Introduction – How to Develop Your Church as a Community Hub
This article is a guide for churches considering a reordering to develop their church as a community hub. The guide briefly covers the necessary steps to start your project, including identifying the need, building the team, employing professionals and fund raising.
Brief History of the Community Church
The daily life of most of the British population in the medieval period was closely connected to the local parish church. The church would have been the focal point of the community and would have served a wide range of community uses including, a meeting place, banquet hall; to host markets, fairs and for dramatic or musical performances.
Following the industrial revolution, as the populations of towns and cities grew, the style of worship changed to a massed congregation. Pews were more widely used in the naves to maximise occupancy. However, fixed pews limited the use of the church as a community facility.
More recently, the idea of the church as a community hub has been revisited. Churches throughout the country are replacing rows of fixed pews with flexible seating, installing mezzanines and even building extensions.
Community facilities have been put under pressure in recent years as Local Authority funding is reduced. While this is tragic, particularly for deprived communities, it does present an opportunity for the church to fill the void. Many churches already have facilities which, with little alteration could be readily adapted for a wide range of community uses.
There are also benefits for the church. In addition to fulfilling the churches mission, shared use of church facilities can increase activity around the church, encouraging the community to get more involved in the care of the buildings and grounds. Increased use can also potentially increase the congregation size, bringing in people who might otherwise have not felt comfortable joining for worship. Then, there is the potential to generate an income to help with the upkeep and future development of the church.
How to Develop your Church for Community Use
There are two important first steps to developing your church project:
- Identify the community need
- Build the project steering group
Identifying and Responding to the Communities Needs
Identifying community needs is often a fairly easy process. Communities might be suffering from poverty, health issues, loneliness or a lack of specific facilities. There are also likely to be a number of community groups in need of accommodation or facilities that cannot be provided elsewhere.
Developing a suitable response to the needs can be more difficult. It must be feasible within the project budget and practically, it must be acceptable to the church and its immediate neighbours, and it must be suitable to address the issues. This section cannot be adequately covered in this article, but needless to say, a large part of the early phase of the project will be formulating a brief that adequately responds to community need and meets the three questions:
- Is it feasible?
- Is it acceptable?
- Is it suitable?
Building the Team
There are likely to be people within your congregation who are keen to help out and have the time to commit to the project, but you are also likely to need specialist skills or resources that are not present within the congregation. The church is likely to have a similar ethos to local charitable groups, social entrepreneurs and community interest groups and there maybe several organisations who could share the benefits of developing your church as a community hub. Volunteers and partners can also be found through:
- Social media
- Local media (newspapers, radio stations, etc.)
- Schools, colleges and universities
- Job centre placement schemes
- Holding events at the church
Professional Advisers for Your Church Project
Ideally, professional advisers should be employed as early as possible in the project. This can be quite costly, funding will be covered in the next section, but for now I shall say, the initial appointment is likely to need to be funded by the church (and its partners).
Typically, the first appointments will be a project manager, architectural designer and/or quantity surveyor.
The project manager will guide the church steering group through the early stages of the project. They should have experience of applying for funds and should have connections with other professionals.
The architectural team will develop design proposals, which can be presented to church governing bodies and conservation/planning officers, etc. But more importantly, to generate interest and excitement from the local community.
The quantity surveyor may provide a budget estimate of costs for the project. They may also identify key risks and contractual issues to be considered. The main item at this stage is the budget cost. It is important to remember that early cost estimates are order of magnitude costs only. These estimate should be used to set a budget, or to refine the scope of the works to within an acceptable budget.
If your church is historic or listed, the church should ensure that any professional advisers have experience of heritage projects.
Funding your Community Church Project
There are many funding bodies able to support community church developments. The Heritage Lottery Fund have become one of the biggest funding providers for church projects in recent years. They ended their Grants for Places of Worship scheme in 2016/17 and so churches not have to compete with a wider range of projects for funds. There are many other funding streams available. I have put together a list of grant making trusts who may be able to help with your project.
Before approaching grant providers you must first clearly define your project. This should include:
- A description of the project and its key aims
- An analysis of the need your project addresses
- A summary of how the project addresses this need
- An outline project plan
The project summary and plan are covered in more detail here.
Most grant making trusts will expect the church to provide at least some match funding. So, you should start fund raising as early as possible. Your church may be fortunate to have a wealthy benefactor, or large pool of reserves. Unfortunately, most are not. However, congregations and communities are usually willing to contribute – especially if the project is going to address a need that is of particular concern. There are lots of ways to raise funds, but here are some ideas to get you started:
Fund raising ideas for developing your church as a community hub
This article has briefly covered the key points you need to think about when developing your church as a community hub. This is not intended to be detailed summary of the entire process, but some initial ideas to get your project started.