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Millions of pounds are allocated to mission in dioceses

28 March 2023

Madeleine Davies explains how more national church funds are being directed to parishes — at least, to some of them

Southwark Diocese

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, at the licensing of the Revd Hugo Adán Fernandez as Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity with St Matthew, Elephant and Castle, the diocese’s first fully bilingual parish, in July 2018

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, at the licensing of the Revd Hugo Adán Fernandez as Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity with St...

A £3.6-MILLION grant for a new church-plant in the centre of Manchester is among the first set of awards made by the new Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment Board (News, 27 January 2023).

In the diocese of Worcester, the Board has agreed, “in principle”, to invest £6.8 million in “renewals” at seven parish churches, with an initial £885,000 awarded to support plans to double the number of children and young people in its churches, and develop 100 new worshipping communities.

The diocese of Southwark is to receive £6.5 million for a six-year plan that includes training 25 “estates lay pioneers” and supporting two existing resourcing churches to “provide advice and support to other parishes”.

Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment (SMMI) is a new funding stream through which the Archbishops’ Council allocates funding to dioceses. It replaces Strategic Development Funding (SDF), Strategic Capacity Funding, and Strategic Transformation Funding. 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.

The official object of the funding is “to enable the strategic priorities and the bold outcomes of the Church of England’s Vision and Strategy for the 2020s to become a reality in local parishes and communities across the country”.

Online guidance states that, rather than supporting “discrete projects”, this funding will go towards “a strategic development approach” over the next nine years. Diocesan bids will be reviewed by the new 12-member Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment Board, chaired by John Spence, who currently chairs the Archbishops’ Council Finance Committee. On Thursday of last week, he said that, while SDF “tended to be about shiny new things . . . This is about the development of what’s there as well as the introduction of what’s new.”

Online guidance states that “the primary driver of the distribution of funding will be the strategic ambition of dioceses. There is no formula to decide what each diocese receives but the SMMI Board will seek to ensure that — over time — the amounts which are distributed to individual dioceses are proportionate to their population (i.e., largest receiving more) and resources (i.e., those with the lowest investment assets and lowest residents’ income receiving more).”

It also states that “where there is finite money to distribute, priority will be given to proposals assessed as most likely to achieve the greatest impact in relation to the goals of the Church’s Vision and Strategy”.

One of the six “bold outcomes” of Vision and Strategy is doubling the number of children and young active disciples in the Church of England by 2030. On Thursday, Mr Spence said that “the goal above all goals is to bring far more children and young people to know Jesus and to be part of our worshipping communities”. During a 2020 debate on youth evangelism, the General Synod was told that the lack of children and young people in churches constituted an “existential threat” (News, 21 February 2020).


THE launch of SMMI follows a General Synod vote last year welcoming the Council’s nine-year spending plans, which included a 30-per-cent increase in support for ministry during the current triennium (2023-25) to £1.2 billion (News, 15 July 2022; 13 May). The report accompanying the debate said that the funding would be “adaptive and responsive to local needs whilst ensuring that the pipeline of clergy is maintained nationally.”

The launch comes as dioceses are drawing up plans to tackle financial deficits and falling attendance numbers, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. An emerging trend is to bring parishes together into larger mission areas, and there are predictions that there will be greater lay leadership supported by clergy in “oversight” roles (Features, 10 September 2021). In many dioceses stipendiary posts are being cut.

Asked whether SMMI funding could be used to prevent further cuts to stipendiary numbers, Mr Spence said: “We know that we want to maintain the number of stipendiary priests overall. We know that we need to keep investing and bringing forward more young priests. . . [But] there isn’t some magic divide between stipendiary priests and great Layreaders. If you go back to 2015, the research clearly said we need priests who will unlock the gifts of the laity and set them free (News, 11 February 2022). . .

“What I think would be wonderful is when we see really great ministry and mission plans which are coming forward with — yes, in some cases, there may be more stipendiary, and in some cases maybe less — but actually with a totality of resource across laity, across stipendiary, maybe not stipendiary, across youth leaders who will often not be priests themselves, but you’ve got a totality there, that you’ve really got the confidence . . . the army of Christian pilgrims is going to march forward together.”


The first set of SMMI grants announced on Monday indicates that the the Resource Church model continues to prove popular with dioceses (Features, 22 November 2019; Opinion).

The Chote Review of SDF funding (News, 10 March 2022) noted 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. Evaluation suggested that newly-planted resource churches had a median attendance of 400 after three years, the majority of whom were under 30.

On Monday, the diocese of Manchester confirmed that the £3.6-million grant would go towards a “major new church” located in the city centre of Manchester. The building was currently being purchased, so details of the location could not yet be released. The church will be opened in September, in partnership with the Church Revitalisation Trust — a charity based at Holy Trinity, Brompton — and will focus particularly on young adults and students. It is anticipated it will plant other church communities in the diocese.

The project will be rolled out against a backdrop of a decade-long transformation programme under way in the diocese, supported by a five-year £4.2-million Strategic Transformation Grant from the Church Commissioners, announced in 2021. Average weekly attendance in the diocese fell by 20 per cent between 2012 and 2017, and in 2019 only 40 per cent of parishes were able to cover their clergy costs.

The programme entails significant reorganisation. Parishes have been informally brought together into 33 Mission Communities. Formal governance arrangements are expected to be in place next year, and clergy will be expected to serve as “missional leaders exercising an oversight ministry”.

In 2020, the Manchester diocese announced that the total number of stipendiary posts would fall from 201 to 175 by the end of 2022. A medium-term projection for a further fall to 160 by 2025 has been revised up to 175. On Monday, a diocesan spokesperson said that many Mission Communities were “seeing the benefits of working together, sharing resources and ideas that nurture and serve their communities”.

The diocese was granted £5 million in SDF funding in 2020 (News, 10 July 2020), to refurbish the Ascension, Hulme, to “attract new congregations” with support from St Martin-in-the Fields, London, and the HeartEdge Network, to promote music and the arts. St Werburgh’s, Chorlton, was designated a Resource Church, with support from New Wine, and work in Rochdale included the opening of Nelson Street Church in a former Chinese restaurant, with support from the Church Revitalisation Trust (News, 2 July 2021).

In 2018, the diocese received a £2.14-million grant to support the planting of small new churches on estates and in deprived communities; the Antioch Network was launched under a diocese-wide Bishop’s Mission Order (BMO) (News, 14 December 2018).



The diocese of Worcester announced its successful bid for SMMI funding on 17 March. The SMMI Board has agreed “in principle” to allocate £6.8 million to support the renewal of six churches in Dudley — the most densely populated area of the diocese — and at St Stephen’s, Redditch. This is part of a larger diocesan plan to “invest in the renewal of around a dozen churches to ensure that each major area of population has at least one church with 150 people attending weekly, enabling them to support other local churches”.

The diocese’s transformation strategy, “Kingdom People”, notes: “We perceive renewals to be less risky than ‘green field’ church plants and enable us to capitalise on existing church buildings and locations. The experience across the Church is that many pioneer plants fail, and that those that do grow to maturity require investment for many years. There are of course, exceptions, such as Gas Street in Birmingham.”

The diocese has also received £850,000 to “help build its capacity to deliver its programme of growth”. Usual Sunday attendance in the diocese fell by 40 per cent between 2000 and 2019; 45 per cent of churches have fewer than 20 “active members”; and half (49 per cent) of its worshipping community is aged over 70 (compared to a third nationally).

The transformation strategy includes a goal to double the number of children and young people worshipping in the diocese’s churches, where the average weekly attendance (AWA) was 1400 in 2019; and also the creation of 100 new worshipping communities, with every benefice encouraged to launch one, many expected to be led by lay people. Some of the funding will be used to increase the number of employed children-, families- and youth-workers in the diocese, from five (at the end of 2021) to about 18-20.

In 2017, the diocese received £750,000 of SDF money for its Calling Young Disciples programme (News, 20 January 2017), to recruit up to ten children’s and young people’s “mission enablers” to support parishes. While the aim to increase the number of volunteers and churches engaged was exceeded, the aim for at least 600 new disciples was not (it is currently about 300, but work continues).

The diocese has said that it has learned “that we should move from enablers working with volunteers to seeking paid workers in a larger number of churches able to gather a more significant number of young people. . . More than 30 per cent of our under-16 AWA is in the six churches in the diocese which employ a paid worker.”

In 2018, it received a £5-million SDF grant to fund two new resource churches: All Saints’, Worcester, and St Thomas and St Luke (“Top Church”), Dudley (News, 20 January 2017). Top Church currently has a worshipping community of 180 (previously 15), and All Saints’ has 380. The first “renewal”, St Peter’s, Bengeworth, has a worshipping community of 100. It is expected that planting curates from these churches will be “key leaders of the churches selected for renewal”.

The transformation strategy includes plans to “deploy clergy more flexibly across larger areas and introduce “Churches Held in Local Leadership” (CHILL) to empower Local Leaders, lay and ordained, and enable clergy to be more episcopal in order to address the current over-provision of stipendiary clergy highlighted under Ministry Share.”



The diocese of Southwark is to receive £6.5 million for work over six years, including training for 25 Estates Lay Pioneers. This will draw on learning from the Mustard Seed project in York, where 49 people will have completed a programme of training in lay leadership and mission by this Easter.

The money will also be used to “fund churches to provide advice and support to other parishes hoping to reach more people in their communities with the message of the Christian faith”, a Church House press release said. These include two existing Resourcing Churches: St John the Divine, Kennington, and Holy Trinity with St Matthew, Elephant and Castle.

St John the Divine is working with a deanery to grow a new Korean church (the church helped start the Korean Mission in the 19th century), and to use its music gifts and youth ministry to help another parish to grow (Opinion, 17 July 2020), a diocesan spokesperson said on Monday. Holy Trinity with St Matthew, a bilingual Spanish and English church where the congregation has grown from 50 to 250, will be sharing its learning with other churches (News, 7 September 2018; 9 August 2019).

“Both these Catholic examples are proof that we believe that we have some great missional churches across our diverse traditions, and we are committed to encouraging this,” a spokesperson said. “The aim is to use the resources and generosity of the Resourcing Churches to help other churches thrive.”

The estates lay pioneers project was “aimed at an incarnational model of ministry — looking to train and equip those [already] living on estates to serve and minister to people on their estates.”

The diocese was allocated a £3.1-million SDF grant in 2019, some of which was used to pay for another full-time bilingual priest and parish administrator for St Matthew’s, and to fund a pioneer minister to establish an Eco-church congregation at St Mary’s, Lambeth (News, 10 December 2021).

The diocese also received £950,000, in 2016, to establish new worshipping communities in Nine Elms and around the diocese. Among the goals was a five-per-cent increase in average weekly attendance between 2013 and 2025 (it fell by seven per cent between 2014 and 2019), and a resourcing church with a congregation of 650 by 2021. Southwark now has a Pioneer and Fresh Expressions department, more than 100 fresh expressions, and 19 pioneer curates, and a Dean of Estates Ministry. The Nine Elms Arts Ministry has also been established.

The diocese has articulated, in its annual report, a “commitment to parish structures and to maintaining the maximum possible number of stipendiary clergy”.


People and Partnerships Funding (PPF)

While most SMMI will go directly to dioceses, a smaller stream is People and Partnerships Funding, which recognises that there are “specific priorities which will support the Vision and Strategy’s bold outcomes which are best addressed through national cross-cutting investment”. It has been allocated £49 million of funding in the current triennium.

It is envisaged that each project funded under this stream will be allocated between £50,000 and £1 million for a period up to three years. There will not be an open application process, online guidance explains: “The Vision and Strategy Team, in consultation with other stakeholders, will develop a strategy for partnerships and innovation over the next three years, identifying gaps where additional work from national partners is required.”

It has already been agreed by the Archbishops’ Council that funding for external partners (five to eight are expected to be established in 2023-25) will prioritise the commitment to doubling the number of children and young people. Guidance states that “a limited number of partners [will be] asked to submit proposals.” These proposals must entail scaling up an existing approach.

Among the targets are growing the number of churches with 25 or more young people to 3000; recruiting 27,000 new volunteer leaders by 2030; and to work with the 38 per cent of parishes that have no young people aged 11 to 18 in their worshipping communities.

PPF will also include funding for “experimentation and learning in overcoming critical missional challenges that inhibit the delivery of the bold outcomes”.


AMONG the six principles underpinning the new SMMI approach is “openness about decision-making processes to maintain trust, and a commitment to share the lessons of funding (successes and failures) to maximise its impact”. There is no indication, however, whether the required independent evaluations will be made public.

On Thursday, looking back on old SDF achievements, Mr Spence said: “There are an awful lot of challenges but there are some things to celebrate. I celebrate the cultural change which has been achieved, where dioceses now think far more about intentionality and focus and taking things forward, and are moving away from a sense of ‘a subsidy is fine.’

“But I equally recognise that a key part of this will be transparency of how we within the investment board are making the decisions and transparency of learning elsewhere”. There were plans to “move to a higher level of openness and sharing, proactivity . . . how much better you will do it if you build it on the evidence of somebody doing it well elsewhere.”

The Chote Review said that the SDF programme had served as a “lightning rod” for a lack of trust in the Church of England, and noted a perceived bias towards the resource-church model and the Charismatic Evangelical tradition. It found “limited evidence of systemic learning on what solutions work in what contexts”.

It also scrutinised reports on the number of “new disciples” created by SDF projects. Projects awarded funding between 2014 and 2021 were expected to create 89,375 disciples; to date, 12,705 had been “witnessed”.

Perhaps this is the reason that another of the new SMMI principles is “Humility . . . recognising [that] success is dependent on God, excited and curious to learn what God will do, and trying to share our own skills with humility.”

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