedience there is blessing… giving follows vision, and local people will give for the local vision. Shift the focus – mission, evangelism, and the money and people resources will follow. We don’t necessarily have to follow the Anglican pattern but I know local people want a focal person to whom they go when in trouble; they don’t want a far – off not seen remote figure; they want someone in the local community who is “the person of peace”, God’s anointed person – or a few of them – who they know are trustworthy and prayerful. The anointing may be of God but not of man – or bishop – but that’s what is needed.

  21. Some partially connected thoughts because this is a complex issue.
    1) I notice some correlation between parishes where the church burnt down and a good insurance-paid-for renovation and modernisation was put in place and better numbers. Having a use-able and attractive building is a huge help! Having an old one which is not warm or with toilets etc is harder work.
    2) Stephen Cottrell I believe has said we have too many churches and not enough churches. By that he meant there were too many that were too costly and inflexible in use and not enough in that he wanted local buildings for local people.
    3) Our historic legacy of buildings, and so many listed, is becoming in many cases, a burden not an advantage.
    4) Covid may have accelerated a move to online belonging though I doubt whether it will lead to much giving.
    5) John Atherton a number of years ago worked out that a parish congregation of under 30 or so was unlikely to have much mission energy as it would be so caught up in the maintenance of the parish (assuming a parish church and PCC etc). These parishes are in small villages and in deprived areas predominantly.
    6) I have not seen stats for new churches which do not have their own building and how they develop after 5 to 10 years. Do they invest in a building, do they continue to grow and split, or do they die away as a congregation? i think some are fast growing but fast declining.
    7) Church buildings mean something very different in different communities, and empty church buildings send a very negative signal about church being closed down which is worse than being absent!

    8) Given the age of many congregants and the fact that the older members are often the givers, there is a cliff edge around giving levels which is fast approaching. After that ..
    9) I think I am right that the larger congregations with the level of giving that can afford paid ministers and workers are almost all in sub(urban) areas of less deprivation. or if they are located in poorer areas, they gather people from more affluent areas.
    10) There are multiple factors that contribute to growth and which inhibit growth, but some apparent growth is bloat.
    11) You can entertain more people into the building but when the entertainment stops they will move on. Seed falls on different ground and the different ground leads to different growth or no growth.
    12) In the C of E we have a long history of vicarious religion where the vicar did the religion thing. The Church of England does not have a strong sense of membership, let alone membership linked to commitment. This may be a painful tie to break and take over a generation to remould.
    13) I heard of a South African diocese where no one is selected for training until they have proved themselves in growing a church.

    It will take a creative and imaginative response or rather set of responses to change the map, but I fear that non-investing in parish ministries and pushing the SDF bids is unlikely to be the best way to regain hope and presence.
    Those of us who are gifted a stipend should be accountable as to how we are working for growth and for giving, how we are manifesting all five marks of mission, how we are developing healthy churches – the precise language is not so important but intention and focus with accountability and support are.

  22. This is a straightforward factual question. 1) Why in 2020, does the Cof E need so many archdeacons. Seven in one diocese seems exessive. 2) If we do need so many, why cannot an Archdeacon also be an incumbent? Even Archeacon Grantley in Trollope’s novels was also rector of Plumstead Epsicopi. When I was a boy in the 1950s, Manchester Diocese which was large and busy, managed with two Archdeacons and until 1953, the Bishop of Middelton was also Rector of Bury. I would genuinely like to be enlightened.

    The same thing has happened to our Universities, who will also be badly affected by Covid. For example, the University of Edinburgh, admittedly a large university, in addition to the Principal has eight Vice-Principals and five thematic Vice-Principals, no doubt all with several supporting staff, while much of the teaching and research which is the main business of the university is carried out by a large number of poorly paid staff on short-term or hourly contracts.

    I cannot help but feel that what is called for is a dramatic reduction in Diocesan staff and above all at Church House and Lambeth Palace and resources directed to clergy on the ground.

    Daniel Lamont

    • This was another pet project of Bishop Stephen. Before he came, the diocesan staff meeting consisted of four bishops and three archdeacons. Now there are seven archdeacons – eleven senior staff, but please bear in mind that, after London, Chelmsford is the largest English diocese. The rationale might have been that Archdeacons, like Bishops, are paid for by the national church, and thus three more wouldn’t cripple the diocese, but I really am not sure who does pay for Archdeacons….

  23. There’s a lot said about church growth; during my training 1980-83 at St. John’s Nottingham, one of the most important courses I did was when Eddie Gibbs took us through the Bible Society Church Growth course; it opened my eyes to the principles, and how to analyse growth; when an incumbent in Essex, 1989-2004, we kept an account of movement in and out of the church each year, making sure we were growing through conversion/restoration to faith rather than transfers in form other churches, because unless we were actually leading people to Christ, we were not growing the kingdom. the church membership hovered between about 160ish in 1989, to 253 at it’s height, but the community was also very transient, and in 1992 when recession hit, one local company where about 40 of our members were employed was taken over and split, which meant folk moved out to follow where work was re-located. but over the 15 years, had every new believer and restored person stayed, there would have been 1,000 in the congregation. A church some miles away in a different county, benefited also from our ministry because the secondary schooling was better, so loads of folk moved house to get their children into better schools – I reckoned more than 40 moved over a 5 year period – bigger houses for similar money etc.
    But the point is, we aimed to make new disciples, and the kingdom grew. The giving increased and instead of being fairly well bankrolled by a tiny handful of wealthy givers, the giving broadened out hugely over that time so many more became better givers, we increased staff and church planted. I look back over that and it was a “success story” proving that mission in an Anglican context is possible, churches can grow, but it meant building relationships through occasional offices and personal contacts, with an exploring faith course running most of the time. It wasn’t without difficulties and I made mistakes – but there was growth. Same principle applies everywhere – do we know how to make new Christians, disciple them, and equip them? Someone described diocesan structures as para-church…. it’s the local church that’s at the coalface of mission – if it’s leader believes in conversion/being born again as necessary to enter the kingdom of God. the diocesan structure is there to support parishes evangelising – real evangelising – make sure we have far less “chiefs” and far more on the ground missioners where it matters – the more central staff a diocese has, the increasingly less effective they become because all they do is go to meetings. …

  24. I see Manchester diocese is to reduce 20 deaneries into 7 and create full time Area Deans.
    I wonder how this fits with archdeacons and suffragan bishops.

    • Thank you for referring me to this. I have read Bishop David’s thoughtful decision paper and I note that he says:
      “It will be important that Area Deans Role Descriptions are shaped so that they are not seen as a tier of diocesan level management, but as enablers of ministry and mission in the local church. As bishop, I will require sufficient clarity on such matters ahead of the formal amalgamation of deaneries.”
      I prefer any solution which flattens layers rather than appoint armies of archdeacons but I still do not understand what the roles of Archdeaons are and why some bishops appoint so many; the Manchester plans only reinforce my lack of understanding. The old cliche ‘rearranging the deckchairs on a sinking Titanic’ comes to mind. Too much has been borrowed from the management systems of private business in the last ten years.

      • Where is the money coming from to pay for these 7 full time posts? Will the number of archdeacons and suffragan bishops be reduced? Will the new deans be taking over work from diocesan advisers? If not the cost can only come from cutting stipendiary clergy.

  25. A variety of points:
    1.I think the Church Commissioners were being very optimistic thinking that church growth initiatives could be self sustaining after 5 years. In our local church we have a very successful new church start-up. 70 attendees on a new housing estate with well over 50% new to church. But they won’t be able to sustain a stipendiary salary within 5 years. I would say 7 at least.
    2. There surely must be more serious strategic thinking about how to deliver the “back office” across Dioceses. There must be more opportunities for shared services that would save money. Dioceses seem very reluctant to grasp this nettle.
    3. Compared to the commercial sector there is a huge amount of “reinventing the wheel” and weak shared learning processes across Dioceses. Again, inefficient. (I speak as someone who has done consultancy with Ministry Division and with 2 Dioceses in relation to SDF funding).

    • If Renewal and Reform and the simplification process goes right, there should be massive administrative savings ahead for diocesan offices. Within living memory the diocesan office was the bishop, his secretary, chaplain, and chauffeur.

      • I suspect the Bishop’s Office was Bishop, Secretary, chaplain and chauffeur.
        Diocesan Office would be rather different and way back would have had Diocesan Secretary (or similar but with different name) and a variety of statutory roles: Parsonages, Education (Church schools would have had statutory staff), Pastoral Secretary (because there have always been pastoral schemes) DAC, Accounts (to deal with common fund payments and stipends), DDO (because how else do you get new clergy selected?) and nowadays Safeguarding.

        When people ask for a reduction of those ‘at the centre’ they tend to forget that these basic statutory jobs have now become anything but basic. Whilst the digital revolution might have automated some parts of the processes, computers have added a whole other lot of work – like IT support, Data Protection, and other ‘compliance’ matters. Most of the statutory stuff I have named above needs administrative support. So in a large Diocese with maybe 500 parsonages they all have to be surveyed every five years. Schools have to be inspected. ….. and so it goes on.

        That’s before you start on new statutory stuff – like Continuing Ministerial Development for Clergy, or useful things like children and youth work advisers, Communications officers.

        Oh and then there are Archdeacon’s offices.

        Making a case for reducing numbers at the centre can get very hard unless Dioceses are going to robustly say that they will no longer maintain clergy houses, won’t communicate anything they do – so no website etc. or will sell all their church schools.

        • Finance/HR/Safeguarding roles could be done nationally – there is no need for 40 separate teams or policies in these areas.

          Some roles could be combined with parish ministry e.g. DDO’s

          And there are a lot of non-jobs in diocesan offices that could be scrapped e.g. diocesan stewardship advisers

          • “Finance/HR/Safeguarding roles could be done nationally”

            Some are already shared across dioceses. The current safeguarding role is still probably enormous in some (all?) dioceses. Centralising it may be unlikely to require less staff and make the necessary more local contacts with (eg Social Services and the Police) less dynamic and harder.

          • I agree with Ian. Even coping with all the DBS checking is more than a full time job in some dioceses. Delivering the training for safeguarding is also a huge job. I doubt policies vary from diocese to diocese but delivery is what takes the time and therefore the need for posts.

            DDO likewise. The amount of paperwork involved in every vocation is huge and much of the discernment work is done by trained volunteers. But having oversight of that is often much more than a full time role in each diocese. Typically there will be a full time DDO plus several assistant DDOs who also work in parishes. Plus an admin assistant. (I speak as one who has done each of these roles in the past).

            Finance is likely to need 3 or 4 full time people in a large diocese. It sounds easy to say ‘let’s just cut the central staff’. In practice there are not people sitting around doing non-jobs.

  26. An excellent engagement with the issues of future strategy, but are we skating round the real issue?

    Is the CofE under God’s judgement for its increasingly liberal left agenda, that often denies scripture? Can we still say that it teaches nothing contrary to scripture? Is God judging the CofE for abandoning its history and foundation? Have we lost our first love? Is the zeitgeist more important than the gospel?

    I already know from personal experience of at least two bishops that I would describe as apostate, maybe there are many more. At what point does an apostate House of Bishops represent an apostate church?

    The key to the future is not strategy, management structures or even finance. It is repentance. Turn back to God and He (not she/it) will turn back to us.

    I believe there is hope, if our leaders are brave enough to confess their sin and disbelief and turn back in humility to the source of our life. If not, it is Ichabod. I pray it is not too late.

  27. Having been in Chelmsford Diocese for 9 years in a split role post Parish Priest/Mission and Ministry Advisor and now as An Archdeacon in Carlisle Diocese, I am now 3 years out of parish ministry having been in it for over 20 years. So I guess I want to reflect on all this too:

    1) Churches which are intentional and proactive about Discipleship, Mission and Ministry are doing much better than those that aren’t. You have to have a theology of mission and a belief that conversion matters and that knowing Jesus is vital to human survival, and not just a bolt on extra to go with the golf club, tennis club or whatever clubs you are also part of.

    2) That when the PA system for Archdeacons changed in Carlisle last year, I was helping my retiring PA clear out the filing cabinet, and lo I came across 40 years worth of Diocesan strategies. Strategies are at best only trellises, it’s the health of the plant that really matters. If strategies alone could save us, then surely we would be saved by now!

    3) Everyone talks about exile as a step almost positive like doing an extra bit of training! But exile was God’s judgement on His people ( for a lack of faithfulness and Holiness, and ignoring the needs of the poor) , nowhere have I heard the call for repentance and more time praying as a national church, and seeing exile as a scary thing.

    4) If this leads to an end of over reliance on stipendiary clergy and a heartfelt move to and the valuing of the ministry of all, then that will be positive.

    5) I worry that church growth or any other strategies run a danger that we use these as an alternative to discipleship, and our lack of discipleship is our fatal weakness.

    6) Whatever structures we have left, need to be those that we feel are needed to best support, encourage and bless the work of the local church. There needs to be more flexibility allowed by Church Commissioners on what the make up of senior staff teams are.

    7) Hopefully we will move more radically to see church as people and not building ( areal challenge in many communities)

  28. I’ve heard locally in Chelmsford Diocese about the loss of distributed funds through the Darlow formula. I’ve not heard so much about the Funds that replaced this. Is there an implication in your blog that Chelmsford Diocese has not received much under the Strategic Development Fund? If so this would presumably be because the Diocese didn’t score well under the Commissioners’ criteria for its plans for church planting and church growth initiatives.

    • Half of the old Darlow money still comes in ‘Lower Income Community’ (LInC) funding.

      Yes, I think Chelmsford has indeed received SDF funding; someone has said they went from one meeting discussing post redundancies to another discussing how to deploy the £3m SDF grant. Quite surreal I think!

  29. As a non-believer I still have a great deal of respect and affection for (what used to be) the CofE. I’m far from the only one lost to the church although I do contribute financially. I recognise the value of a central repository of common good in our communities and the many ways in which Churches bring people together, even if only for funerals, weddings and Christenings. The Church on the ground is sapped by bureaucracy and high “overheads”. It is going the way that much of British business did in the latter half of the last century; this is a familiar National malaise. Until it ceases to be top-heavy, “Boss-centric” and run at a loss it will continue to decline and will disappear as such. I would have hoped that the ABofC would have helped to define the “Dream”, then the strategy to achieve that dream, all within the available financial constraints. The Church is drifting onto a perilous shore and needs to refocus on those that still go to Church, and those that might.


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