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UK Church social action now worth £3.5bn, and increasing

Social action initiatives by UK churches have increased massively over the last four years, says a new report ...

The results of the third biennial National Church and Social Action Survey for the UK show that church members of all denominations across the UK have not only continued to serve the needs in their communities, but have increased their efforts. They continue to play a crucial role in building and maintaining ‘social capital’, social inclusion and social cohesion.
They engender a sense of community through initiatives such as parents and toddlers. They care for those in distress, such as the bereaved, help those in crisis by distributing food, and take part in educating and developing values via school assemblies and other channels, reports Jubilee+.
For the most part, they are unsung heroes who finance their own efforts, increasingly taking on more initiatives and getting a great deal of encouragement from their communities and the results of their efforts.
Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society, has welcomed the latest report: "It shows how, up and down the UK, church members from all denominations play a vital role in serving the needs in their communities. It is remarkable to see such continued, increasing effort, with over one million volunteers, along with church staff, regularly engaging in social action of all kinds.  Also remarkable is the fact they are, for the most part, financing their own efforts and opening up their buildings and facilities free of charge.  This movement of church-based social activism is one of the most positive developments in modern Britain, and its impact is steadily growing.”

Unsung Heroes
The responses indicate that 1.1 to 1.4 million volunteers participated in church-based social action in the UK in 2014, touching millions of people through various initiatives.
UK churches have increased the average number of volunteer hours on social action to 114.8m per annum. This is an increase of 16.8% compared with two years earlier and 59.4% compared with four years ago.
Churches have also increased paid staff to help co-ordinate their initiatives: UK churches have increased the average number of staff hours on social action by 18.8% in two years. This is equivalent to roughly six hours of staff time to 10 hours of volunteer effort.
In addition to high levels of volunteering, church members also generously finance the vast majority of initiatives, with UK churches increasing their spending on social action to approximately £393m in 2014. This is an increase of 14.9% in two years and 36.5% in four years. Some 72% of churches are financing social actions totally themselves, while for those that have received any grants, these do not cover total costs. Unsurprisingly, the larger the church, the more the hours and money is spent on social action initiatives.
If we were to fully cost volunteer time (some of which is quite specialist) and paid staff time at an average wage of £517 per week or £13 per hour, this would amount to a staggering £2.388bn. If we then include the use of facilities and direct financial contributions, we estimate that the total cost to churches of social initiatives is above £3.5bn per annum.
Lord Wei of Shoreditch has commented: "It is inspiring to see over a million Christian volunteers across the UK engaged in community social action day in and day out. This is the Church 24/7 building community, comforting in distress, helping in crisis and demonstrating Christian values. We should applaud their example and recognise and support their efforts."
These figures only cover church social action initiatives. They do not include voluntary work by Christians in the community that is not initiated by a church (eg work by local charities), nor other church initiatives that do not involve external social action.
Reaching further
There has been continued diversification of social action projects by churches – the average number of social action initiatives undertaken by individual churches has risen from 7.4 to 8.9. This represents an increase of 20.3% compared with two years earlier and 81.6% compared with four years ago.
The number of beneficiaries in the community of church-based social action over 12 months range from 670 for smaller churches to 4,260 for larger ones. There will be overlap here due to churches in one town partnering with each other and counting the same beneficiary, and the same beneficiary may be touched by various activities, e.g. parents and toddlers, fun days, debt advice, etc.

It is estimated that there are 37,500 churches in England alone, let alone Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Even if only a small percentage of them are engaged at the level that survey respondents reported then churches are helping millions of people in communities across the UK.
Previous Jubilee+ research into the impact of church ministries shows a number of outcomes for the direct beneficiary, for the community and society, and for the church itself. For direct beneficiaries these include: new life skills; bringing stability; reduction in stress; improvement in mental health; connection with new friendship / support networks; finding faith. For the community: reduced pressure and demand on services; events; friendship/support networks.
Food distribution has become the number one activity – continuing the trend seen in the last survey.
The top 10 activities of churches in the 2014 sample are:
1 Food distribution
2 Parents and toddlers groups
3 Schools assemblies/RE work
4 Festivals/fun days
5 Children's clubs – up to age 11 (apart from church children's ministry)
6 Caring for elderly (apart from church members)
7 Debt counselling
8 Youth work – 12-18 (apart from church youth ministry)
9 Cafe open to public
10 Marriage counselling/courses
Increases are seen in initiatives that: distribute clothes; increase fitness; help adults with special needs; give mental health/stress counselling, deliver English as a second language courses, run social enterprises, help with adoption and help sex workers/trafficking.
Help with adoption efforts may be due to the ‘Home for Good’ campaign run by the Evangelical Alliance. Helping sex workers/trafficking may be due to heightened awareness due to the anti-slavery initiatives, including legislation.
Churches continue to work together on initiatives: 21% are run in partnership. Franchises are used for only 14% of initiatives.
A new confidence
58% of churches plan to increase social initiatives in the next 12 months. Only 5% plan to reduce.
The top 10 priorities (excluding Other) are:
1 Debt counselling
2 Social enterprises/businesses
3 Cafe open to public
4 Youth work – 12-18 (apart from church youth ministry)
5 Helping the homeless get settled
6 Children's clubs – up to age 11 (apart from church children's ministry)
7 Helping the jobless back into work
8 Fitness/sport (apart from church members)
9 Food distribution
10 Lunches for those in need
A number of new priorities appeared on the fuller list, taking many churches into new activity areas.
Churches have received a great deal of encouragement through community recognition, meeting needs, attendance, church growth and the selflessness of those serving.
Relationships with government and agencies operating at a local level also continue to be an encouragement.
Some 76% of churches think it ‘essential’ or ’very important’ that churches maintain their Christian distinctives in social initiatives.
Churches continue to have issues with the availability of volunteers, especially during the daytime, and funding. They have increased concerns over: staffing and/or leaders needed to head up initiatives, especially as they may require specialists; the need to update facilities or find new premises.

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