Wider use of churches

Step 1: identify needs

First and foremost, you need to identify exactly what the real needs are in your community.  The vicar and church members should already be aware of what’s happening, and what’s lacking, in their communities – but walking around the parish, keeping eyes open and really talking and listening to people will open up even more possibilities.  What social or local community needs might be able to be satisfied through  imaginative use of your church hall, church vestries, main church building, space in or under galleries, or even a new extension or a new building?  Alongside this, you need to make sure, of course, that such developments don’t compromise the very special historic and spiritual space that is a feature of so many churches.

The government’s “Big Society” initiative means that there is currently a particular amount of potential for churches to open up their buildings for wider community use, and to attract funding for such uses.  This could be good for church outreach and mission, and/or bring in a significant income stream.  Such funds might be invested in your church facilities for mutual benefit: you provide the space, and you may also benefit from upgraded or new meeting spaces and facilities with external funding assistance. 

You may need to think “out of the box” in terms of what church facilities could potentially provide.  Even just a small step forward in the first place could open the door to longer-term opportunities for outreach and growth.  You need to look at the genuine, specific needs relevant to your unique local community. Some ideas include:

Do look at the specific case studies which are available - you can also contact the DAC Office or your Archdeacon to find out where examples of similar projects to yours have been completed successfully in our own diocese.

Do take a suitably commercial approach if you need to improve church finances.  Look to other local providers of space and carefully consider your relative Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats ("SWOT" analysis).  Decide on realistic rates - don't feel that being a church means you have to be a soft touch!

Having a good idea is just the start.  Carrying it forward to success requires hard work, effective teamworking and commitment.  This includes carrying out suitable consultation with interest groups, detailed finance and business planning, and effective marketing.

Step 2: identify potential

You need to think carefully about how your buildings might be adapted, considering such issues as:

  • Professional advice – if your development requires any building work inside the church, you should consult your Quinquennial Inspecting Architect – or another suitably experienced architect - at an early stage, so that you understand the specific issues
  • Heritage – this is a particularly significant consideration for church buildings listed at Grade I and Grade II*, but applies to all churches whether listed or not.  The grade listing need not in itself be an impediment – you need to think about what parts of your building are significant, and whether those would be irreversibly affected by any development proposals.
  • Access – you would need to ensure that any facilities were fully accessible to wheelchair users (so, for example, first floor facilities would normally require lift access)
  • Toilet, refreshment and parking facilities – are your present facilities sufficient for the additional usage?
  • Local planning consent – any changes to the exterior of your building or the churchyard are likely to require local planning consent
  • Consultation – you may need to consult with people living near the church if they might be affected.  You will also need to consult the DAC, English Heritage and other heritage groups if your proposals will have an effect on the fabric of a listed building.  Whether your church is listed or not, it’s best to consult the DAC informally at an early stage with outline details of your proposals.  They will then be able to advise you appropriately, including how best to ensure a suitable balance of conservation and mission, and what further consultations you would need to take before developing your proposal further.
  • Church activities – you clearly need to ensure that church activities are not compromised by new developments.  For example, if you are using the main church building for community activities during the day, how will you be able to make sure the church remains available at short notice for funeral services?
  • Heating, humidity and ventilation are hugely important issues for the structure and contents of your church building.  If you are significantly changing the usage of the main church space, you need to take account of what effect that might have on existing delicate church fabric or furnishings (pipe organs are particularly sensitive).  Damage can easily run into many thousands of pounds before you notice the long-term consequences of condensation on roof trusses or cracking leatherwork inside the pipe organ.  However, with active management of heating, humidity and ventilation you can normally accommodate varied church usage with caring for sensitive items, but you do need to take suitable professional advice at the start of your development from your architect, organ tuner and any other relevant individual.

Step 3: identify skills

Look around the people associated with your church community.  The Sunday regulars will have a great deal of skills and experience in all sorts of fields (though you might not know it yet!) relevant to making use of your church buildings: e.g. marketing, communication, organisation, leadership, project management, graphic design, website design, painting and decorating.  So will their families and friends, and people who attend on a less regular basis.  Some people will have the time, commitment and potential to develop new skills, or just be around when needed to open up or keep an eye on things.  If you still can’t find people with the skills you need, look to other churches in your deanery or beyond.  You will have access to all the skills you need somewhere, if you look hard or far enough.

Step 4: Identify funding

Advice on funding is available from:

However, you may not need a big budget to start making significant progress - sometimes just small initial steps can help you gain community and financial momentum later on.