A £4.8-MILLION Innovation Fund has been launched by the Archbishops’ Council. Dioceses are invited to bid for grants for projects that can help to “test the assumptions we make about how or why growth may or may not occur”.
The money has been set aside from the Strategic Development Funding (SDF) budget for 2021-22. While SDF grants, first awarded in 2014 (News, 21 October 2016), are usually multi-million-pound awards, the Innovation grants will range from £100,000 to £250,000, for projects that last up to three years and can “act as blueprints for future mission and growth across the country”, a press release says.
The projects must support the official Vision and Strategy for the 2020s, and, “in particular, the priority of becoming a Church which is younger and more diverse”. They will be assessed by the Strategic Investment Board, a sub-group of the Archbishops’ Council. A letter from John Spence, who chairs the board, said that the projects should “generate learning about ‘good growth’, i.e. growth which increases the number of new disciples, strengthens discipleship, grows the impact of the Church’s social engagement work, or increases and diversifies the number of leaders in the church”.
An early award has been made to the diocese of Ely for work by sports ministers, trained at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, with children and young people at Christ the Redeemer, Barnwell, a church on an outer urban estate of Cambridge.
A guidance note states: “The challenges facing the Church today require new and innovative solutions, alongside tried and tested approaches, in order to advance mission among people across the whole of the country.” Applicants must convince the board that projects “have the potential to create a step change in missional growth, with the learning processes in place necessary to benefit the whole Church. . .
“Innovation Funding aims to test the assumptions we make about how or why growth may or may not occur. Applications will need to demonstrate how their proposal will provide the learning necessary to ensure these assumptions are fully understood, so that they can be confidently applied to future projects, leading to growth beyond the project in question.”
Early SDF projects finished some years ago. While there has always been an explicit commitment to robust evaluation and the dissemination of learning from the programme, and bids contain metrics against which success is to be measured, the extent to which information has been made available has varied (Features, 15 November 2019). Some detailed evaluations have been published (News, 4 October 2019), others not.
The 2020 annual report by the Strategic Investment Board states that, on the basis of current data from dioceses, “around 11,500 new disciples have been witnessed so far through the projects supported by SDF. It is anticipated that the total number of new disciples that will be created through all the projects supported to date will be around 69,000 and the projects will also engage with an additional 55,000 people who will potentially become new disciples.”
In total, SDF is expected to distribute £276 million by the end of 2026.