What would you do with your Twenty Percent?

Our understanding of what helps congregations grow may need to be turned on its head.

According to the Telegraph, the clergy are under-worked and overpaid. Hang on scratch that, we are over-worked and underpaid!

But then Joey Barton (a footballer?) suggests in the Independent that if he were Prime Minister:
"I would cease to subsidise the livelihoods of Church of England bishops and priests.”
Which rather suggests that we are living in luxury using state owned buildings for our worship.

Which would be nice.

Of course clergy probably are subsidised by the state, like lots of other lower income professionals. Clergy do not earn the packages that enable the upper middle classes to afford independent education and private healthcare. We rely on the state to educate and care for our families supported through taxation. We live in a variety of neighbourhoods, so good state services contribute to our quality of life in an indirect way too. It's easy to argue against a link between social deprivation and crime if it isn't next door.

But the Church of England as a whole receives next to nothing from the state. Our charitable status may grind some people's gears, but they probably wouldn't relish paying for the care of disused medieval buildings if we really tightened our belts. Equally those same church buildings and halls are frequently used for a variety of community functions at well below commercial rates, not to mention all the other stuff the church does.

So what of the other perspective?

The problem with blanket statements about the church and clergy is that every single context and parish is different. Some rural posts are hugely demanding, as are some urban posts. Community and congregation expectations vary, which soon comes to the fore when clergy start discussing these issues. In one post you might be expected to be part of the weekly life of a number of schools, attend every community activity, take every funeral, lead worship 3 or 4 times on a Sunday and visit everyone. In another post you might find yourself banging on the doors of schools, community groups and undertakers seeking a way in, have less demand on a Sunday, and be greeted with surprise when you knock on a door.

The distinctions between posts may have nothing to do with rural or urban context, population size, congregation size or worshipping tradition of the congregations. These varying demands don't just effect clergy, they have implications for the whole church, especially lay volunteers.

I also suspect they have a significant implications on growth.

Google at its most creative has a 20% time policy, common in the booming technology sector. Employees (in discussion with managers) have the freedom to pursue creative projects and ideas for one day in five. Some of the most successful Google products started out as 20% projects, like Gmail.

Where a whole parish or team (not just the clergy) is operating up to its eyeballs there is no room for growth. Dioceses have various formulas for working out if a parish or team is a heavy or a light load, but we need to take into account the actual lay and ordained workload which is far more difficult.

But I would suggest that a key indicator that the balance isn't right is a lack of growth.

Rather than making the assumption that someone isn't working we need to look at how to create that 20% time in the life of the whole church. The solution isn't particular programmes that the church needs to do to grow, but rather cutting back what we do do to give us that 20% to respond creatively to the context and hunger around us.

So what would you do with your Twenty Percent?

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