The 4 principles of church planning in major redevelopments

For decades Battersea Power Station has been a derelict icon but now it is at the heart of the largest redevelopment area in central London. Covering nearly 500 acres, the redevelopment of the Nine Elms Vauxhall will include the new American embassy and more than a dozen new sky scrapers. Over 35,000 new residents will to come to live in the area and 25,000 new jobs will be created.

All this will take place in two parishes served by two small inner city churches in the poorest communities in Wandsworth and Lambeth. These parishes will double in size in the next ten years to over 60,000 residents and they will then include some of the wealthiest people in London.

How can two small churches survive when the ministry demands are so great? Here is an initial stab at an answer – four principles of mission planning in major redevelopment areas:\r\n

Principle 1:
It’s Who not What

Planning for growth starts with focusing not on physical changes taking place in an area but on the clergy, area deans and leadership teams who already serve in local parishes and deaneries. The task is to facilitate a collaborate approach to mission and ministry so that churches can become the hub of community building as the area changes. Some key activities to help this process are:\r\n

  1. Create structured opportunities for local parish priests, area deans and their respective teams to step outside their busy schedule and reflect on opportunities and new ideas
  2. Put new ideas into a wider local context of change in the area to help parishes broaden their Mission Action Planning process
  3. Maintain project momentum. The timescale for most large redevelopment projects is rarely less than ten years, so find ways to keep church teams engaged with the project.
  4. Develop a strong network of local influencers and power brokers, both inside and outside the church, so as to remain broadly informed and aware of new possibilities and developments

Principle 2:
It’s Leadership First not Strategy First

Finding the right people to lead strategic mission development is more important than trying to design a strategy first and hoping someone will deliver it. The problem is how to facilitate growth at times of rapid urban change and local clergy do not always have the skills to respond to major urban projects. So the two key question to ask before establishing a strategic project are ‘who will drive the project, and what authority will they need to make the project happen?’

Principle 3:
It’s Large and Small not Large or Small

We can no longer expect the local parish church to resource and deliver the levels of engagement demanded by many modern major developments. Planning has to be for 30-40 years, not the 7-14 years most parish priests typically stay in post. Major projects have to be delivered by a partnership between diocese, parish and deaneries. In other words, an integrated strategy must develop from the ground up and top down at the same time.

Principle 4:
It’s Project Time not Church Time

Most of church life is designed around seasonal, weekly and daily rhythms. Major urban redevelopment is not. Redevelopment projects have their own pace, which can at times mean nothing happens for years, and at other times the change is too fast to keep up with. In this context mission practitioners need to tune in to the pace and speed of the project. There will be key moments, perhaps a community consultation or a key high level political meeting, and the successful practitioner has to identify these moments and be ready to make the most of the opportunity.

These four principles have been developed from observations of the real work undertaken in Nine Elms on the South Bank. If there’s a fifth principle, it is that learning must be transferred.

It just doesn’t fit … (church, that is)

Last week I had a very entertaining evening with one of my oldest and best friends. In a Pizza Express somewhere in Chinatown (we enjoyed the irony) our thoughts turned to the pressures on life – living away from home in the week, short time at home at the weekends, exhausting long hours at work, conflicting commitments – and how these pressures can affect our capacity to sustain our faith in the week and participate in the Christian community at weekends.

“Going to church on Sunday  when you’re away all week? It just doesn’t fit” 

my friend said. And he’s right. As long as we who lead the church continue to measure commitment (perhaps our own as well as others’) by what we do on Sunday we will miss the vital and significant addition all those for whom Sunday church simply doesn’t fit can make to community life. In the demanding scramble through the (post) modern, 24 hour world it is increasingly important for church leaders to create spaces for the nurture of hundreds, and probably thousands, of people for whom Sunday no longer works.

Community Hub in Nine Elms Vauxhall

In an earlier post I published a draft template for a new parish church (or Christian community hub). It makes for a very different conversation with Local Authority representatives or councillors if you ask for 13,000 square feet of space instead of pitching in with some general idea of supporting the local community. So I added space standards.\r\n\r\nFor a zoomable version click …here \r\n\r\nBANE-HUB-001

Emerging Communities Group

The Emerging Communities Group has come out of my work to build community and support mission in Battersea and Nine Elms, the largest redevelopment site in London. With over 30,000 new residents and 25,000 new workers moving to the area in less than ten years, how can these new communities flourish? And what about existing inner city communities, and churches? We’re looking for members, sponsors and collaborators … (zoomable version here …)\r\n\r\nEMERGIN COMMUNITIES

From Maintenance to Mission

I took a course once called ‘From Maintenance to Mission’. It was about how to move an organisation out of a maintenance mentality into new focus on mission.\r\n\r\nThat particular course was about churches, but looking around the businesses I see and work with it could have applied easily to almost any organisation. For some reason the complicated network of relationships both within organisations and between organisations and their contexts seem to bring a paralysis in innovative action and an uneven distribution of power.\r\n\r\nThere are some obvious reasons behind this but for now the question is, how do we move our organisations from Maintenance to Mission?\r\n\r\nHere’s one thought:  become Innovative Learners\r\n\r\nWarren Bennis suggests that the way organisations learn is essential to the way they behave. He distinguishes between Maintenance Learning and Innovative Learning.\r\n\r\nMaintenance learning is a necessary but insufficient (and institutionalized) way of  ‘…comparing current performance only with past performance, not with what might have been or what is yet to be.’  And so corrective action in organisations is usually designed to deal with perceived weaknesses and failures, and not to build on strengths. The learning is limited to what is necessary to maintain the existing organisation.\r\n\r\nI know many churches like this.\r\n\r\nInnovative learning is also necessary but difficult and hardly ever found. Innovative learning is the means by which an organisation can prepare for the future, working in anticipation of uncertainties that lie ahead. Bennis puts it this way: ‘Innovative learning deals with emerging issues – issues that may be unique, so that there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error; issues for which solutions are not known; and issues whose very formulation may be a matter for controversy and doubt .\r\n\r\nI know few churches like this.\r\n\r\nInnovative Learning was a phase coined in the study ‘No Limits to Learning’, sponsored by the Club of Rome. Bennis quotes:\r\n\r\n

“…for long-term survival, particularly in times of turbulence, change or discontinuity, another type of learning is even more essential [than maintenance Learning]. it is the type of learning that can bring change, renewal, restructuring, and problem formulation  – and which we have called Innovative Learning.”

For my part, I’m restless when I’m not fully engaged in some aspect of Innovative Learning, but I am aware that it can tire people out.\r\n\r\nMy answer to this? \r\n\r\nBe careful to make the distinction between the Organisation and the Community it frames, and commit deeply to the Community when innovating in the Organisation.\r\n\r\n‘Good leaders make people feel they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery.’ Warren Bennis.

… as Apples are to Apple Pie

There’s a story, probably apocryphal, about a professor at an Ivy League university – Harvard? Yale? – who asks some of the brightest and best students on the planet “What’s in an apple pie?”\r\n\r\nThe students didn’t want to be thought dumb so they shouted out:\r\n\r\n“Cinnamon” … “Raisins” … “Nutmeg” … “Sugar” … “Butter” (clever one that, because you can only infer there’s butter because there’s pastry: you can’t see the butter: very clever).\r\n\r\nNo one shouted out …\r\n\r\n… “Apples”. \r\n\r\nThat story came to mind when I thought back over a conversation held in a hospital room last week with the pastor of a large growing church. Now in his 80th year and still ministering every week, this pastor was musing about what the future held, about perhaps taking over a dysfunctional church and turning it around. A new challenge.\r\n\r\nThere was definitely a glint in the eye. At his age (79), he said, with somewhat lower energy levels, if he was to leave his church now he reckoned he could turn a problem church around in two years.\r\n\r\nMaybe three.\r\n\r\n”How?” I asked, “What would you do?”\r\n\r\n”Preach” he said.\r\n\r\nOK, he’s possibly in the top five preachers I’ve ever heard … in the world, that is. But even so!\r\n\r\nBut then I thought that I don’t know of any growing, confident, theologically literate church where there isn’t … great preaching.\r\n\r\nSo to fill in the blanks in life’s comprehension test, what this pastor was saying was this:\r\n

Preaching is to Church as Apples are to Apple Pie

\r\nI don’t think that’s the whole story, but it’s definitely worth talking about.

Conversations you never hear (1) – with a small church that wants a vicar

Here’s an opening line to a conversation you never hear.\r\n\r\n“You can have your church buildings, or you can have a vicar, but you can’t have both”\r\n\r\nWe’re in a strange world where it’s easier to remove clergy than sell buildings. Two reasons for this immediately come to mind. First, there’s a belief that keeping the buildings (up)together keeps the congregation together, and this combination of buildings and people IS the church. Second, it’s simply easier for a diocese to reorganise to reduce staff than to sell assets. Presumably this is done in the hope that one day effective leadership will grow the church back to full occupancy and full staff numbers.\r\n\r\nBut as my bishop says, the first task of leadership is to define reality.\r\n\r\nIf there’s a small church, getting smaller, where no-one has come to faith for a decade, and without the income to support the buildings let alone a full time member of the clergy, then something has to give.\r\n\r\nIt’s reality.\r\n\r\nBut of course a small church, like any church, wants it all. It’s had it in the past, and in it’s own collective conciousness the past is the model for the future.\r\n\r\nBut wouldn’t it be a great conversation starter, in answer to the demand for a new vicar, to offer one or the other, the buildings or the staff?\r\n\r\nIt’ll never happen of course, but if it did I suspect the conversation on its own might start to radically redefine a church.

Parable of the Bowls … or ‘What it’s like going to church for the first time’

My neighbour Bill (it’s appropriate to change his name) was on my case. He wanted me to play bowls at the local club in the park. He’d been once with his wife Jackie (not her real name, of course) and loved it.


Bill would talk to me about joining him at the club, perhaps with our wives to make up a foursome, as we made our way home from the tennis courts, past the bowls club, in the early evenings of the summer. Whenever he raised the prospect I pointed into the club and jeered. Not at any club member in particular. Just jeering in general.


To be honest, the bowls club gave me the heebie-jeebies. From what I’d seen all the members dress the same, white shoes, white trousers, white shirts, white caps, and – important to someone like me fending off the passing of years – white hair. And imagine being trapped in a small enclosure of hedges and railings with people I didn’t know and had nothing in common with.


But the pressure was mounting. The summer was ending.


It was now or never said Bill.


We finally gave in.


The evening came several weeks ago when the four us ambled up to the bowls club, my wife and I and our evangelists by our side. My steps were getting slower as we got closer. My whole body was crying out for an emergency to take place in the children’s play area so I would have to stop and administer comfort and solace to the parents of a poor child as we waited for the ambulance. But God didn’t answer that prayer (I knew it! Never when you need it).


We arrived at the gate. It was not inviting. Because of the eight foot high yew hedge there was no way to see who or what was going on in the club. The gate in the hedge gave a foreboding screech as we entered and there, suddenly, was a startling freeze-frame tableau. About twenty elderly (sorry, sprightly) people immediately turned towards us and froze – some of them in mid-bowling action, one foot forward, bowl ready, but perfectly still. Twenty cap peaks pointing at us as if to accuse us of being … NEW PEOPLE!!


Suddenly it was all action (albeit at a jolly snails pace). One member took the shopping trolley (yep, they’d stolen one from Asda) past the nice little club house to find sixteen bowls in the portakabin (“sorry they don’t quite match; we don’t have many visitors. Make do and mend …”). We were taken to our allotted place,  slot, or aisle (not sure what it’s called) and off we went.


I confess, the bowls was fun. It’s not decent to be competitive with neighbours, but that didn’t stop us making up our own scoring system and keeping score. And bowls has an attractive nerdy quality to it.


During a couple of ends a senior member came and gave us encouraging comments. At one point the club secretary came and suggested we might like to look over the membership forms in the club house. There was lots of cheerful banter from the ‘folk’ next to us.


We wrapped it up halfway through the evening because Bill and Jackie wanted to get back home to see “The Great British Bake-off” and we wanted to go to the pub first. I refused to share in pushing the trolley back, but from my bench I could hear the cheerful banter as my three competitors said their goodbyes, and resisted the invitations to drink at the nice little bar in the clubhouse (“…it’s cheaper than The Victoria!”).


Thank goodness that was over.


Although getting there felt like walking to the dentist, at least we were walking through a park in a truly beautiful summers evening. The event itself was pleasant enough, we escaped without commitment, our friends are still friends, and we pasted the experience into the scrap book of things to talk about in the winter when the nights draw in.


But for me, and bowls, I won’t be going back.