Effect of new Strategic Development Funds hard to evaluate 

15 November 2019

Multi-million scheme for growth should ‘allow good failure’

DIOCESE OF COVENTRY

St James Live, an open mic night held at a café in Coventry city centre as part of Acceler8

St James Live, an open mic night held at a café in Coventry city centre as part of Acceler8

A TOTAL of £136 million has now been allocated from the C of E’s Strategic Development Fund (SDF) — but questions persist about how results are being measured and reported.

A Church Times investigation has looked at reports by dioceses that have bid for the cash — made available by the Church Commissioners since 2014 on the grounds that the Church should act to halt the decline in congregations.

Church House says that it is too early to evaluate their effectiveness, and only £35 million of the total allocated has so far been spent. But after five years of funding there is evidence available.

John Spence, who chairs the Archbishops’ Council’s finance committee, has spoken of his “legal and moral obligation” to ensure that the work is robustly evaluated. Every project, he said, would be quizzed: “Did it provide the value for money or the value for Christ that we intend?” But Church House would not necessarily publish independent evaluations of individual projects; this was a decision for dioceses to make.

Both national officials and diocesan staff spoke of the challenge of public reporting while protecting individuals, and allowing time for a turn-around. The head of funding at the Church Commissioners, David Jennings, said that it was “still learning how to measure”, and had a desire not to “humiliate people” and “allow good failure”.

The annual report of the Strategic Investment Board, which allocates the grants, states that, by February this year, 8500 people had “in God’s grace, become disciples” as a result of the work, although Statistics for Mission continues to record decline by traditional measures (News, 17 October).

The Church Commissioners have issued grants to 66 projects. At its launch as part of Renewal and Reform (News, 21 October 2016), the grants were expected to range in size from £500,000 to £1 million, but they have since grown in size to multi-million-pound allocations.

The Bishop of Monmouth-elect, the Ven. Cherry Vann, said that it would be a “sad day if all the focus on growth was just about numbers”, but that “we can’t ignore the fact that church congregations, generally speaking, are either stable or declining.”

Among the earliest projects is the diocese of Coventry’s Acceler8 initiative, awarded £639,143 in 2015, to reach those aged 20 to 30. The diocese estimates that 270 “additional people” have so far been added.

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