The report Church and Social Cohesion: Connecting Communities and Serving People was launched on Thursday 26 November 2020. It is the culmination of an 18 month research project commissioned by the Free Churches Group and prepared by Theos Think Tank.
Read more about the report below, including a more detailed overview by Rev Paul Rochester, General Secretary of the Free Churches Group...
A summary of the report
The research project has consulted with more than 360 people across England to assess what churches have to offer to social cohesion, and what could they do better.
The report begins with a brief overview of recent cohesion policy, particularly noting how it has often been directed in response to crisis rather than a sustainable consideration of community assets. It then notes that Christians have distinctive theological motivations for engaging with their communities and describes six ‘assets’ as particularly common features of effective church–based community engagement: buildings, networks, leadership, convening power, volunteers and vision.
Finally, it offers a number of practical recommendations for how both churches and policymakers can maximize the churches’ potential to foster social cohesion in the community.
Commendations from CTE Presidents
CTE’s Pentecostal President, and National Leader of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Agu Irukwu said: “This report is a welcome resource as we deal with issues that have the potential to fragment and divide our society. At a time when we, as a nation, are dealing with the complex, emotional and often painful issues that have arisen as a result of Brexit, Black Lives Matter and the COVID-19 pandemic amongst others, the church has a critical role to play in brining about unity in communities.”
CTE President the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also welcomed the report: “Too often in studies of community cohesion the place of religion is treated as only a problem to be solved or as an irrelevance to be ignored. This excellent report brings home the power and potential for the church at the heart of our communities.”
A detailed overview of the report
Rev Paul Rochester, General Secretary of the Free Churches Group, writes…
The Free Churches Group recently released a report on The Church and Social Cohesion: Connecting Communities and Serving people, prepared by Theos Think Tank. The report looks at how churches in England contribute to social cohesion. It brings to a conclusion an eighteen-month project that involved over 360 semi-structured interviews in 14 English local authorities: Bolton, Bradford, Bury, Cornwall, Croydon, Derby, East Lindsey, Haringey, Middlesbrough, Newham, Peterborough, Plymouth, Solihull, and Thanet.
The term social cohesion is defined in several ways. It is used often in a policy context but has a bearing on us all. At its heart, social cohesion is the bringing together of people to share and support each other and to give one another a sense of belonging, regardless of circumstances and grouping within society. Cohesive communities will be important as we face contemporary issues today such as a destabilising pandemic, life outside of the European Union and the cry for racial justice. The report highlights the need for trust, respect and understanding beyond the groups we tend to identify with, which is a key component for building a cohesive society. The Church is being Christlike when it reaches out, building bridges for people to connect and creating environments where people can learn to give and to receive.
For centuries, churches have been serving communities across England. They do so because of a great sense of mission, which flows from their commitment to following Jesus. Government programmes or the need for recognition has never been the motivating factor for churches to do what they do. Churches form a core of those unsung heroes in many communities who support those in need and seek to make the lives of people better through the provision of many services. If you were to take churches and the work they do out of communities across England, it would be noticeable and adversely affect the lives of many.
This Commission on the Church and Social Cohesion gets to the heart of what it is to be a Christian serving community, connecting people. Many would accept that the marginalised and poor benefit from the work of the Church, but others benefit as well. Those who are economically secure and those able to make positive contributions to society also need to be supported. Often, they need a place for silence and reflection, where they can be heard and hear a message of hope. Churches offer that. The report argues that ‘services are not the same as serving,’ something which the Church understands because of God’s mission to the world, borne out by the Church through a relationship with Jesus Christ and in sharing in His life by faith. This distinctiveness that churches bring is something to be celebrated and not treated with misgivings.
The report highlights the need to bring people together and to help them realise a sense of belonging. Regardless of individual circumstances, everyone yearns to be respected. This need to belong is a human longing in every person.
All churches will face the challenge to maintain the important services they provide and to seek ways to improve and extend what they do. There are growing needs as the country tackles the economic shock primarily caused by the pandemic. However, even before the pandemic, new technologies were changing our way of life, forcing people to adjust to a new economy.
The report raises questions about how the Government sees and works with the churches in England on cohesion policy. It points to a need for regular conversations on cohesion matters and not just at moments of crisis. Far more can be achieved when the churches work with central and local government to build lasting relationships. Churches need to be ready to play their part, but the Government should also avoid looking suspiciously at churches, recognising the good they do to strengthen the cohesiveness of communities across England.
The report highlights the following six assets that the churches have, which can be used to build cohesive communities:
- Buildings – to be used for community events and bringing people together.
- Networks – that connect people from different backgrounds and act as a means to share information quickly into communities, especially useful in times of need.
- Leadership – not just faith leadership at a formal level but also encouraging and nurturing young Christians to lead.
- Convening power – bringing people together offering conversational space.
- Volunteering – providing but also helping co-ordinate volunteers and events in communities.
- Vision – the desire to shape and transform communities, which is intrinsic to the core values of Christianity with its belief to “love your neighbour as yourself” at the centre of that.
Along with the report, there are two booklets aimed at helping churches and local and central government to improve how they work together on fostering social cohesion.
You can download the report and booklets through the links below:
- The report: The Church and Social Cohesion: Connecting Communities and Serving people
- Nurturing Social Cohesion: Why it matters and what your church can do about it – A guide for churches looking to engage more deeply with their communities, and especially looking to build more positive relationships with statutory bodies.
- Nurturing Social Cohesion: A how-to guide for engaging churches – A guide for government and policymakers to work more effectively with churches in pursuit of more cohesive communities.