CHURCHES across the UK may be missing out on millions of pounds of potential income because church buildings are being left empty for most of the week, the Centre for Theology and Community (CTC) has reported.
Its report Assets not Burdens: Using church property to accelerate church mission, published on Thursday of last week, warns that churches of all denominations are sitting on “huge assets” that could increase both their income and mission.
The report was based on an online survey of 44 churches in the London Borough of Islington last year, 21 of which were Church of England. But its findings, the CTC says, can be applied to all of the 55,000 churches, of all denominations, across the country.
Of the 85 churches in Islington, 73 per cent (62) own the buildings they use, including church halls, meeting-rooms, and worship spaces; the remainder rent these spaces, the report says. But, despite almost all “owning” churches’ offering their buildings to the community in various ways, they are under-used, and icreasing lettings of these spaces could generate an additional £64,000 per church per year on average, the report says. That is £4 million of gross income per year in Islington, in addition to the £1.4 million currently being generated by its churches.
The estimated average gross income from church lettings in Islington is currently £23,000 per church per year, it says. The total estimated weekly Sunday attendance of 16,900 is equivalent to eight per cent of the local population.
“For all the challenges of property values in London, there is an equal and opposite opportunity: land and buildings are historic assets offering huge potential for mission,” the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, writes in a foreword to the report. “We need to shift our mindset from ‘liability’ to ‘asset’, and to embrace our buildings as gifts and not burdens.”
The report suggests that three-quarters of the churches in Islington are keen to increase community use of their buildings, for concerts, counselling, training, foodbanks, nurseries, and other purposes. It points to case studies of larger churches — such as St Paul’s, Old Ford, in Tower Hamlets — which, it says, are already “very good” at managing their buildings. “The solution lies in recognising their potential for mission — which leads to church growth. We need a change of mind-set.”
“Rather than seeing ourselves as ‘owners’ it is often therefore more appropriate to think of ourselves as ‘stewards’ or ‘tenants’ who need to think carefully about what we are handing on to others in the future.”
The report recommends a new “enterprise-based approach” to help churches “market and manage” their spaces, while generating an income.
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, the Lead Bishop for cathedrals and church buildings, welcomed the recommendations: “Church buildings should never be silent mausoleums but always vibrant centres of service at the heart of their local community.”
The Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe, writes in an afterword: “Most churches don’t have building managers. They cannot afford them. That is why this report is not just helpful in highlighting the huge opportunity for using buildings more effectively for mission, but also hopeful because it points towards a very practical solution.”