A timely reality check
Greenfields Evangelical Church, Swansea
“Action Planning provided a good service. Sean was very professional and relaxed in the way he interviewed our congregation. His objectivity was an important factor, especially with such a close knit congregation. The report explored all possibilities and, while the conclusion was disappointing, at least we know where we stand.”
Graham Sullivan, Trustee, Greenfields Evangelical Church
Viewed from the road, Greenfields Evangelical Church in Pant-Lasau, Swansea, comprises a derelict chapel, built in the 1800s, beside a patch of grassy land backed by oak trees. Behind the chapel stands a portakabin – the place of worship for Greenfields’ diverse congregation of around 30. For more than 10 years, a rebuilding project has been high on the agenda, with ambitions to expand the church’s reach and use further into the local community, in partnership with other organisations. An architect has been engaged, a project cost of £1.2million estimated and a lead donation of £250,000 already pledged. Beyond that, however, the task of fundraising has been daunting. In the words of Graham Sullivan, one of three Trustees, “We’ve not had fundraising experience, we didn’t know where to start, we needed to speak to somebody.” Graham spoke to Action Planning Chairman David Saint at a Stewardship seminar in London and we were engaged to provide professional support.
Greenfields asked Action Planning to carry out a fundraising feasibility study and recommend a fundraising strategy that could realise the additional £950,000 required to complete the project.
We interviewed about a third of the congregation and their families to gauge their support for the project and found a strong consensus in favour. This was encouraging. The spirit in the camp was very willing. However, in calculating the potential for giving, we found that this small congregation, made up largely of healthcare workers, could not make a sizeable dent in the funding target.
We calculated that further funding sources, such as doorstepping, local companies and events, would also deliver low yields, and the medium estimate for available grant funding amounted to £290,000. All told, our fundraising estimate amounted to only about half of the required total.
With regret, we were obliged to advise Greenfields that capital fundraising appeal was unlikely to succeed. While Graham and his team were understandably disappointed, we left them with a list of recommendations that could help to move their focus onto an alternative project that could offer a brighter future. These included: discussing the report with church leadership and the architect; talking to the local authority about possible funding under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act; strengthening the case for support by identifying and costing the long-term running costs of the planned building, connecting with potential users of the new building and gathering supportive evidence; and praying collectively about next steps.
Not all feasibility studies result in a positive conclusion. Nevertheless, the process is worthwhile because it objectively clarifies the position, saves time and money being wasted on fruitless campaigns and provides the launch pad for new thinking.
The capital development project at Greenfields asks and answers the question: “What is church without a building?” On the one hand, the congregation wants a building in order to have a home and to facilitate them to be church. On the other hand, their identity as a church is not defined by bricks and mortar. They are well aware that, to passers-by, the derelict chapel on the roadside looks like a reminder of past activity and a sign of the decline of faith in society. And yet, in an ageing, demountable hut tucked away behind that derelict chapel, faith lives and breathes within the people that worship there. And more importantly, this faith and life overflows the hut and reaches out to the neighbouring areas, workplaces and wider community.
Greenfields, the church community, exists in spite of inadequate physical surroundings. But there are no easy answers that will enable the church to fulfil its vision for a building that will enable its vision as a community of faith. This project serves as evidence that there is no ‘typical’ church capital appeal project, and we are poised to help Greenfields to move forward however it can.