How to look after, develop and utilise them
While we do our best to ensure that all links in this resource are correct, we cannot guarantee that links to external websites are kept up to date.
7. Getting the Most Out of Your Church Building/s
In this section…
7.1 Re-Ordering your Building for Liturgical Reasons
7.2 Making changes to your building to enable wider community use
This is the section where we look at the process of making changes to your place of worship whether for liturgical reasons or in order to facilitate wider community use.
First, you might want to read this ‘thought piece’ which provides a very good summary of things to think about as you approach making changes to your church building.
Why Our Church Buildings Matter (Nigel Walter, February 2012)
Churches often struggle with their buildings. In one sense our buildings are incidental to the life of the church – church after all is all about people and relationships, not property. On the other hand, our buildings shape the life of our congregations, in terms of how we use our churches and what we feel about them; so the relationship we have with our buildings is also important.
Sadly, those who most frequently use our church buildings – clergy and congregation – often live in grudging opposition to them. Once we become familiar with a place, we stop looking at it, engaging with it. It is very difficult to love a building that may be cold and damp when all you can see are its drawbacks and the repair bills.
And yet visitors love our churches for their sense of history, the personal stories they bear witness to, and because they can give people a sense of the spiritual. Heritage is now big business, and many people are drawn to it, perhaps looking for a sense of rootedness in a dislocated world. One can certainly read a building for its history, focusing on the evidence for different stages of development, attempting to piece together its biography. But for me the most important reading of the church is as a material narrative, as the physical story of the gathered community in that particular place.
There are three elements to that phrase that are worth exploring further – in reverse order, (particular) place, (gathered) community, and (material) narrative. Understanding how these go together helps us understand why our church buildings matter, and what opportunities they present.
Many people experience a sense of profound rootlessness in an age when we increasingly see people as (barely) human resources. But we are not detached and disembodied beings – part of being human is to be somewhere, in a context, and at a specific location; this is the difference between qualitative place and abstract quantitative space. This is somewhat counter-cultural; modern technology promises to ‘liberate’ us from our physical constraints – take for example the internet, which enables you to read this article without our having met. By contrast, all the way from Eden to the new Jerusalem, Scripture displays a consistently relational view of place.
Community is one of those warm words that marketers and politicians love to use because they make us feel better. Community is what the church is, or should be, all about – the people of God gathered for worship and mission. But there is also a wider sense of community, which includes everyone, of whatever background. And this wider sense is reflected in the traditional role of the church building – a medieval church would have been at the heart of community life, irrespective of the state of your faith, and all sorts of ʻsecularʼ events would have happened in it. By contrast our culture usually views church as a private religious club, and not for the rest of us.
Everyone likes a good story. I would argue this is fundamental to the way we are made, perhaps even what it means to be made in the image of God. Certainly narrative, in the form of parables, was Jesus’ favoured mode of teaching. He also used metaphor, which carries with it a surplus of meaning. It is this extra bit that fires the imagination and creates a meeting place, whether between friends in conversation, or between us in community, or between ourselves and God in worship. The best stories, like the best buildings, are generous and inclusive.
So, what might church as material narrative look like in practice?
- activities in our buildings that are less text-based
- buildings that feel more welcoming, for example in terms of access, warmth, comfort, facilities, hospitality
- fluid spaces that allow for a variety of uses, and activities that draw a full cross-section of our communities across the threshold
- using the old stone or the stained-glass window or the new memorial to speak to people, to appeal to emotion as well as to mind
- buildings that allow degrees of engagement, where it is possible and acceptable to hide behind a pillar while you dip your toe into God’s community
- places that enable people to put down roots
Most of all, these will be buildings which express our theology in practical material form.
Our generation will either have to manage a long decline and close large numbers of our churches – last one out please turn off the lights – or radically reconsider our relationship to these physical manifestations of our Christian faith and, I would argue, wake up to the opportunities they present. And part of that is perhaps the perception of ownership – we must recognise that these buildings are ours only in the sense that we have the care of them.
We must consider the voice we already have – the preaching job our buildings are currently doing for us. Do they speak of love and care and warmth, or of cold and decay? We need to consider what voice we want to have in our culture and our local community; and to do this we need to approach our buildings afresh as if for the first time, to explore them as material narrative.
Nigel Walter is a Specialist Conservation Architect and Fellow of the RIBA and leads the Cambridge-based practice Archangel Architects. He co-authored Buildings for mission (2015, Canterbury Press), and has recently completed a PhD in conservation at the University of York which explores the above ideas of material narrative further. He is a member of the Church Buildings Council. See Section 13: Other Resources for more that Nigel has written.
7.1 Re-Ordering your Building for Liturgical Reasons
Throughout history congregations have reordered their place of worship to reflect the changes in the way they want to worship. Over time, it has involved bringing the priest and congregation closer together. And more recently, there has been a move to introduce a nave altar, leaving the chancel as the place for smaller and more intimate gatherings and services. Another common is change is a wish to create more space at the front of the nave by the removal of some benches and pews.
If you are thinking of re-designing your space to reflect changes in the way you want to worship, then ensure you consult your whole congregation and your governing body. Look at all the options and see if you can try out different ideas before you make permanent changes.
Seek advice to ensure that your proposed changes will reflect the liturgical changes you are trying to make. Your starting point should be your own denomination website or if in the Church of England, you own diocesan website.
You will need to be able to articulate the reason behind any changes you are proposing and show that you have considered and understand the impact that these changes may have on your building and its contents. Refer back to Section 2 to find out about writing Statements of Significance and Need and obtaining Permissions.
ChurchCare has detailed advice on various changes you might be considering including seating. www.churchofengland.org/more/church-resources/churchcare/advice-and-guidance-church-buildings/seating
For the Catholic Church, you can refer to Consecrated for Worship which was published in August 2006. This Directory is a teaching and policy document for the Catholic Church in England and Wales. It concerns the building, alteration, conservation and maintenance of the Church’s places of worship and it assembles material from the liturgical books of the Roman Rite and the teaching documents and guidelines of the Holy See. In addition, it applies and develops that teaching to the particular circumstances of the Church in England and Wales. This essential resource is designed to assist those involved in building, reordering or making alterations within a church, or dealing with statutory bodies responsible for listed buildings. www.cbcew.org.uk/home/our-work/patrimony/care-of-churches/
Pews, benches & chairs: church seating in English parish churches from the fourteenth century to the present by the Ecclesiological Society published August 2011
Giles, Richard. Re-Pitching the Tent: Re-ordering the Church Building for Worship and Mission in the New Millennium, Norwich, 1996.
7.2 Making changes to your building to enable wider community use
Every place of worship has a mission to its community. Each church can seek to articulate this, or develop it, in different ways. The most important task for any parish is to try to work through, honestly, objectively, and prayerfully, what it means to be the people of God in their own community, location and circumstances. Working on a mission statement for your place of worship is the first step, which must underpin any proposals to change or develop the building. All denominations will have guidance on how to develop a mission plan.
And the two areas, you might want to look at are:
- How your building can become a valuable tool for mission and meeting pastoral needs
- Wider use of the building by the community
Tensions can be caused by sharing the same space for church use and community use. The key is to have a coherent vision which you can communicate to other people whether they are in your own congregation, or from the wider community. You should never feel that you must hide God away, but at the same time, don’t expect that all your users will necessarily share your faith. There may well be tensions but never lose sight of the fact that you are a living, working place of worship.
On the practical side, the ongoing challenge of fundraising for repairs can seem never ending. Increasing the use of your building and where appropriate, attached land, can better secure your future by providing additional services to the community and by generating an income.
Parish churches originally used to be the centre of the community. While the chancel was reserved for liturgy and worship, the nave was used for a range of activities including drama, elections and schools. For the Church of England, this changed after the Reformation when naves became preaching areas. The Non-Conformist denominations also focused on preaching. During the Victorian period churches were once more seen as sacred spaces. Faith groups have always helped the most vulnerable in society as well as providing a focus for their community and looking after their spiritual as well as their general well-being. In the last 50 years, faith groups have started recognising their building/s as a practical asset in building a relationship with their local community who may not come into the building for worship. Rural church buildings are now being used again to provide a focal point for their communities where the church may be the only public building left after the school, the pub, the shop and post office have gone. They are being used to deliver vital public services by providing premises for libraries, outreach post offices and school halls and, just as importantly, community space. For the place of worship, this can be a way of reconnecting with the local community and at the same time, once people appreciate the value of your building, they may well be willing to share the responsibility of looking after it.
In the Church of England, it is accepted that a church building can have a variety of uses. Those need not be ecclesiastical in purpose provided the primary use of the church remains that of worship. Those uses should not prevent this primary use of the church for worship, or involve activities unsuitable in a church, either because they conflict with its teaching or because they would be unlikely to be regarded as acceptable. It is up to the parish church to decide what exactly it wants to offer the wider community.
This is similar in most of the Christian denominations, where the wider use of the church building will depend on local circumstances and the views of the members. Each church is recognised as a separate organisation which can make decisions about what it provides within its buildings to support their local communities.
Many churches now host a range of community activities, such as toddler groups, play groups, scouting and guiding, youth clubs, women’s groups, elderly groups, keep fit, sports, dancing, choirs, amateur dramatics, university examinations, councillors’ surgeries and ward or area meetings, health-related meetings, lunches, coffee mornings, and even other church congregations. They are also helping to deliver vital rural services such as providing premises for school halls, libraries, cafes, internet cafes and computer clubs, children centres, health centres, training centres, arts centres, community shops, outreach post offices, satellite police stations, food banks and Citizen Advice Bureaux.
Bear in mind that if introducing new activities, reordering the building, and encouraging its use by a wider group of people does seem the right way forward, this requires vision, determination and, of course, money and time.
WHERE TO FIND MORE HELP
The best resource to refer to is the Crossing the Threshold toolkit: a step-by-step guide to developing your place of worship for wider community use and managing a successful building project. This toolkit offers step-by-step guidance for parishes and places of worship from all denominations beginning to consider making changes to their buildings with a vision of opening up their church buildings for wider community use.
It describes how to develop a community project within a church building and how to manage all stages of a building project (which might or might not be a community project). It offers ideas on how to consult and engage with your local community and describes the process for seeking and describes the process for seeking and obtaining permissions as well as explaining the available legal frameworks by which you can share your building with the community/other organisations. It covers all aspects of fundraising including providing guidance on new funding models that have developed over the last few years. The Toolkit also links to up-to-date resources which provide guidance on how churches can be eco-aware and ensure their new facilities are as environmentally-friendly and energy efficient as possible.
It includes recent case studies and incorporates best practice learnt from their experience. There is also advice on managing your building once new activities are taking place there and it is both a community building and a place of worship. The toolkit also looks at governance and new models of sharing management of church buildings with local communities.
There are cases studies throughout the toolkit which provide real-life examples of what is happening in churches across the country.
This toolkit was written and produced by the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance and the Diocese of Hereford in partnership with ChurchCare (Cathedral and Church Buildings Division) and Parish Resources, Church of England, the National Churches Trust and representatives of other denominations.
The latest version of this toolkit was published in November 2017 and can be downloaded for FREE from the Diocese of Hereford’s website. You can download the entire document or particular chapters. hereford.anglican.org/Crossingthethresholdtoolkit
This online version is being regularly updated.
Here is a list of the chapters with a brief summary of what they cover:
STAGE 1: PREPARING THE GROUND
CHAPTER 1: Developing your Vision
will help you develop your vision, after talking to your congregation and other current users of your church building and reassessing your building.
CHAPTER 2: Undertaking a Community Audit and Consulting with the Community
explains how to consult with your local community to ensure that your project delivers something that will be valued and useful.
CHAPTER 3: Developing a Team and Assessing your Skills and Abilities
will help you set up your team, making sure you have all the skills you need. It also highlights some of the areas where your policies will need to be agreed and recorded.
CHAPTER 4: Governance – Choosing the Right Organisational Structure
will help you to decide on the right organisational structure for your project that allows you to do what you want to do and importantly to retain the right level of control over what happens within and to your church building.
STAGE 2: LOOKING AT YOUR OPTIONS
CHAPTER 5: Developing your Ideas – Options Appraisal, Feasibility Study,
Architect’s Brief and the Design Stages
helps you to assess all the options and work out which solution your Group feels provides the best solution and is the most feasible. It also offers guidance on writing Statements of Need and Significance and explains the process of appointing an architect.
CHAPTER 6: Balancing the Need for Change with Heritage and Liturgical Considerations – Legalities and the Church Planning Process
helps you to design your building project while taking into account the heritage of your building and liturgical requirements. It also explains the permission process.
STAGE 3 DELIVERING YOUR PROJECT
CHAPTER 7: Planning your Project
will help you develop a plan at the beginning of the project, and then keep it up to date as the project develops, so that you always feel in control.
CHAPTER 8: Writing a Business Plan
explains how to make a strong business case for your project which will help you to access financial support.
CHAPTER 9: Ensuring your Project is Sustainable
takes you through all the elements of a project that you should consider to ensure your project is sustainable in the long term.
CHAPTER 10: Raising the Funds
will show you how to develop a fundraising strategy which is a written plan that details your funding objectives and how you are going to achieve them. Describes the different methods of raising money.
CHAPTER 11: Identifying the Right External Funders
helps you identify the funders most likely to fund your particular project and how to manage the process of making applications.
CHAPTER 12: Completing Applications – Selling your Project to Funders
explains how to complete application forms in the most effective manner.
CHAPTER 13: Managing Project Cash Flow
provides guidance on how to manage your cash flow while the building works are in progress and also once your new activities are up and running.
CHAPTER 14: Managing the Building Works on Site
Although, most of the activities described in this chapter will be carried out by your architect, it is important that you understand what is happening as ultimately it will be your responsibility.
CHAPTER 15: The Final Stages – Claiming Money, Celebrating, Impact and Evaluation
explains how to undertake an evaluation of your building project and what actions you can take to sustain the next stage of your project.
CHAPTER 16: Further Information
Advice on where you can find more information on all aspects of developing a community project and managing a building project.
WHERE TO FIND MORE HELP
Historic England’s Historic Places of Worship Support Officers
Over the last few years, Historic England has been funding the provision of Support Officers who can work alongside congregations and give them access to a wide range of skills and advice. Find out if your denomination or diocese has such a person in post.
The Churches Conservation Trust Regeneration Task Force has developed several major ‘new use’ projects for churches. Based on this experience, they have also developed a business approach to structure and guide project development. They have identified 5 key stages which aim to simplify the process and help take projects forward in a logical way. visitchurches.org.uk/what-we-do/regeneration-and-communities.html (you will need to scroll down)