A report published last month seems to have slipped under the radar for many media outlets. One might ask why, when it suggests that the Church in England (i.e. all the churches) reaches 1 in 6 of the population, approximately 10 million people each year, through its community activities (and that is excluding such things as Sunday services, Christmas, Easter, Harvest, baptisms, weddings, and funerals).
If that sounds a large number it explains its methodology – Using polling organisation ComRes, they asked respondents whether they, or an immediate family member, had accessed community (non-statutory) services in the last 12 months and whether they had been provided by churches or church groups. 48% of adults had accessed community services, with 51% of these accessing services provided by churches or church groups. Using ONS population figures for England, this equates to just over 10 million adults.
It reports that “These activities include foodbanks, community events such as lunch clubs or cafés, healthy living activities such as community nursing, exercise classes and healthy eating courses, relationship support, financial education and advice, access to computers/ the internet, and providing opportunities for volunteering. Among the most frequently used community services were children and youth services, cultural events, and activities for older people. However, churches had also provided support for asylum seekers, for people with addictions, counselling and ‘street pastoring’. The activities and community services were more likely to have been used by younger people (18-44) than older ones.
“In contrast to other institutions, our case study churches were a stable institutional presence yet also human, relational, personal and locally ‘owned’. This meant that they were able to marshal human, financial and physical resources at some scale, without becoming bureaucratic or disengaged from the local community.”
It provides 12 detailed case studies, which show that “churches do not just provide services but also build platforms for neighbourliness, relationships and social connection.”
In its conclusion it says that “There is both opportunity and motive for churches to take on a greater social welfare role, and a strong base on which to build” and that “Churches are alive to what is often a hidden dimension of deprivation, which is a dearth of social connections – relationships – that make life both possible and meaningful.
It suggests that “Given pressure on public finances and the ongoing difficulty of achieving increased prosperity in many urban centres outside of London and the South East” the churches will be called upon to provide increasing amounts of such care.
Knowing how stretched the volunteers in my own church already are I wonder how we, as Christians across the country, might meet that need? But I’m sure it’s something we will, and should, aim for.
You can read the full report at: http://www.cuf.org.uk/research/good-neighbours