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Retrenchment and survival: one diocese’s response to the crisis

18 March 2022

Lincoln diocese has decided to stop ‘trying to do everything everywhere’. Madeleine Davies reports on its radical plans

Diocese of Lincoln

The churches in Lincoln diocese by type

The churches in Lincoln diocese by type

LAST October, in a webinar hosted by the diocese of Lincoln, an authorised lay minister (ALM) in a small village in rural north-east Lincolnshire described the pattern of worship at her church.

Before the pandemic, there had been a regular service once a month, attended by just one other person. In alternate months, the two of them received holy communion from a priest. In between, “we sat by side by side and read through the service, which was nice for us — but nobody else came.” The village is home to about 80 adults, and a recent harvest service had been attended by about 14.

It would take only “two keen families” moving into the community to turn this situation around, leaving her with a “flourishing church on your hands”, the host of the webinar, the Revd Richard Crossland, suggested.

“Every time there is a house for sale in the village . . . I pray very hard it would be a family, or somebody who would be interested in coming to church,” the ALM replied, “but God hasn’t answered that prayer yet.”

Like the other webinar participants, she was considering identifying the church as a “Festival Church”, marking the end of regular worship. In Lincoln, this is also known as a “Type 4” church: one of five categories in a taxonomy in which all 615 of the diocese’s churches have now chosen a place. Ticking “4” would put her in good company: more than one quarter of the total have done so, having been asked to consider: “What type of church do we believe God is calling us to be?”

 

THE church-types survey is just the first stage in a five-year process, “Time to Change Together” (TTCT). It began in 2019 with a consultation that drew in more than 600 people, culminating in a 70-page report, Resourcing Sustainable Church (RSC), whose recommendations were approved by the diocesan synod in April 2021.

At the heart of this plan is the message that it is time to “stop all churches trying to do all things and to allow individual places and people to focus on their strengths”.

In practice, this is going to involve a radical work of reorganisation, with a reduced number of stipendiary clergy devoting the lion’s share of their time to “Key and Local Mission churches” (Types 1 and 2), and a culture shift that asks the diocese’s worshippers to see themselves as “belonging to something bigger” — travelling, in many instances, to gather in “fewer more concentrated and stronger groupings”.

It will be a challenge, the diocese is aware, for those “unable to join and let go of their local affiliation to a small group and its building”. It will also entail a new approach to diocesan finances: the entirety of stipendiary ministry will be covered by parish giving, and a reckoning with the diocese’s inheritance of hundreds of listed buildings.

The RSC report is clear: “Buildings easily dominate our thinking and our planning. Caring for our heritage has been a wonderful work of loyal churchgoers for centuries, but we may need to share or in some cases hand over that role to others.

“In a period when the Church needs to simplify, regroup, find and hone its strengths, the priority has to be the life of the Christian communities and their ministers that have the will and the potential to flourish, and those church buildings that are suitable and best placed to provide worship, nurture, attraction, and the gathering of the people.”

 

THE stark background to this plan will be familiar to many in other dioceses. Lincoln has a hefty annual operating deficit of £3 million (News, 28 February 2020), and, while some of its churches are thriving, many are struggling to recruit lay officers or shoulder the “spiralling costs of building maintenance and insurance”. Ministers are reporting stress and overload, which sometimes results in burnout or breakdown.

While the situation has undoubtedly been exacerbated by Covid-19, these are long-running problems. For years, Lincoln — the wealthiest diocese in the Church by assets (News, 27 May 2021) — has been bridging the gap between parish share and clergy stipend costs (£4 million) by disposing of those assets.

Low levels of giving — the lowest of any diocese — date back decades. In 2019, the average individual weekly planned gift in Lincoln was £8.10, compared with £14.10 nationally. Only four benefices paid enough parish share to cover the cost of their stipendiary clergy. In real terms, across the C of E an average of £63,200 was received for every stipendiary parish priest. In Lincoln, the equivalent figure was £33,200. Over the past five years, in an effort to plug the gap, the diocese has sold land worth more than £12 million and reduced the overall value of its assets by £11 million.

The diocese also faces a particular set of challenges related to geography. By size, it is the second largest in the Church, bordering York at its northernmost point and Ely to the south. With a population of just over one million, it is also one of the least densely populated: with a ratio of one church per 1750 people (for comparison, in London, it is more than one to 9000). On average, there are just 0.6 square miles around each church.

While the diocese has some larger settlements — a “major” town numbers about 25,000 people — many people live in relatively small market towns and smaller villages. The population of the largest city, Lincoln, is just 115,000. While 28 per cent may seem like a high proportion of Festival Churches in the total, the diocese estimates that these churches currently serve just three per cent of the population.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, multi-parish benefices are very much the norm in the diocese. Its 475 parishes have been organised into 158 benefices, or groups, of which 80 are multi-parish. Four is the median number of parishes (although there is one 29-parish benefice). Most of the 78 single-parish benefices contain multiple churches; a vicar with a sole cure is very rare.

It is a context that has, historically, inspired innovation. In 1953, for example, the Church Times reported on the “parish bus” bought by the South Ormsby Group of ten parishes as “a means of bringing a scattered population to church”. In 1999, Philip Goodrich, the former Bishop of Worcester who had been Rector of the group in the early 1960s, wrote an article to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the group (by this point under the care of a single priest-in-charge, aided mostly by a team of laywomen), as an experiment that had helped to tackle clergy isolation, and encouraged parishioners to “look outward” (Features, 16 July 1999).

Yet, in rural areas, he observed, “parochialism dies hard: too many clergy have to spend their Sundays celebrating the eucharist as many as four times, because people will not move from their church for fear it might be closed. In the rural areas, there is a need to establish a form of church that is not dictated by the number of church buildings we have: we may need to learn how to close a church to the glory of God.”

 

TWENTY years later, the diocese is keen to reassure parishioners that there is “absolutely no central mandate for church closures”. While candid about the challenge of caring for them, RSC describes all 615 of its church buildings as “sharing the prayer in which their walls are soaked, all immensely valued as part of our heritage, our landscape and our culture”.

Just 26 of the 615 have opted to consider closure (“Type 5”). In some parishes, churches been reassessed “upwards”. Some who were initially opting to explore closure have discovered that the local community is keen to keep the church open.

But there is no doubt that a nettle needs to be grasped. Care for some of these buildings, struggling to appoint officers, attract worshippers, or pay the parish share, has “overwhelmed or exhausted their communities”, RSC reports. While, in the long term, a national conversation between the Church and the Government is likely to be needed, the immediate and urgent task of working out how to care for these buildings cannot fall on “neighbouring mission churches”.

This latter stipulation is indicative of one of the central messages of TTCT: that the diocese’s limited financial resources must be concentrated on those churches best able to take forward mission and grow. If, as the numbers suggest, the diocese will, at best, be able to afford 100 stipendiary posts and 18 curates in 2025, hard decisions will need to be taken about where to deploy them.

These decisions are yet to be taken. But, while RSC is clear that the types do not constitute a “hierarchy”, the type chosen by each church will undoubtedly have a bearing on the level of stipendiary ministry that it receives. “The fundamental principle of this is that we must put our biggest resources into the churches that have identified that they can grow and flourish,” as Mr Crossland told a webinar for Types 1 and 2 in October, in his seconded capacity as “Re-imagining Church Lead” (he is also Vicar of All Saints’, Nettleham, and Rural Dean of Lawres).

 

ALL 615 responses are now mapped on to the diocese, and the next stage of TTCT is being undertaken by the steering groups of the nine “deanery partnerships” (DPs) into which the diocese has been divided [the red boundaries on the map]. While boundaries are still being decided, DPs are likely to correspond broadly to local-authority areas. Comprising rural deans, lay chairs, an archdeacon, and a bishop, these steering groups are currently reviewing the mix of church types in their partnership area, and considering what an allocation of stipends might look like.

Church type, giving, history, local circumstances, and existing deployment patterns will all be taken into account, as will “what a fair distribution of stipends . . . according to population and income deprivation might be” (the £1 million of national low-income-communities funding allocated to Lincoln is to be dedicated to funding stipendiary ministry in areas of income deprivation).

In each DP, parishes and benefices will be clustered into Local Mission Partnerships (LMPs — restructuring tends to attract acronyms). Various options for the organisation of these LMPs, all possible in the Church’s existing legal structures, are set out in RSC.

While the report states that there is to be no “formula” for how many of each church type there should be in an LMP, and “no expectation of an even distribution of church types across the diocese”, it also suggests that each LMP should aim to have at least one Local Mission Church (Type 2), and that “clergy well-being and congregational flourishing is most likely to be achieved with a minimum deployment of three stipends”.

Decisions made at deanery-partnership level will not be set in stone: there is a commitment to further local dialogue this year before the new distribution is commended to the Bishop’s Council.

 

THE diocesan leadership has been enthusiastic about the restructuring plans. In a Zoom call in February, senior diocesan leaders were upbeat. While the RSC metrics are undoubtedly stark, a look at the diocese’s 2019 Statistics for Mission shows that, by several measures, attendance has fallen by less than the national average.

Between 2014 and 2019, the worshipping community in Lincoln reportedly grew by ten per cent to 20,600. In the C of E, church attendance per capita in rural areas is about twice as high as in urban ones.

In his first pastoral letter to the diocese, published in January, the Acting Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, praised a “readiness across the diocese to serve the renewal of hope for the church and the world around us”.

Speaking over Zoom, he expresses his belief that “morale is really closely associated with ‘Is there a plan?’ . . . Having a framework and a plan that has arisen out of very, very profound local conversations does make people feel: ‘Well, we really are learning from what God is teaching us from the facts on the ground, and not having some superstructure imposed on us.’”

The Bishop of Grantham, Dr Nicholas Chamberlain, discerns “a sense that we are being real — a sense that people are saying: ‘OK, so what is God doing here now and with us?’ And there has been an element of relief in that. In Lincolnshire, I think it really matters that you are who you are.”

He has personal experience of this, he says: “The Church of England’s out gay bishop happens to be in this rural diocese. You might not have thought that this would be where it would happen . . . but me being me has never been an issue” (News, 9 September 2016).

Honesty is a term also picked up by Nigel Bacon, a Reader who chairs the House of Laity. He reports a “very positive reaction” to the church-types process. Among respondents who have opted to designate their church as a Type 4 Festival Church, he has discerned “a bit of a relief, being honest with themselves”, alongside confidence that a future has been secured for a precious inheritance.

The diocese is being frank about well-being, too, both lay and ordained. Lincoln’s geography has led to pressures on people to work alone, Dr Chamberlain says. “I know that stipendiary clergy carry an inherited picture of relating to community and a set of people; but the territory, regardless, makes that quite challenging.” In October, all licensed clergy and Readers were invited to have a “vocational conversation”, to discuss “where they see opportunity, or the possibility of reshaping their call, sharing their skills and gifts in different ways, and working in partnership more fruitfully”.

Isolation is not a new challenge, Bishop Conway says: “Edward King, my most renowned and holy predecessor for a long time, was writing about this more than 100 years ago, when there were 600 clergy in the diocese.”

Diocese of LincolnBishop Stephen Conway (sixth from left) and the senior diocesan team

A fundamental principle of TTCT is that silo working and thinking must end. The diocese should become one in which “no minister is an independent practitioner.” For the diocese’s worshippers, this vision will require them to see themselves as “belonging to something bigger”, to be willing to look beyond their own parish to access the “oases” on offer from larger churches.

The goal is that everyone will have access “both to a church in their immediate neighbourhood and a better resourced church or churches within easy reach”, and RSC provides case studies to suggest how these “multiple layers of belonging” might work in practice. A person might, say, worship at a Local Mission Church (Type 2), but also help run monthly coffee mornings in another village church, and attend a contemplative prayer course at a Key Mission Church (Type 1).

The leadership team believes that in many places this is already happening (and this is borne out in some of the webinar responses). The Team Rector of Boston, and director of RSC, Canon Aly Buxton, reports that the pandemic has acted as something of a catalyst: “We were all worshipping together on Zoom as a parish, and that has had a massive impact in terms of our partnership and how we see one another.”

Mr Bacon discerns high levels of enthusiasm among fellow Readers, “a feeling that this is going to give more fulfilment in the exercise of their ministry . . . to be seen as equal partners in ministry, meeting the needs of God’s ministry across the diocese”. The diocesan director of ordinands, the Revd Sonia Baron, reports: “So many people coming to see me at the moment, as if the floodgates opened. I expected it to be the reverse. So many people now who are seeking to know ‘What is God calling me to do or to be?’”

RSC acknowledges, nevertheless, that not everyone in Lincoln is likely to embrace the changes that are under way. There will be, it foresees, some “unable to join and let go of their local affiliation to a small group and its building. They must be respected and cared for as well as gently encouraged. That cannot be allowed to distract our ministers from the task of building, restoring, and re-forming the mission churches which offer the best chance of survival, flourishing, and future growth.” Types 3 and 4 will offer “a less rich diet of sacramental or clergy-led worship and sustenance”.

When it comes to the cure of souls, Dr Chamberlain explains that, while every person in the diocese will always have a “named person” as an incumbent, TTCT will mean that “they will need to work on how they relate to her or him. . .

“We don’t have a blueprint of this is how it’s going to work,” he accepts. “We understand, therefore, people saying, ‘Well, what will happen?’ And the answer is we are with you in it as it is happening.”

 

THE church-types webinars, all held in October, provide further insight into the reception of TTCT on the ground.

A recurrent question, perhaps unsurprisingly, was how the choice of church type related to parish share. Several participants were clear that finance had determined their response to the survey. Mr Crossland, however, was keen to correct the belief that “you have to be able to give this amount of money to be this kind of church,” urging respondents not to base their decision on “what gives us the best advantage in paying as little covenanted share as possible”.

During one exchange, he expressed surprise that a church in a large parish was considering identifying as a Type 2 “at a push”. The area needed a “solid, flourishing, all-singing, all-dancing parish church”, he explained. “If it is not that at the moment, then we need to be having a conversation about how it might become that, not whether it should go in the other direction.”

Questions about clergy deployment also came up. One participant was concerned that her area might be allocated one priest “in charge of 26 churches or 30 churches”.

Number-crunching by the diocese (which has been commendably transparent) indicated that, based on 2020 parish share and Lower Income Communities Funding, it could sustain only 79 stipends. Numbers are already falling through retirements and clergy moves: from 116 to 109 posts between December 2020 and November 2021. A return to pre-pandemic levels of giving would bring parish share to just under £4 million, and would require a £500,000 increase over 2019, by 2025, to fund 100 posts.

Yet decisions about exactly where this 100 will be deployed remain to be taken, and, to some extent, a chicken-and-egg scenario has emerged: the financial response from parishes will directly influence the number of stipends in the diocese (the diocesan board of finance has set a cost of £55,000 per cleric per year), but will parishes be content to make a financial commitment without knowing in advance what stipendiary ministry they will receive?

Despite this picture, some webinar participants were sanguine about the future — aware, perhaps, that most ministry in most places is already delivered by non-stipendiary ministers. As of last month, Lincoln had 115 stipendiary and 19 non-stipendiary priests in parish ministry, and 29 curates. Ministering alongside them were 19 OLMs, more than 140 clergy with PTO, 120 Readers, and 280 ALMs.

istockAn aerial view of Spalding, one of the diocese’s market towns

One churchwarden noted that average attendance at his church numbered about one quarter of the village population of 78. The PCC was concentrating its efforts on reaching out to non-churchgoers who supported it, “mowing the lawns, fixing things, having socials organised for the benefit of the church”, and on serving passing ramblers. A service was held every two months, and the desire was to maintain this pattern. “We haven’t had a minister for 20 years,” he observed, listing an NSM, retired ministers, and ALMs shared with seven other churches. “We can still do quite a lot without them.”

Another said that his church — an enormous 1000-year-old building in a village that had dwindled to just 17 houses — had already been operating as a Festival Church “for quite a while”, offering four Sunday services a year. He described as “unhelpful” the use of the term “regular” — “because we, I would say, have regular services in the same way that the Olympics is regular.”

Yet, as Mr Crossland acknowledged, the challenge of a new system, with fewer stipendiary priests, “isn’t just filling rotas for Sunday. It’s who is going to be there and nurture everybody, and who do you talk to?”

THE lack of certainty about clergy deployment is among the issues that worry Fred Mann. A churchwarden of St Nicholas’s, Sapperton, an ALM in the North Beltisloe Benefice, and a member of the diocesan synod, he reports that, despite the central message that “this it not all about money”, questions about finance are driving PCC involvement in the process.

“It’s been put over very, very well, very forcibly, that there isn’t any money in the diocese. They are aware of that. And therefore the amount that individual parishes have to contribute in the future is quite important.”

How these contributions are made is set to change: the current formula-based system of parish-share allocation will be replaced by “Covenant Giving”, in which each local church pledges a financial contribution to stipendiary-ministry costs. The aim is that this giving will cover the entire costs of stipendiary ministry in the diocese, which will then pick up all other costs through the use of historic assets or other income sources, including the cost of training curates.

For some months now, a 39-strong team of volunteer “Covenant Pastors” has been holding conversations with parishes to discuss this new approach. While careful to avoid criticising the individuals who visited, Mr Mann reports a level of frustration and concern at PCC level. It is very hard, he explains, for a small rural parish, dependent on a few ageing people, to forecast what they will be able to contribute in five years’ time.

The term “covenant” is “starting to be analysed a little bit more”, he observes. “If we are covenanting an amount to the diocese, what are we going to get in return?” He’s wary of the message that stipendiary provision will depend on local decision-making — a means, he fears, of avoiding “blame at the macro level when things go wrong”.

His own deanery, covering the southern part of Lincolnshire, has already started considering how it might look under the new structure, including estimating how much money is available. Currently, he reports, each incumbent in the deanery has a personal connection with every church in their benefice. “Under the new system, that cannot be the case, unless they are going to be looking after 20 churches each. . . This is where I see this as the breakdown of the parish system.”

When it comes to the average person in a rural village, he suggests, “nothing . . . replaces their vicar. It’s a huge English tradition that goes back many many years, and to shake that is very much against the grain.”

As a former head teacher and chair of governors of the C of E primary school, he is particularly concerned about the impact on the Church’s relationship with the diocese’s 141 church schools. While encouraged by the appointment of Bishop Conway — one of the Lords Spiritual leads on education — he is concerned about how a reduced number of clergy will maintain a highly valued “age-old tradition” of school involvement.

And, when it comes to the vision of “belonging to something bigger”, he questions whether worshippers will be easily persuaded. “If you say, actually, we are only having one service a month, but there is a service elsewhere offering this different type of service, it is very rare for our parishes, despite heroic efforts, to actually move.”

SUCH reluctance is not news to the Rector of the Waltham Group, the Revd Kimberly Bohan, Rural Dean of Haverstoe and part of the deployment group that drafted RSC. “That is the culture shift that we are trying to make, and we know that some people won’t make it,” she says. “And we will continue to love and care for that group of people as best we can. The shift is that that group of people have been the primary determining factor in our decisions as to what happens where.”

When she has asked “What might the church look like in five to ten years’ time?” she has sometimes received the response: “We won’t be here; we don’t care.” This is, she observes, “information that we can’t completely yield to”.

The model in Lincoln has been “almost accidentally driven by the complexity of the 600-plus buildings that we have, and trying to maintain the expectations of every community. Our effort to do that has often been at the cost of choices for growth and mission.”

Richard Croft/Creative CommonsThe Minster Church of St Mary, Stow, one of the largest and oldest in England

Addressing this imbalance will inevitably entail “some sadness and disappointment”, she says. But her hope is that TTCT will produce a “healthier Church”, encouraging both clergy and laity to ask: “How much can we do well? And where should we do it for the most effect? — rather than trying to do everything everywhere, and doing it badly because we are all exhausted.”

Physical well-being has not been the only casualty of the “model of ubiquity”, she suggests. It has also sometimes come “at the cost of discipleship”. In some smaller villages, worshippers have one Prayer Book service a month (“led by me hastening on to another church afterwards”), and another led by an ALM with limited theological training.

“That’s church for them,” she explains. “They expect the priest to do all of the work in the community. They don’t have study groups, they don’t have Bible groups, they won’t come to anything mid-week. I don’t think you can do Christian formation in half-an-hour a month. And this has been going on for decades. . . The model of ministry has not formed people well.”

Yet helping her churches through the church-types process has also highlighted a willingness among parishioners to be both “realistic” and “brave”. One church has opted to identify as a Type 2, despite currently functioning like a Type 3, “because we know that this community needs us to be a Type 2, and we are going to fight for it.” Another, a Type 3, is “a small, faithful, deeply prayerful community” of just 15 people.

She believes that TTCT could help to produce a Church in which people learn that “we belong to each other in Christ.”

“Letting that belonging be more significant than a building is not just an economic need: it is a genuine value of Christian faith,” she observes. “The most exciting thing for me in this is that — if we can get groups of clergy and lay leaders working together, praying together for an area, saying: ‘What can we do?’ rather than having the starting point be: ‘This is what is currently expected, how shall we build the rota?’ — then I think lots of exciting new things could happen.”

 

IN AN update on the national Church’s Vision and Strategy delivered to the General Synod last year, the Archbishop of York observed “a lot of tiredness”, acknowledging that “We have had lots of initiatives. They have not always been well received. Neither have they always been particularly effective.”

In Lincoln, those with longer memories may recall the New Era, a strategy launched in the diocese in 2005 in which stipendiary ministers were replaced, in many places, with voluntary lay ministers. Provision of ministry was on the basis of “You get what you pay for.”

In 2012, a Central Services Review reported “widespread dissatisfaction” with the approach, warning that parishes felt that they were “presiding over decline”, and that a lack of stipendiary priests and low levels of giving had resulted in a “downward spiral of despair” (News, 28 September 2012).

Its recommendation that a £5-million Diocesan Mission Fund be used to “pump-prime a new cadre of stipendiary deanery clergy” was taken up by Bishop Christopher Lowson, who, in 2013, announced plans to recruit 100 new clergy and make Lincoln “the best environment for personal, professional, and spiritual development for its clergy” (News, 4 October 2013).

What happened? Speaking via Zoom, the Diocesan Secretary, David Dadswell, reports that recruitment proved difficult, particularly in coastal areas. The nearest the diocese got to achieving its 2013 goal of 150 stipendiary clergy was 137. “There was a good result, in that our decline in numbers was being arrested, but, in terms of finance, we weren’t having the improvements that we needed for us to be sustainable as a diocese,” he says.

“It may have been in time that it would have delivered, but it wasn’t possible for us to continue as we were going.”

As the diocese once again plans reductions, the Bishop of Grimsby, Dr David Court, anticipates the question: “Were we not the diocese that proved that cutting stipendiary clergy is disastrous because it cut numbers and finance and all of that? The answer is, Yes, we were the diocese that proved that.”

The difference this time, he says, is that “our commitment at the moment is to putting as much resource as we possibly can into local parishes. . . It’s why we have cut central services.”

The numbers bear this out. Between 2019 and 2020, central costs were reduced by £400,000, and the aim is for a further reduction of £1.5 million by 2025. The diocese is also committed to providing each Deanery Partnership with administrative support, to release ministers from the burden of paperwork.

The overarching aim is to take the diocese from a deficit of more than £4 million to a surplus of £700,000 by 2025, with a 50-per-cent increase in parish share from about £3 million to £4.5 million, and a 45-per-cent increase in investment and glebe funding to £3.2 million among the ambitious targets.

In recent years, the diocese has aimed to sell £3.5 million of glebe land each year, reinvesting the proceeds in investments to enable a better annual return. But it has concluded that further sales are likely to be seen as “fire sales”, damaging the portfolio.

Investment from the rental of 84 of its 234 houses is delivering a poor return, it reports, and the new plan is to “urgently reduce” the number of houses, introducing a “mixed model” for housing curates in future years, including private rentals and housing allowances. Edward King House, a Grade II* listed Gothic Revival-style property, home to central diocesan offices, put on the market for £2.5 million, is currently under offer.

In total, expenditure is set to fall by £2.6 million by 2025. The clergy stipends bill will fall by 16 per cent — almost £1 million — to £5 million; and the wage bill for central support services will fall by almost twice that — 30 per cent — to £1.2 million.

 

WHILE money is clearly an important part of the picture, for Ms Bohan the difference this time round is that, while New Era was based on the premise that “we will continue to do everything we already have, using whoever we can find, and asking more and more of people”, Time to Change Together has an altogether different message: “We will not ask the impossible. We will not make people ill and burnt out. Instead, we will ask people to be realistic, as they pray and plan together, about how much can be offered and where it should go.”

It will be years before the results of these decisions are clear. But, while the leadership team emphasises that it strategy has been tailored to the diocese, Bishop Court says that “in our big dreams, we actually think we might end up having something to offer to the wider Church.”

As more emerges about diocesan battle-plans in the face of what has been termed the “four-headed beast” — falling attendance, financial deficits, the demands of built heritage, and a heavy dependence on an ageing, often exhausted, lay volunteer force (Features, 10 September 2021) — it may be that Lincoln’s decision to lay aside the model of ubiquity proves prescient.


Diocese of LincolnProportion of church types in Lincoln dioceseChurch Types

Type 1 Key Mission Church: a “large, flourishing, confident church, strategically located to serve a significant population and act as a resource for a wider catchment area”. Current total: 20

Type 2 Local Mission Church: a “flourishing, confident, and well-used church embedded in a specific village, town, or area of a larger town, adequately resourced in skills and lay involvement. Everyone should have easy access to such a church.” Current total: 108

Type 3 Community Church: one that “cannot support the full parish church role” of Types 1 and 2, “but is keen to keep open with some regular prayer and worship, with a good lay team to help deliver this, and to serve as a focus for the community, and for baptisms, weddings, and funerals, and celebrations at key points of the liturgical year where possible.” Current total: 286

Type 4 Festival Church: One that “wants to continue as places of worship, but lacks the personnel, resources, or regular congregation to have the level of worship and prayer of a Community Church”. May be open for private prayer, occasional offices, and festivals, and used for a “wide variety of community purposes”. Current total: 175

Type 5 Church Exploring Closure. “If you have no lay officers and no money to maintain and insure a church, closure may be inevitable.” Current total: 26

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