Basics of adapting a church

05 September 2014

Are there fundamental things to know when adapting our church for added use by our local community? We have learned some lessons over recent years, but would value your view.

START by assessing your aims. There are plenty of valid reasons for adapting your church, but, unless you know what you really want to achieve, you may well do a great deal of of work, and still miss your target.

There are churches that use "community" to refer to use of the church for weddings, funerals, baptisms, and even civic events. From the point of view of outside funders, this is increased religious activity.

Another use of "community" describes the church's being available through a letting programme to local people and groups for their self-organised activities and events. Large funders will use "community use" in this way.

If your aim is to simply increase income for the maintenance of the church, then the first of these uses - increased religious activity - may bring more donations, and the second - increased local bookings - will bring in more regular income.

Having worked out where you think you might be heading, the next step is to undertake an audit of local needs and demand. Use a questionnaire to gain the views of as many local residents as possible about how they view the church, and its potential to meet their needs. Do not depend on your own perceptions as regular churchgoers, but gather in other views.

Contact local voluntary groups and organisations, and ask how the church might support local activities, and how they might use the church. Record all the responses, and prepare a summary report for discussion. Is there a local need and demand for added use of the church? If so, for what sorts of activities? How might added use meet the church's aim?

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Make a plan or schedule of potential increased activity, and the related financial picture, and see if it comes near to meeting your target for increased community use. If not, revisit your aims, and find what can be realistic, and what is viable and sustainable for the church and the community in the future: that is, redo the planning and local questions until you determine what is achievable and sustainable.

A next step is to assess what funds might be available for adapting your church. How much money do you have in the church savings? What calls are there on those funds? Do you have to do large repairs first? Research possible sources and amounts of outside funding. How much could be raised from Lottery, Landfill, and other trusts?

Look at all the websites, and find out what are their maximum, and their average, grants, and whether you are, for example, in the right postcode area to apply for a grant. Most local authorities are strapped for cash at present, but it is worth checking if your church is in a special zone targeted for investment and community facilities. Then check with other churches in your area to find out what sums they have managed to raise, from what sources, and how much. This will, again, help you to determine what you might realistically raise. Would the diocese contribute?

You will then be well-informed for starting a conversation with your chosen architect. By the way, remember that the largest funders will want to know that you chose your architect by competitive tender. You will be able to be specific about what actual activities will take place, for how many people, and how often. You will be able to talk about realistic levels of funding that could be raised to execute essential building works.

This conversation may take several meetings, and perhaps the assistance of a quantity surveyor to ensure that the price is achievable.

Send your issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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