If administration is the process for a company to escape insolvency, and if that were to fail, liquidation is the ending of a company, the selling off of any assets to pay off creditors, this would suggest that the business model currently used has not worked.
There’s an alternative, known as “pre-pack insolvency” which is a restructure plan, agreed prior to the appointment of an administrator. The administrator may avoid the costs of repaying all of the creditors the full amount and the sale price may not be so adversely affected as the trading is conducted discretely. This is akin to the US style Chapter 11 filing.
So a company, falling into hard times, considers its future with respect to its staff, assets and business model, taking into context the surrounding ‘climate’. Rather than entering that closure mode, bad for its staff and those in that area, it considers alternative models, staff arrangements and the effective use of assets. The ‘pre-pack’ is the re-birth of the business, drawing upon previous errors, providing for transformative change.
What of the Church?
Its staff are predominantly ‘wise in age’. Many have reached the CPD 6-year limit and seek consideration for there are few others volunteering to fill their shoes. The number of available staff may decline each year. The current anecdotal model of 5 hymns and 4 prayers plus sermon forms the basis of the ‘model’. The hymns are the ever popular 18/19th century hymns which may contain words which can be difficult to effectively translate, especially to the modern secular ear. The format appears unchanged for many a
year century. The assets available are considerable albeit “locked up” in bricks and mortar. The buildings are typically old, possibly in need of TLC or more significant repair. They are cherished for their history. They are centrally located in most towns or are dotted throughout most of the countryside. The legacy of its paid staff is one of itinerancy – they go where they are sent – a model favoured by supermarket chains for its managers.
What might a business consider at such a juncture?
With dwindling sales it may consider remodelling or even rebranding. The Church’s ‘sales’ figures are vague – do we use the weekly attendance or the sum received at the offeratory?
Can the church accept that such a remodelling exercise is much needed? : that its asset base is significant, allowing for many years of investment in a new alternative model structure, that a revitalised staffing arrangement is required immediately.
The model of the past was of classes and societies, where classes would meet to support each other, keeping all to account. It was local, personal, reactive and dynamic. When we use the term class, let’s not get drawn into drawing exact parallels but use the benefits of one model to aid the new consideration. The society, the collection of classes, would allow for a congressional ‘togetherness’, or even Connexion. Today’s lifestyles are very different to the 18th century; the classes could meet weekly or even fortnightly, with the societies meeting every two months. The former could meet in houses or on the beach or the pub, the society in rented properties. This is just one perspective of a fresh model.
What hasn’t been discussed is “how” the classes should conduct their time. That should be contextual. We are seeing ‘missional communities’ being the way forward in some areas, especially within the Yorkshire North and East district of the Methodist Church. If also forms part of the #NewPlacesForNewPeople plans for the Methodist Church Evangelism project.
When churches are considered for closure, people can grow silent, look downcast and ponder on the past. However, there are so many opportunities for fresh starts, with new ways of approaching ‘being church’ for people today. We aren’t merely talking of church with crafts but ones where the boundaries are lifted, where we are set free from the building and can walk, cycle or even run (for the fitter ones amongst us) to build bonds between us and God.
Where there are new housing estates let’s consider setting up a new form of expression in that place – not a church with a service on Sunday at 11am as standard but one which meets the needs of that place. Let there be freedom! There is also the perspective of radically subverting the worship structure, of letting those who attend dictate what they’d like to do as they come to terms with prayer and singing in the 21st century.
If a church does close then let us actively consider what could there be, looking afresh at the context, of where God is moving but unhindered by buildings and current structure. Let’s strive for an ecclesial ‘pre-pack’ restructuring! From my limited time in ministry I have found so many people with faith, many who would never set foot in a church again or struggle to grasp a connection with the traditional church.
For some churches, where that traditional model has been found to be effective, then continue onwards. Where it hasn’t then this is our opportunity to restructure.
There will be ‘failures’ along the way, but here is our chance, our opportunity, before the administrator is called in. Methodism was that dissenting element of the Anglican church, breaking free from the recognised structure but meeting the needs of those who seek God.