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Rector’s Daily Reflections  

Thursday  22nd February 2024

The Future of our Church Buildings

Over the last few days, I have been sharing some thoughts on the six recommendations made by the National Churches Trust in their recent report, Every Church Counts.   The strength of this report is that it draws attention to the seriousness of the issues faced by our church communities as they seek to care for the thousands of churches and chapels  across the United Kingdom. But the report’s weakness is that some of the recommendations are unrealistic, while those recommendations which might be implemented are likely to be of benefit to only a handful of our church buildings.

So are there any other options?  There are indeed, but they require a willingness to consider taking a radical approach towards the future of church buildings. I’m going to mention two such approaches; each Is certainly worth considering, although both come with significant drawbacks. Do the drawbacks outweigh the benefits? I leave that question up to you.

The first of the radical approaches is to rationalise the number of buildings we have.  If there is no longer a need for the church building, it should be closed. We shouldn’t be spending money on repairing buildings which are no longer needed.  In an ideal world, the building can be sold and used for some other purpose. But if no one  is willing to  buy the building, and if there is no alternative use, the building should simply be mothballed and allowed to decay. Another possibility is that the building should be moved to another site,  where it can be better used. This is not as fanciful a suggestion as it might sound -  there are several examples of church buildings which have been re-located from city centres to new  areas of population.  Yes, there is a cost in moving the building; but there is also a saving in not having to pay for the erection of a new structure, and there is the added benefit of preserving a historic building for future generations.

Of course, this approach is not without its difficulties. Who decides whether a church should be closed? What are the criteria?  And how long should a church community wait until deciding whether or not a building is viable for the wider mission of the Church?  For example, the appearance of a large new housing estate on the edge of an existing town can turn what was once an unviable building into a  vital asset to support the mission and outreach of the church in this area of new housing.  So there is a theory that we should keep our church buildings “in case we might need them”. But the same could be said of the contents of many a garage.  Sometimes we need to bite the bullet and get rid of stuff we no longer need – but this is easier said than done!

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