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Cut coats according to cloth

14 November 2014

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.

Send issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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