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Millions spent on diocesan projects. Now strategy board seeks to find out what works

21 May 2024

Diocese of Manchester

The diocese of Manchester received DIP funding in 2023 to build on the impact of its Children Changing Places project, based in Bolton deanery

The diocese of Manchester received DIP funding in 2023 to build on the impact of its Children Changing Places project, based in Bolton deanery

DIOCESAN projects that receive a share of the £340-million of strategic funding over the next three years will be expected to adopt agreed metrics for measurement, a new report from the Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment Board (SMIIB) states.

The annual report of the board, Seeking the Vision, was published on Tuesday. A release issued with the report speaks of “success” enjoyed by the “vast majority” of projects. But at the same time it acknowledges that, for projects supported by the Strategic Development Fund (SDF) — totalling £198 million between 2014 and 2022 — “monitoring and evaluation have been difficult to conduct well”.

In seeking to address this, the board has worked with Eido Research to “propose improvements”. There are plans to develop a “shared outcome framework” for national funding, and an improved “learning framework” for the wider Church.

In future, all projects funded through the Diocesan Investment Programme (DIP), which replaced SDF last year (News, 28 March 2023), will be asked to measure metrics in the same way. These include changes in attendance and “number of disciples”, but also metrics such as “scale of evangelism” and “individual discipleship”.

The Chote review of the SDF programme highlighted the challenge of measuring its impact. Staff given this task 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” (News, 11 March 2022).

The review observed 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”, it said. “People’s journeys to faith can be lengthy and complicated.” It also warned against “allocating funding mechanistically to the projects that seem to offer the higher numbers of disciples per pound”.

Projects awarded funding between 2014 and 2021 were expected to create 89,375 disciples. The Chote review said that, to date, 12,705 had been “witnessed”. Since then, a further “outcomes review” has taken place. The board estimates that, as a result of SDF payments (£126 million of the £198 million has been spent to date), 900 to 1000 new worshipping communities have been formed, and between 26,000 and 27,000 people are “newly participating in different church gatherings backed by SDF”. A press release issued with the report said that the “vast majority” of the projects were “successfully completed or making good progress towards their targets”.

In a foreword to the new report, Carl Hughes, who chairs the SMIIB and also chairs the Archbishops’ Council finance committee, writes that “rich learning is emerging from the funding previously distributed — both about what does, and what does not, work well. The Board is investing to make sure that this learning is widely shared and informs future funding proposals and their delivery.”

Few independent evaluations of SDF projects have been made publicly available, and the “learning points” listed in the SMIIB report are broad, including: “Diocesan vision and good leadership can be critical in the success of project”, and “Working in teams (rather than as individuals) has many clear benefits.”

Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment funding was launched last year as a new funding stream through which the Archbishops’ Council allocates funding to dioceses (News, 31 March 2023). It replaces Strategic Development Funding, Strategic Capacity Funding, and Strategic Transformation Funding.

In addition to the £340-million Diocesan Investment Programme for the current triennium (2023-25), it includes £91 million of Lowest Income Communities Funding (News, 7 November 2019). Dioceses must bid for the remaining money, and the report makes clear that applications must demonstrate how the money will “advance their plans for the Vision and Strategy in local parishes and communities across the country”.

The board awarded funding to 12 dioceses and three partners last year. To date, £38.4 million has been allocated, although the Board has agreed in principle to make further awards to some of these programmes. People and Partnerships Funding (PPF), 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”, has been allocated £49 million of funding in the current triennium.

Dioceses awarded a grant include Canterbury (News, 25 March), Durham (News, 15 March), Portsmouth (News, 5 January), and Worcester (News, 31 March).

Just less than half (46 per cent) of the DIP and PPF funding has been allocated to projects where the “predominant strategic alignment” is with the Vision and Strategy objective to “double the number of children and young active disciples in the Church of England by 2030”, which has been described as the “priority of priorities” (News, 28 July 2023). It is estimated that, for 30 per cent of projects, the alignment is with the objective of “a parish system revitalised for mission”.

The diocese of Guildford has been awarded £3.3 million for the first phase of its nine-year Youth Catalyst plan, which will entail placing youth ministers in four secondary schools; recruiting and training ten church-based apprentice youth ministers; and training four existing youth ministers. Also planned is recruitment of a team to lead “high-quality youth worship gatherings”.

The diocese of London has been awarded £1.5 million to expand the youth-worker apprentice element of its Capital Youth project, awarded £2 million in 2017 (News, 7July 2017), supporting the deployment of 24 such apprentices to parishes in deprived contexts. It is hoped that more than 900 children will “choose to engage with faith-related activities and 230 will engage in active discipleship or leadership roles.”

The Launchpad scheme — an initiative that helps clergy formulate plans to work with young people in their parishes, run by Youthscape — has been awarded £1.29 million to expand to 450 churches in 18 dioceses. The grant will also fund training produced by Youthscape for up to 2500 church volunteers to do youth work, and resources to support youth work, in up to 2000 churches or groups.

A total of £450,000 has been awarded to the Centre for Theology and Community for a project working with inner-city parishes to “harness the potential of community organising for ministry to children, families and young people”.

Resource/resourcing churches remain a significant component of diocesan bids. A proportion of the £6.5 million in Southwark will go towards four resourcing churches to “send clergy, resources, and potentially a graft into another church to enable it to grow and thrive”. In Winchester, a share of £3 million will fund two “Partnership Parish revitalisation plans” in Bournemouth and Southampton, and a “church-planting ministry pipeline”.

The £4.8 million allocated to Sheffield will support five church “revitalisations” in highly deprived areas, which are projected to result in 300 to 500 “new disciples” and 50 new regular-giving households. The funding will also provide support for lay- led congregations through a small-grants scheme.

A further £11.7 million of DIP was awarded to 21 dioceses in “capacity funding” to help dioceses “address constraints in their capacity to develop and implement strategies and to take forward major programmes of transformation”. Much of this has been used to fund posts for staff to implement these transformation programmes, including project management and fund-raising positions.

The £6.8 million awarded to the diocese of Bristol’s “Transforming Church Together” five-year strategy includes funding for a series of “parish support” posts, including a “clergy flourishing enabler”.

The new report includes a look at Lowest Income Communities Funding: the stream of funding allocated to the 28 dioceses with the greatest number of people living in such communities. A total of £91 million will be distributed during the current triennium, of which £29 million was allocated in 2023.

In 2022, at the end of the previous triennium, 61 per cent (£19.2 million) of the total was allocated to parishes in which the most deprived 25 per cent of the English population live — a similar number to the previous two years. “On average, better-off parishes receive a smaller allocation,” the SMMIB report says. “However, some deprived parishes are still missing out, while some better-off parishes are benefiting instead.” The 2020 Chote review reported that 56 per cent of the funding went to the ten per cent most deprived parishes.

According to the SMIIB, “recent analysis has shown that church attendance growth among children and young people is possible in deprived areas, with average growth rates as good as or better than in the Church as a whole.” Evidence from the evaluations of several projects has also highlighted, however, that “additional investment could be needed in the poorest areas”. A learning point, it says, is that “Work with low-income communities is best seen as part of the core business of a diocese and as part of a long-term strategy, not as a niche interest or short-term project.”

Also taken from the DIP pot last year was funding for 63.8 additional stipendiary curates, totalling £8.9 million (News, 16 August 2023). Future bids for curates, the report says, are expected to be included in dioceses’ bids for DIP.

The press release said that DIP funding had “supported around 200 frontline ministry roles” in 2023, including curates and youth and family ministry positions.

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