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.

Parables of Leadership: Late Bob

Bob was a leader. He had strong values which had been developed over a few years of leadership. He shared his views about many subjects often and easily with people around him  (reflecting his values of openness and authenticity) but he  mostly shared his views about other members of the organisation (a high value on honest confrontation) and how they always resisted change and so would never grow personally or corporately (optimism wasn’t a key value for Bob).

Bob was in a team and Bob was always late. He never arrived on time for anything the team organised, and sometimes he didn’t arrive at all.

The team wanted to share Bob’s values but they also wanted him to appreciate theirs. They valued courtesy, restraint, consideration and kindness. But especially they valued their own time, and respecting other through promptness was one of their key values.

Bob’s carelessness over respecting their values made them sometimes wonder about Bob’s ….

Running on a Heartbeat … or a Programme?

Does anyone else worry in their organisation that the dominance of programmes may hide the absence of a heartbeat?\r\n\r\nProgrammes are imposed from the outside; heartbeats come from – the heart.\r\n\r\nProgrammes bring rotas; heartbeats bring rhythm.\r\n\r\nProgrammes can be avoided; if heartbeats are avoided …

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.

Give time to creative thinking

Paul Olley said:\r\n\r\n“I made an international reputation by thinking twice each week,”\r\n\r\nHe outlined the components of successful generative (creative) thinking as these\r\n


  1. Time – give time to think
  2. \r\n

  3. Think – once or twice a week or month – not once a year
  4. \r\n

  5. Space – find space to think: go to a hotel for 2 hours each week
  6. \r\n

  7. Relax – it helps
  8. \r\n

  9. Topic – don’t pick a low grade or minor issue. Pick a big one. “if we had to do ‘X’ how would we do it?”
  10. \r\n

  11. Be focused – but not on anything. Be focused on opportunities and solutions. The object is not just to think but to decide
  12. \r\n

  13. Tools – find tools that work for you , well known ones perhaps, such as from Tony Buzan or Edward de Bono.
  14. \r\n

  15. Strategrams – draw strategic diagrams to summarise your thinking
  16. \r\n

  17. Intuition – use intuition rather than hard data
  18. \r\n

\r\nPS if you didn’t link to the Edward de Bono video above … do it here! Edward de Bono

“Work Work Work”

Pope Francis departed from his set text during a visit to the poor Italian outpost of Sardinia, home to Italy’s last coal mining community, to say that “where there is no work there is no dignity.”\r\n\r\nThe crowd were chanting “Work, Work, Work” and he picked up on the mood by going off-script saying\r\n

“…. it is a consequence of a world choice, of an economic system that brings about this tragedy, an economic system that has at its centre an idol which is called money”.


“greed is a sin against the first commandment. One cannot worship God and money. Jesus tells us you cannot serve money and God. It must be one or the other.”

\r\n … there’s something to think about …

… 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.

Plenty of Persons – Few Personalities

It’s never happened before, but this week I stopped to read the words of the Czech President  Milos Zeman.


He said:


“In European politics there are plenty of ‘persons’ but few ‘personalities’ “


In other words, interpreted the commentator, there are functionaries, but not leaders.


It turns out that President Zeman backed up his reflection by appointing as prime minister a close ally with uncomfortable credentials in the Czech secret intelligence service who was not representative of the caretaker government in power. Zeman went for a potentially radical leader rather than one that more closely represented the balance of parliament.


Not being in any way acquainted with Czech politics didn’t stop me wondering about an interesting parallel.


In an interregnum in a parish church of the Church of England (the irony of comparing a parish church in the Church of England with the government of one of the most unchurched nations in Europe is not lost on me) the diocese often helps establish a measured, balanced transitional leadership team made up of members of the congregation. This team usually represents the current (and more problematically the historical) position of the particular church.

Does this then result in: a) the appointment of a middle of the road, balanced, competent, ‘person’; and b) the exclusion of the more radical, alternative, creative ‘personalities’ the church needs to grow?


Or in the words used by the Czech president, does this approach put functionaries but not leaders in charge of churches?


A Church Graft of … One

One strategy to re-purpose a church is to ‘graft’ in some new members from a younger/fuller/richer church to add resources and critical mass.


There seems to be an accepted view that fifty new adults is around the number required to make a graft work.


But if I were a bishop I think I would hope that every appointment of a new clergy person to a post would be a church graft …


… of one.


It should be, shouldn’t it?