It was like ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ revisited. A while back I visited a large town to speak at a Faithworks event. During the afternoon I met with the church leaders of the various denominations, ahead of a large public gathering that evening. We spent a couple of hours together talking about a range of issues that their churches were facing as they increasingly engaged in their communities. The conversation was very illuminating. Every one of the churches represented in that room had a couple or more programmes set up to serve the people of their area. Between them they were running an exciting array of projects, ranging from a pregnancy crisis centre to an elderly people’s lunch club – and each of them was operating some form of youth work.
Excited to hear about these different initiatives, during the conversation I commented that the local council must love them. The leaders shared a knowing look among themselves before one lady, the vicar of the Anglican Church, spoke up. “You must be joking,” she said: “they are very cool with us.” Surprised, I asked what she meant. She revealed that on more than one occasion her church had applied for local government funding for the work they were doing, but had been consistently turned down. It turned out that this was a shared experience. At one time or another, each church had asked the council for financial support to facilitate their youth work or other projects – but none of them had been successful in their applications. And the outcome of all this – these leaders and their churches had all concluded that they were being actively discriminated against because of their faith.
Several weeks later I visited a second town, not 20 miles from the first, to speak at another Faithworks event. Again, before the evening meeting I had an opportunity to meet with the town’s church leaders. Given that the two towns shared the same county council, I half expected this second group to tell me the same kind of tales of discrimination as the first. So at the earliest opportunity I asked them about their partnership or otherwise with local government – I was surprised and encouraged by what I heard. They told me that they had a very positive relationship with the council. But, more than that, as part of their relationship, they had been given significant sums of money to fund a number of projects within the town – including the youth work in each of their churches. The council in question, it now appeared, were not as anti-faith as I had originally been led to believe!
What can we learn from this tale of two towns? In the first, the churches worked well and worked hard – but they also worked independently. The key to the ‘extra’ success in the second, however, was that rather than working at ‘their own thing’, the local churches worked together, presenting themselves as one entity delivering community solutions through a number of centres.
For local councils, or any other grant awarding body, the greater the ‘capacity’ of a project, the more attractive it becomes to fund. Funding a single high capacity agency is far more efficient than awarding a series of smaller grants to a number of low capacity projects. There is more than one reason for this. Firstly, as any charity grows, its central support services (admin, finance, publicity, marketing etc.) consume a declining percentage of its overall budget. In other words, it becomes more efficient.
But secondly, if 10 churches, working together under one banner, talk to local council about funding their youth work offered through 10 different centres, in 10 different parts of town, that makes economic sense for them. However, if 10 churches want to have ten different conversations, at 10 different speeds, involving 10 sets of phone calls, visits, meetings, contracts and monitoring processes – then that amounts to a hugely inefficient and ineffective use of public funds and the council’s annual budget.
Chalke and Change Jargon Buster
We live in a world addicted to jargon. Computer nerds, businessmen, the military, politicians, Christians – all have their own specialist language. P.D.As, C.P.As, R.P.Gs, L.S.Ps and L.E.Ps; pdf. files, low-hanging fruit, collateral damage, early day motions and ministry times – society is littered with abbreviations and ‘in crowd’ terminology. The problem comes when one group or tribe wants to communicate with another. If the Church is going to talk to the government, other voluntary agencies, social services, the NHS etc. we are going to have to become bi-lingual. Each month Chalke and Change unpacks one key phrase of community development language and explores how it can be useful to churches. This month what is a ‘Capacity Building’?
A project’s ‘Capacity’ refers to the scale of its operation – not simply in terms of size, but also quality and depth. In order to be accountable, this
‘Capacity’ must be able to be measured, monitored and evaluated in some tangible way both internally (by the project) and externally (by its funders).
‘Capacity Building’, therefore, refers to the process of scaling up or growing a project or agency in order to deliver more effective and efficient services to a greater number of people.
There are several key advantages in building capacity: Increased impact – achieving the full potential of any given project.
Economy of scale – as any project grows, a smaller percentage of its overall budget is used for internal administration and more of its resources are released to meet its goals.
Level of professionalism – ironically, though a smaller percentage of money is used to run a larger project, at the same time, because of the increased size of the overall budget, there will actually be more cash available to develop the infrastructure. Thus greater standards of professional service can be acheived.
Funding potential – a project with a higher capacity is more attractive to funders as it is more efficient with the money they invest.
‘Capacity Building’, then, must be the goal of any church based project that wants to maximise its impact within its community. And a very effective way to achieve this goal is to work in partnership with others. Though one church might only be able to deliver a limited service, several churches working closely together, under one umbrella can have far greater impact on a whole town and beyond.
If you would like further information about ‘Capacity Building’ or how Faithworks can help groups of churches explore working together as a Faithworks Local Network, visit www.faithworks.info.
Faithworks exists to resource and equip churches, Christian projects and individuals as they play their full part at the hub of their local communities as well as actively liaising with central, regional and local government.