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Churches Must Diversify Usage or Perish

Published: 2022-11-15
Author: University of Cambridge | Contact: cam.ac.uk
Peer-Reviewed Publication: N/A
Additional References: Library of Disability and Religion Publications

Synopsis: With the continuous departure from religion, an audit finds the future of rural churches lies in their significance as assets for the wider community. Evaluating the success of the church in terms of the amount of funds it raises and the size of its congregation undervalues the contribution that churches and church buildings make to a community. There are options for churches that struggle with financial sustainability, the least preferred of which is to close the church.

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Definition

Religious Disaffiliation

Religious disaffiliation is leaving a faith or religious group/community. Religious disaffiliation could be considered the reverse of religious conversion. Various terms to describe disaffiliation include defection, apostasy, and disengagement. This is in contrast to ex-communication, which is disaffiliation from a religious organization imposed punitively on a member rather than willfully undertaken by the member. Suppose religion was a big part of a leaver's social life and identity. In that case, leaving religion can be an upsetting experience, with some religious groups even aggravating the process with hostile reactions and shunning. Religious Trauma Syndrome is the clinical term Dr. Marlene Winell gave for the condition experienced by many who leave an authoritarian indoctrination.

Main Digest

Reimagining Churches as Community Assets for the Common Good - church buildings and community audit report.

Report finds the future of churches at risk unless they reimagine their buildings, as the audit finds the future of rural churches lies in their significance as assets for the wider community.

A third of church buildings cost more each year than they can raise, and only one in five is financially profitable, according to an audit of churches in Cambridgeshire and West Norfolk.

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The Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) report and the Diocese of Ely says that churches will need to be useful to communities and find innovative ways to remain financially sustainable if their future is to be secured.

Researchers surveyed all 334 churches in the Diocese of Ely, receiving responses from 73%. They found that churches played a significant role in communities, with three-quarters of respondents noting that the closure of their local church would have a "devastating impact." Church buildings were most valued for providing rites of passage services (78%), being a place for religious worship (72%), and offering a quiet space for reflection, thinking, and meditation (69%).

"Evaluating the success of the church in terms of the amount of funds it raises and the size of its congregation undervalues the contribution that churches and church buildings make to a community," said lead author Helen Haugh, Associate Professor in Community Enterprise at Cambridge Judge Business School and Research Director at the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge.

"There are options for churches that struggle with financial sustainability, the least preferred of which is to close the church. Our research is about finding ways to keep churches open."

The audit assessed the wider community use of church buildings and the contribution that churches made to the common good. They found that three-quarters of church buildings held community activities in 2019, an increase of 27% since 2012. "These ranged from blood donation to debt counseling and coffee mornings to concerts," said Dr. Timur Alexandrov, Postdoctoral Research Associate of the project.

"Churches want to work in collaboration with communities," said Haugh. "I was surprised by how innovatively church buildings are being used. For example, one is used as a space for a circus troupe to practice in - they needed a high ceiling!"

The study, REACH Ely (Reimagining Churches as Community Assets for the Common Good), gives ten recommendations for churches to connect with the wider population. These will support the Diocesan Strategy for growth to 2025 and beyond - People Fully Alive: Ely 2025. The free resources are available online to help churches plan for the future and engage with their local communities.

Long abandoned and neglected, a rural white church stands on unkempt grounds under gray skies beside a solitary tree and a line of old crooked fence posts. Dry, barren hills can be seen in the background.Long abandoned and neglected, a rural white church stands on unkempt grounds under gray skies beside a solitary tree and a line of old crooked fence posts. Dry, barren hills can be seen in the background.

The recommendations include replicating events that generate a high footfall, using social media to reach a wider audience and integrating with the community by partnering with schools and co-organizing events for children at church buildings and church halls.

Tools being made available to churches include video interviews, developed by Dr. Alexandrov, with churches who have successfully embedded themselves in their local communities, guidance documents, and templates to assist with re-imagining church buildings as community assets.

"Over the past three years, the work of REACH Ely has discovered some real secrets of success for rural churches," said Geoffrey Hunter, Head of Church Buildings and Pastoral at the Diocese of Ely.

"The project has revealed a hunger for change, with many churches planning for their futures. Through a combination of videos, guidance, and practical tools, we will be helping to replicate the success stories, so more of our churches can look forward to a sustainable future as community assets, loved and supported by all."

The project was implemented by the Diocese of Ely and Cambridge Judge Business School with the support of Benefact Trust and Historic England.

Diocese of Ely

The Diocese of Ely is one of 42 regional areas of the Church of England. The Diocese covers an area roughly similar to the county of Cambridgeshire but also includes some parts of western Norfolk, Peterborough, Essex, and Bedfordshire.

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge is one of the world's top ten leading universities, with a rich history of radical thinking dating back to 1209. Its mission is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.

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Churches Must Diversify Usage or Perish | University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk). Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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