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Strategic Development Funding gets 27,000 new people through the doors, Church House reports

09 November 2023

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THE £198-million Strategic Development Funding (SDF) programme launched by the Archbishops’ Council in 2014 has helped to bring 27,000 new people to church services and gatherings, Church House announced on Thursday.

“Figures from evaluations, annual reports, internal summaries and updates show 26,000 to 27,000 people newly participating in different church gatherings backed by SDF,” the press release said. “These range from parents bringing their children to Messy churches to those attending morning and evening church services.”

It also reported the addition of 4000 to 5000 leaders in lay leadership or exploring vocations to ordained ministries, and between 900 and 1000 “new worshipping communities”, including church-plants, chaplaincies, and café churches “formed through mission projects backed by SDF”.

SDF was expected to create 89,375 disciples between 2014 and 2021, but an independent review published last year concluded that, to date, 12,705 had been “witnessed” (News, 11 March 2022). During its rollout, church attendance has continued to decline, by seven per cent in the three years from October 2016 to 2019 and then — in a sample of dioceses studied this year — by 22 per cent between 2019 and 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic (News, 6 April 2023).

Part of the Renewal and Reform programme, SDF allocated money from the Archbishops’ Council to dioceses in response to bids demonstrating that their project would result in “a significant difference to their mission and financial health” (News, 21 October 2016). Between 2024 and the conclusion of the programme last year, 12 tranches of funding were allocated, supporting 92 projects with awards totalling £198 million. To date, £116 million has been drawn down, and funds continue to be disbursed for 77 continuing projects.

The paper outlining the SDF programme at its inception, Resourcing the Future, offered the reassurance that “the focus on evaluation will mean that the Church can have confidence that its mutually shared resources are being stewarded effectively.” But the independent review of SDF by Sir Robert Chote, published last year (News, 11 March 2022), recorded “limited evidence of systemic learning on what solutions work in what contexts”. While some dioceses have published evaluations of their projects, including Leicester (News, 3 October 2019) and Portsmouth, many others have not.

This week’s release notes that evaluation reports were not available for all 92 projects. The new review had not entailed new research, but drew from “existing information covering a period of time that included the Covid-19 lockdown”. A frequently used term in the press release is “engaged with”. The Church’s Vision and Strategy Team is “working on a common set of measures for reporting on mission projects”.

The SDF programme was expected to create 89,375 disciples between 2014 and 2021, but the Chote review concluded that, to date, 12,705 had been “witnessed”. The Strategic Development Unit responsible for monitoring the projects, told the review that they “did not regard the estimates of new disciples witnessed and expected for individual projects as a robust basis to compare their actual and expected performance”.

The review also said that the definition of new disciples “varies considerably between projects and the numbers of reported new disciples do not always reflect the reality on the ground”. A variety of different measures of numerical growth had been adopted. Both the number of new disciples and “fresh social action” were “very hard to measure accurately and consistently”; and “people’s journeys to faith can be lengthy and complicated.”

It also advised against “allocating funding mechanistically to the projects that seem to offer the higher numbers of disciples per pound”.

Since the conclusion of SDF, the Archbishops’ Council has launched the Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment (SMMI) programme (News, 31 March). It includes a £340-million Diocesan Investment Programme for the current triennium (2023-25), including £100 million of Lowest Income Communities Funding (News, 7 November 2019) and a remaining £240 million for which dioceses can bid. Millions were allocated earlier this year, to Southwark, Worcester, and Manchester.

 

Individual projects

THE week’s press release refers to individual SDF projects, including the diocese of Sheffield’s “Transforming children’s youth and families’ work project”. The £2.4-million project received £1.8 million in 2017 (News, 14 December 2017) and built on the diocese’s Centenary Project (CP), a ten-year plan launched in 2015 with £1 million of the diocese’s reserve funds, to employ children, youth, and family workers, targeted to the most economically disadvantaged areas.

The Project already employed 14 CP workers, and the SDF grant enabled investment in another 14, as well as 16 intern posts and centres in Doncaster to support youth projects

When the SDF grant was announced, a goal included “active ongoing engagement with at least an additional 2000 children, young people, and families, many unchurched, leading to 300 moving into discipleship groups”. A Church Army Research Unit evaluation of the Centenary Project, published last year, said that, by January 2022, an estimated 2966 children and young people had been “regularly engaged”, while 761 individuals were in “regular discipleship groups”.

Through the project, 54 parishes had been enabled to share or appoint a worker, and these churches had a higher proportion of under 18s in their worshipping community than those without: a “dramatic difference”. Data for average weekly attendance was “less pronounced and not statistically significant”.

The evaluation concluded: “Compared to volunteer-led models of ministry, the CP is more expensive but delivers significant added value which other, more low-cost models cannot.”

It acknowledged that the data were “supplied by the central team or gathered from participants, the majority of whom work for the project and therefore are not neutral”. Participants also raised questions about metrics. One observed “You could get thousands of kids to come to a group if you offer unlimited free sweets, but that’s not making a difference, is it?” and another suggested that a questionnaire design was “no good for people who don’t come to church”.

But the evaluation also drew on data from Statistics for Mission, and praised the project’s qualitative data-collection tool, gathering evidence of impact on discipleship journeys, especially those of families. In project documentation, “engage” was defined as “connecting with those not already in church”, “nurture” as “working with those who’ve shown interest”, and “discipling” as “for those who’ve made a step of commitment”.

The Church House release reports a higher “engagement” figure for the project, suggesting that “More than 6000 children and young people have engaged with the project through over 170 activities with faith content. More than one in five are exploring their faith further in discipleship groups.”

Another project mentioned is the diocese of Manchester’s Children Changing Places project, allocated £2.14 million in 2018, towards a total cost of £3.4 million, and set to run from 2019 to 2024. This set out to create a “Christian discipleship pathway” for children in Bolton through churches, toddler groups, and schools, with a focus on “points of transition”. Targets included 378 children attending “distinctively Christian intentionally missional Toddler Groups”, 100 pupils on a “primary schools’ discipleship pathway” in Year 6, and 135 Year 7 students in “secondary academy discipleship”.

The Church House press release says that, to date, the project has “engaged with more than 8000 children and young people in worship and Christian activities, through school and church. More than 400 adults worship with their children.”

In July, the project was allocated another £2.77 million in Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment (SMMI) funding (News, 28 July). It was reported then that it had already created 12 Christian toddler groups, seven parish youth groups, and an anti-racist and faith project, which promotes racial justice in schools.

In the diocese of York, this week’s press release reports, under the Mustard Seed programme, 49 people have completed a programme of training in lay leadership and mission since 2021. Another 28 are part of the “Stepping Up development programme”. The project received £1.3 million towards a total cost of £1.8 million in 2020 for “growing disciples and creating new worshipping communities and lay leaders in Middlesbrough, Hull, Scarborough, Bridlington, Cleveland and Redcar”.

The press release also highlights the story of St John’s, Crawley in the diocese of Chichester, part of the Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), network. In 2017, a team from St Peter’s, Brighton, another church in the network, joined St John’s, establishing a new service alongside existing ones. In 2017, the diocese received £824,795 towards a total cost of £2.19 million, for its church-planting strategy. It was envisaged that “church membership in the diocese will grow by 7000 to 35,000 by 2024”. The new release reports that 350 people now regularly attend St John’s on Sundays, up from around 40 in 2017. A traditional eucharist is still held at nine o’clock, it says.

Another church highlighted is another in the HTB network: St Mary’s, Southampton, in the diocese of Winchester, which received £800,000 of investment as part of a £4.2 SDF grant made in 2017 (News, 4 May 2018). It was envisaged that “total membership” of St Mary’s and another resource church would reach 1000 by 2022. Church House reports that 600 people now regularly attend St Mary’s, and more than half of its congregation are under 35. The congregation numbered 25 in 2018.

The other church highlighted is St Thomas and St Luke’s, Dudley (Top Church), a resource church in the diocese of Worcester. The diocese received a £5-million grant in 2018 to fund both Top Church and All Saints’, Worcester, towards a total cost of £11.9 million for “developing mission and generating growth in Worcester and Dudley”. Goals included: “Stimulate growth by 2024 of at least 970 disciples, of whom over 600 are under 40.”

This week’s release says that Top Church’s congregation has increased from 15 people in 2018 to 180 regular worshippers. In July, the diocese was awarded £6.8 million in SMMI funding to support the renewal of six churches in Dudley, and St Stephen’s, Redditch.

The Chote review reported that more than half (£91.3 million) of the total SDF money awarded between 2014 and 2021 had been allocated to new resource churches, or to developing existing churches into resource churches.

Leader comment: Might the SDF make a profit?

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