We know that many churches are opening up to community
activities, and we think that that is a good way to go; but we
don't have enough people to run any more activities. It is all we
can do to keep the church and its services running.
THERE are several ways in which the phrase "community
activities" is being used.
Churches run programmes for local people, and call these
"community activities"; and churches allow groups and organisations
to run their own community activities in church, as in a hall. Some
churches are doing it to evangelise; some are doing it to meet
local demand; and many see the financial contributions of letting
the church begin to balance their strained budgets. So which kind
of community activities are you thinking of running?
Organising activities as part of your evangelism programme,
meeting and befriending people and enabling them to find out about
God, can be sustained by some churches. Having available skilled
church volunteers for regular groups can be a challenge, as for
this week's correspondent, and, overall, such programmes tend to
cost more than they bring in financially. So count the cost before
you start ploughing. Remember, too, the extra indirect costs of
more heating and cleaning.
Allowing outside people to book your church, as if it is a hall,
for their event or programme may be set up with appropriate booking
fees that help to cover the utilities and maintenance costs of the
building. Check that you are covering all the costs (including the
cleaning) from outside groups: people putting money in the
offertory are contributing to the "religious" costs of the church,
not towards the overheads of, for example, a local self-employed
aerobics teacher. The latter is not a "charitable" or religious
activity. This is still mission, but more unconditional in its
service for people in the parish.
If you are going to fund-raise from people in order to adapt
your building, it probably won't matter how you use the phrase
"community activities"; but, if you want to apply to charitable
trusts - and even the Lottery - it will matter. Each charitable
trust is set up with a set of objectives for its giving. Many such
charities cannot support religious activities, and a programme to
hold community activities with a view to extending your
congregation is a religious activity.
But it is a really grey area for many. The Big Lottery some
years ago said that if your community activity were to include a
prayer or religious talk, that would be religious activity and
ineligible for a grant. Self-running or unconditional uses that
meet local need are not religious.
But back to my correspondent in particular. If you are generally
keen to involve people in their parish church, then ensure that
your letting fees cover employing someone to do the extra work:
cleaning, unlocking, locking, and administration, and that they
also cover the extra costs with regard to heating, lighting, and
repair. This is very low-impact for you, and can make your church
somewhere that people in the area consider as their own, and a
place to build friendships.
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