Considering the future of a smaller church

For some, the Open Conversations may give permission for people to say out loud what might have been in their minds, “we can’t go on like this”.  This is not an expression of failure but rather an invitation to new possibilities. For some of our smaller churches life has become or is becoming untenable. The following, are some of the common reasons, although each case is different:

  • Too few people able to undertake key roles such as Church Warden or Treasurer

  • Responsibilities relating to the building feel overwhelming

  • Lack of financial viability

  • With the best will in the world, inability to meet parish share

  • Building not fit for purpose

  • Needs of community potentially better served through less formal liturgy or less conventional meeting arrangements

It can be good to start such a conversation, and to gain an initial feel for the PCC’s range of views. If significant change may well be an option, please don’t aim to come to a decision before talking with others. See the Next Steps section below for more details.

Whatever the reasons behind the conversation, it is important that concerns about future viability of church in its existing shape are heard and explored fully and prayerfully. (This guide to good conversation may be a helpful reminder of some principles and possibilities.)

Taking the first steps

The PCC need to engage in a sensible conversation about what can and can’t be achieved, starting with a fact based review of the current situation.  This conversation may need to be facilitated by someone outside the PCC who can help to ensure that people can express their thoughts and feelings without a sense of being ‘judged’.  It needs to be OK to say what is really happening and how it makes you feel, without apportioning blame or making it someone else’s job to sort it out. 

The purpose of this conversation is not to come up with solutions but rather to tell it as it is and create a shared understanding of the reality of the situation.  This conversation (which may happen over a series of meetings) should include a review of:

Area for Review

Potential Issue

The ability of the church to resource key roles including those of Church Wardens, Treasurer, Safeguarding Officer and worship leadership.

Having the people with the time, energy and skills to meet the organisational needs of running the church


The ability of the church to pay its parish share.  Share has been calculated to represent the appropriate contribution to ministry received.  An inability to pay indicates a need to increase income or decrease ministry received.

Generating enough regular income from the worshipping community to meet the cost of the current model of ministry provision

The ability of the church to pay for the upkeep and use of the building.  This needs to include immediate costs such as heating, lighting and insurance as well as prudent provision for quinquennial inspection findings, maintenance and ongoing asset management.  This Asset Management spreadsheet and/or Cash Flow template may be helpful, or contact Helen Archer-Smith for further advice: or 01905 732804

The cost of use and upkeep of the building has become too great for the worshipping community to service.

The extent to which the building is fit for purpose.  Is the cost of using the building, particularly in the winter, proportionate to the benefit gained?  Does the building best support the mission of the church?  Is the building appropriate for the needs of the people using it?

The building is no longer fit for purpose.

Is the current life of the church a good expression of the mission and calling of the church in the current time and context?  If you were starting from scratch, what would the church in your place look and feel like?

The church has become out of step with the needs of the community it is there to serve.  The need and appetite for change demands radical solutions to what it means to be a Christian Presence in this community at this time.

Is the current worshipping life of the church adequately and creatively resourced?

Worship is too under-resourced to be locally viable using the current models of ministry.

Undertaking a review of this kind will enable the PCC to identify the nature of the challenges faced and may provide renewed focus to address them.  However, the PCC may find themselves acknowledging that small changes won’t be enough and there is a need and desire to engage in a more radical range of possible solutions.  These might include one or more of the following:

  • Re-designation to become a ‘church in occasional use’ or a ‘chapel of ease’. This would mean fewer formal leadership roles being required. Church life might primarily move to join a neighbouring church, and/or find some less formal new local expression.

  • Identification of local people who can take on the leadership of the spiritual and worshipping life of the church, under appropriate oversight, to allow a reduction in the commitment of the stipendiary clergy support.

  • Closure or mothballing of the building, or encouragement of the community to undertake the care of it as a community or historical asset.  Church life finding new focus in peoples’ homes or in an alternative community space such as a hall or school.

Next Steps

If the PCC are minded to pursue the conversation, they should next think about all of the people who would be affected by a decision to change the local identity of the church or building and what their perspective might be.  You are strongly advised to then discuss your thoughts with a representative from the diocese before taking the conversation any further.  

It is intended that there will soon be a new appointment of someone with specific responsibility for the care and leadership of small churches.  Once this appointment is made, these options should be explored with them.  In the meantime, churches wanting to further this conversation should contact the Archdeacons’ office.



Page last updated: Tuesday 8th September 2020 9:21 AM
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