Tuesday, 25 September 2012

New Models of Church - the Church as Service Provider

It was a comment by Erika on "Not Going to Church" that made me ponder this one. She got me thinking about a Model of Church - as Retail Destination, providing a product and hoping people will buy it. And this led me on to thinking about othern modern Models of Church. Which leads me, naturally enough, to the model of Church as Service Provider

This model sees the Church as a provider of services in the same way as the Council.
Think of those key points in your life - when a child is born. First stop in the official identity-creation of your child is when you visit the Registrar to fill in the birth certificate. Then, when you've scraped enough together, you hire a pub for a party, and hire a vicar for the baptism. It's all part of the service. The vicar has the advantage that, like other public servants, his/her services are free. But like your trip to the Registry Office, the certificate will often cost something.

In the world of weddings, the Church is increasingly entering the world of "Retail Destination". It has competition from ivy-clad castles, holiday destinations and football stadia. In this Retail Destination model, we need ministers who will go the extra mile - wearing Jacobean costume, providing dancing girls and throwing in the organist for free.

Not so much with funerals, as people don't normally go in for ploughing through the Internet looking for that perfect converted Georgian manor house hotel for their final act on this planet. Here, the church is again firmly in its "service provision" role - the figure of the Establishment, within the tight confines of a 20-minute slot, confirming that the deceased is indeed, for all legal and social purposes, no longer with us.

There are other services that, increasingly, the Church will provide. In these dark days, these are getting beyond those formal ones I've mentioned above into other areas where they have been pushed back (or retreated) in years gone by as the State has become the all-in-one Provider of First Resort. Now, however - food banks, counselling, schools - a whole area of service provision is opening up, for those with the time and energy to provide it. And that may be that vast army of early-retired Middle Class people the church currently has so many of.

In this allegedly "all in it together" Big Society, with its complex ecosystem of Government and Voluntary Sector providers however, there is an ongoing tensiom between the Government's agencies and the Churches. Currently, for example, I believe that only Registry Offices can conduct Civil Partnerships. I've a feeling that, under EU Law, if the Unitarians or the Quakers launched a case under "restraint of trade" they'd have a pretty good argument.

But of course, that last point cuts both ways. Some would argue that ATOS are even now doing work that follows directly on from that of Our Lord. That is, going round the place telling sick people that they're well.


  1. I suppose the question is whether this is a good or a bad state of affairs.
    When you have a core message that you believe to be absolutely vital to every person in the world, yet most people are culturally so removed from you that they do not come to where you talk about it, it could be quite a clever stratgy to provide selected retail opportunities.

    It is then up to you to capitalise on those contact points as much as you possibly can.

    It might not be the best retail strategy, but it seems to me to have a higher probability of at least some success than closing the doors to fashion shoppers and concentrating on your core audience would have.

    Especially if, as in "Not Going to Church" the alternative can at first seem to be uncomfortable seats, boring and long sermons, people one doesn't particularly like but an expectation from the service provider that it is nothing to do with him but rather, that this is what God wants from you and that you should embrace it gratefully.

  2. AE, you'll be creating a "10 point customer charter", establishing an "SLA scorecard" and setting up a hotline number for the call centre next... :)

  3. People you don't like...while most of the people I meet in church are quite pleasant, there have been times I've thought that one of the main reason for organizing worship in more or less randomly asssorted groups was to provide some nice handy targets to practice loving one's neighbour/ being kind to those who aren't kind to you etc. Maybe 'targets' isn't quite the right term...

    I had to look up ATOS. I think they're taking lessons from certain local groups.

  4. Round our way we have at least one disaffected ex-CofE ex-clergy-person who has set himself up in business as a lay funeral-taker as his only employment. He does all the usual things, takes funeral directors out to lunch and shmoozes them, places fliers in the hospital bereavement office etc. I expect pastoral care is an extra charge.

  5. On the other hand, Doorkeeper, how else would he let people know he was there? Us freelancers who haven't got a church notice board outside our offices and a tower or steeple to guide people do have to be a little more creative (not that I offer alternative funerals, but I understand the difficulty).

    1. Another excellent offering from R4's Beyond Belief this week including the idea of the official Russian Orthodox church being just another government department.

  6. That wasn't a reply to Erika, incidentally, I was trying to add a comment in the absence of the option to add a comment.


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