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Funding mission in the 21st century: challenges, ‘incredible opportunities’

By Tali Folkins on August, 04 2016


Congregants at St. Lydia’s, a storefront “dinner church” in New York City, eat and pray together. During the daytime, St. Lydia’s is a communal workspace for freelancers and others who would normally work from home or in cafés. They pay a monthly fee for a variety of amenities and “a more spiritually connected way to live and work.” Photo: Andrew Rowat


Sharing worship space with Jews and Muslims, partnering with private companies and opening church/restaurant hybrids are just some of the ideas some Anglican Church of Canada leaders are talking about as the organization struggles with the financial challenges of being a church in the 21st century.

“I think the standard ways of doing business are not necessarily going to hold over the next 50 years,” Bishop John Chapman, of the diocese of Ottawa, said in an interview. “I’m thinking that, in a way, we as a church need to begin thinking in entrepreneurial ways.”

Chapman made his comments after a presentation last fall to Council of General Synod (CoGS) on the 2016 budget, which foresaw stagnating levels of diocesan proportional giving to the national church over time.

For Chapman, however, the main financial challenge facing the church today is an increasing demand for ministry.

“We will always have generous donors, and we will always be dependent on the generosity of donors,” he says. However, Chapman adds his concern is not so much that the donor base is shrinking, but that “there is an increased expectation now on the part of the church to do more...and there’s an obligation, I think, on our part to respond to that expectation.”

The diocese of Ottawa, for example, is facing an ever-increasing client base for its five community ministries, which provide housing for disadvantaged women and shelters and day programs for people living on the street.

The church needs to start thinking more imaginatively about how it can use its existing resources—which are considerable—to raise more money, he says. For example, it has a massive amount of seriously underused building space from coast to coast, Chapman says.

“When you look around a city, and you look at all the churches...and you look at the real estate they’re sitting on, and then you think about how that real estate is being utilized seven days a week...you have a usage problem here. It almost becomes an ethical issue—are you making maximum use of the real estate that you have claimed as your own?”

Estimating the value of real estate owned by the Anglican Church of Canada is difficult, partly because of the complex legal structure of real estate ownership in the church, says General Synod Chancellor David Jones.

In the diocese of Ottawa, all parish property is owned by the diocese, says Executive Archdeacon David Selzer. Real estate, including land and buildings, is recorded in the Parish Managed Capital Asset Fund; at the end of 2014, its net book value (cost minus accumulated amortization) was estimated at $21.3 million, according to the diocese’s financial report for that year.)

If some of of the church’s  space were retrofitted to provide affordable housing, it would mean not only a roof over the heads of disadvantaged people, but a new source of revenue, Chapman says.

Alternatively, churches could partner to share their space with non-governmental organizations, other faith groups or health-care facilities and even for-profit franchises, he says. 

For example, the Lunch Club and Drop-In Centre at St. Luke's Church, in the heart of Ottawa's Chinatown, provides meal programs, social,  health, recreational and counselling services.  Some programs are in partnerships with the Royal Ottawa Hospital, two Aboriginal centres, the Somerset West Community Health Centre and the Salvation Army. 

“If anybody built a church today that isn’t a multi-purpose facility, that needs to be seriously questioned,” Chapman says. “There’s no reason why a building could not accommodate a Christian sanctuary and a synagogue and a mosque, to be really extreme. There’s no reason why that building couldn’t be accommodating a walk-in clinic or a seniors’ health care [facility], or a pharmacy, or a physiotherapy clinic.”

In general, he says, the church should be reaching out more to people with an entrepreneurial spirit, and being open to their ideas.

Asked if some people might object to the idea of the church partnering with private enterprise, Chapman says, “I would think that we need to give our head a shake, because it’s money to support ministry. It’s not money that we’re going to beautify our churches or, you know, buy expensive silverware or do anything like that—those days have long ended.”

The church has at least one senior leader with considerable experience in private enterprise. Bishop Melissa Skelton, of the diocese of New Westminster, was brand manager for global consumer goods behemoth Procter & Gamble from 1992 to 1993. From 1997 to 2001, she served as vice-president of brand systems development for Tom’s of Maine, which markets natural-ingredients-only toothpaste and other personal care products.

When it comes to fostering the growth of the church—including its financial growth—the key, in Skelton’s view, is to focus on building dynamic parishes. “It’s all about, ‘Do we have something compelling and magnetic at the core of who we are that inspires our wanting to give up our treasure to that, and our wanting to invite others into that?’ Without that, it doesn’t make any sense,” she says.

“The more that we build the fire at the centre of a congregation, the easier it is for us with our whole hearts to want to give to it, and to want to invite others into participation, to include their financial giving. That’s at the core of everything that I believe.”

A financially successful church, Skelton says, will have at its core Jesus Christ “and also, just like him, has a personality, has a magnetism, has a way of doing things that people get drawn into, and evokes a generous heart because we want to give of ourselves to it.”

Churches also need to make sure they have the basics covered—for example, every parish website should have a “click here to donate” button, Skelton says.

At the same time, Skelton adds, there are “incredible opportunities” for experimentation with various types of socially-conscious enterprise. This could include, for example, using existing church space for a café or a restaurant for training homeless or unskilled people, or a “dinner church” on the model of St. Lydia’s in New York City, a sort of hybrid church and restaurant.

St. Lydia’s, says Julia Stroud, its community co-ordinator, pays for itself partly by charging monthly fees to freelancers and others who want to use it as a workspace. The goal, she says, is that these fees will pay the rent for the storefront space the church occupies (which amounts to a “fraction,” she says, of its operating budget). The rest of the church’s funding comes from grants, gifts from large donors and pledges from congregants.

The Anglican Church of Canada, Skelton says, should be wary about partnering with large, purely-for-profit enterprises—renting out church space to coffee chains, for example. One thing she learned in her years as a corporate executive, she says, is that organizations should be careful to get together only with others that share their values.

“Don’t just go into it for the money, because it will wear on you,” she says. “The potential for it to go awry is huge. And once you’ve partnered, and it goes awry, all of your energy goes into trying to extract yourself. It should be as careful a process as if you were getting married.”

If the church wants to partner with the private sector, it will also have to face a difference of corporate cultures, says Monica Patten, until recently interim director of Resources for Mission at the office of General Synod. Entrepreneurs need to act fast to seize the moment—whereas church offices, fond of process and deliberation, are used to moving slower. While there are many entrepreneurs within the Anglican Church of Canada, she says, partnering with them would require the church to act faster than it is accustomed to. “And if the church wants to involve itself with social enterprise [business with a social mission], it would have to learn much more about it than it knows now,” she says.

Joshua Paetkau, who served on the Anglican Church of Canada’s Task Force on the Theology of Money, says his main concerns in the church’s involving itself with business are that it not see entrepreneurialism as a virtue in itself, and that making money not be seen as the reason for the church’s existence.

However, he says, “I think it certainly is important that we look at how we’re engaging people, how we’re using the resources that we have been given and that we still have—in the form of church buildings, for example—if there are ways that they can be used, and these ways also help contribute to the overall maintenance of the church and the communities it’s called to serve.” 

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By Tali Folkins| August, 04 2016
Categories:  News|National News

About the Author

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.  His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer

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