Churches need to innovate and think differently if they want to respond effectively to the new wave of social challenges.
In my last blog, I explored the need for churches to be a faithful presence in our community as we seek to provide a long-term response to the cost-of-living crisis.
In this blog, I want to explore why it’s important for the church to provide a skillful response and why this could be the season for experimentation.
What skills do you have?
Even when local churches are a faithful presence in their communities it can be challenging to respond to multiple crises. This is especially true if we are not equipped with the skills and experiences needed to tackle such challenges.
We need to ask honest questions about where the skills are going to come from. This is particularly tough for those of us leading smaller congregations.
In the watchfulness we discussed in part one, we need to ensure that we are also aware of what skills and experiences are outside of our gathered congregations.
Many see the church as a hub for social action and community engagement and want to work with us.
Who can you work with?
Local churches in my area have offered space for setting up a community bakery and co-working desks.
My own church has been able to offer a small garage to a carpenter. He shares his skills while benefitting from being part of a community after the isolation of Covid-19.
The sense of neighbourliness in some communities definitely increased during Covid. The church can play a role as a trusted partner where those skills and experiences are shared.
For smaller churches, the other place to find skills will often be within wider church networks.
In 2014 I was involved in setting up Smethwick Church Action Network – because we knew it was impossible to tackle the big challenges as individual congregations.
Even prior to Covid, we were already in an area where churches were in decline with parishes merging and individual congregations ceasing to exist.
The need for cooperative working is now even greater in this new season.
We’ve also been able to access skills from an even wider pool and knowledge from those who have set up projects before us.
One of the reasons I feel my role with Cinnamon and in a local church is so complementary, is that I hear stories about innovative and life-changing projects being set up across the UK.
Learn from others
There are 41 Cinnamon Recommended Projects now available to help local churches respond to the challenges in their community.
One of the key things we do at Cinnamon, is to link great ideas to great people.
The local church needs great ideas, but these entrepreneurial and innovative projects need to be rooted in local churches and neighbourhoods.
Here is just a quick sample of three projects that have recently joined our family of Cinnamon Recommended Projects and are doing amazing work in their localities.
Emerge Advocacy helps churches to work with young people who have been admitted to hospital, and who are struggling with mental health issues
tastelife UK enables local churches to run a course to help people break free from eating disorders.
Truth Be Told links churches and care homes, uniting generations, bringing joy, hope, and life and, as their founder Gemma puts it brilliantly, “to see our local churches bring back belonging.”
Along with these new projects, there are many tried and tested initiatives that have now become part our local churches’ response to ongoing issues.
Rooted in Church
But even with the very largest organisations partnering with us at Cinnamon, such as CAP and Trussell Trust, are only effective because they are rooted in local churches.
My wife Beth and I started our new role as Team Leaders in our local church at the beginning of 2022. In the process, we inherited four buildings along with a local church, which, like many others, was in decline after Covid.
In the first few months of this role, it was clear that we needed to bring skills from outside and look for partners.
I have started discussions with potential local partners about using one of our large houses. This wasn’t necessarily a strategic decision, but a necessity.
We also saw the huge mental health challenges in our community. Challenges we weren’t equipped to respond. So, we looked for others to help.
My wife and oldest daughter are currently being trained through Renew Wellbeing to start a Renew Café in the Autumn.
Having a local church network where we can find solutions together and have a pool of national expertise through Cinnamon Connect is a necessary part of church leadership and community engagement.
Being skillful is not about the church saying, “look at what we can offer.” It’s about being a place that connects people and brings them into a place where the presence of God is evident in all we do, every day of the week
Try something new
Along with bringing in skills, I also think as a church we have a chance now to be experimental. Most churches I know have experienced significant change and many, like mine, have also experienced significant loss in recent years.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a more challenging time for churches. We need to find new ways to respond.
With so many things against us, there is a sense that we’ve got nothing to lose. My congregation has been really open to new ideas – including turning one of our houses into communal houses in a community work and prayer space.
In my Cinnamon role, I’ve seen many churches provide meals – including one church that provides a family meal every Friday night. As we approach the winter, they’re considering offering space as a living room or lounge.
In my church, we’re already using outside space as a communal area for those who don’t have a garden.
We might need to start thinking about how churches can become more homely, too.
Perhaps we’ll need to see our churches as completely different spaces. After all, we have nothing to lose.
If you’re looking for support and training to help you respond to the challenges in your community, come and explore Connect Academy? Over nine months, you’ll gain the skills and confidence to set up robust, effective social action projects.
Gareth Brown, Co-Head of Church Engagement, Cinnamon Network
Gareth Brown is the Advisor Team Manager at Cinnamon Network and Director of Smethwick Church Action Network. He and his wife Beth are also Interim Team Leaders of an inner-city church in the Cape Hill area of Smethwick.