Research and resources to help manage historic church buildings for Net Zero carbon and social action.

As part of my work on the Rural Churches for Everyone project, I’ve been hearing from many church wardens and PCC members about how they want to do the best for their communities and their church buildings. They’re all telling me how complicated they’re finding it, navigating through all the information out there. So I’ve pulled together what I hope is a useful summary of research and toolkits that might help. Here you go, please share!

Step 1: Look through the conclusions of the Growing for Good: the future of the church report by Theos and the Church Urban Fund

Theos published Growing Good: The future of the church in November 2020, which explored how the “characteristics of a flourishing church are those which promote meaningful relationships”, elaborating on the qualitative research into the effective attributes of: 

presence, perseverance, hospitality, adaptability, generosity, participation, & invitation

Growing Good goes on to explore changes since the pandemic and what the longer term effects might be. It concludes with recommendations for broadening how church size is measured to include the reach of the church into its community, putting strategic social action and volunteering at the lead of mission and ministry. 

Step 2: Read The National Churches Trust House for Good report and use it to inspire how your church can serve your communities

The National Churches Trust published The House for Good report in November 2020 describing the social and economic value of churches – the people and the buildings. It summarises:

“The impact of COVID-19 has made the social value of churches even more relevant.

Church buildings are the ‘key places’ where we will start to rebuild our communities.

We need to protect these vital life-changing buildings now and for future generations.”

Step 3: Decide what type of church building you need to deliver your missional objectives.

You might want to consider whether other existing community buildings might be better suited to these needs. Maybe there are other churches nearby or within your benefice that you could work with. The Church of England have produced a strategic review toolkit to allow a more coherent purpose for each church building to be described. Your churches will likely fall within one of the six categories described by the CofE buildings team defined at the end of this webpage: Parish Churches, Chapels of Ease, Festival Churches, Resourcing Churches, Major Churches and Minsters. In addition to these, there is the option of repurposing a church building – see the adaptation by the  Diocese of Sodor and Man which includes categories of ‘churches at a crossroads’ and ‘marketable churches’.

Step 4: Working towards Net Zero Carbon

Once you know what you want from your church building, look at how you can work towards Net Zero Carbon. The best advice for this is from the Church of England Environment Programme who have produced their Practical Path advice on heating and energy use. These will help you work out the best ways to reduce the energy consumption of church buildings, before looking at renewable ways to generate energy to offset their remaining carbon footprint. Their Energy Footprint tool is now part of the annual parish returns system, and their Zero Carbon Webinar programme provides videos to help you understand the main issues, and plan what to do next, all within a Church of England context.

Step 5: Conserve the historic fabric of the building

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) has a searchable Knowledge Base which offers expert advice for common problems, maintenance, alterations and extensions, energy efficiency, materials and components, and planning. Set up by William Morris in 1877, SPAB say their guidance is “practical and positive” and “combines well-proven principles with practical repair techniques”, taking “a long-term view, urging that in our own actions we consider the legacy we will leave to future generations”.

Step 6: Plan your project

In addition to the CofE Environment programmes webinar series referred to above, the Diocese of Hereford have made their Crossing the Threshold toolkit freely available to download. This takes you through all the stages in planning and delivering a church building project.

Newcastle Diocese also produced a guide to church building projects during previous phases of the Inspired Futures programme.

Step 7: Care for your building

The Arthur Rank Centre have also developed a freely downloadable resource on how to develop, use and look after rural church buildings. This covers everything from quinquennial inspections and graveyards, to school visits and fundraising.