Today the Diocese of Liverpool publishes an independent evaluation of Transforming Wigan the first large-scale change management project funded through the Church Commissioners Strategic Development Fund (SDF).
The report, from Kate Hutton of Intergras Consulting provides a thorough appraisal of the project assessing its strengths and weaknesses. It shows that the project, which has now evolved into Church Wigan, highlighted that it hadn’t been able to solve the deep financial challenges it inherited. However, it has achieved great progress in creating local teams and helping mission across the town.
The report concluded that Transforming Wigan was ambitious, particularly in its aim to turn round the finances of the deanery. It recognises the ongoing financial burden of old buildings is being tackled through the Right Buildings review and commented the new structures through establishing the charitable Wigan Deanery Trust have made Church Wigan financially more efficient. They have greater autonomy on how funds are spent and ability to apply for grant funding.
The report also states that Church Wigan’s focus on teams and teamwork has helped it support, identify, and train future leaders. It has created an agility that helped Church Wigan provide support in the pandemic at a time when other churches struggled.
The report noted a flourishing of missional activity resulting in new congregations and work with people in significant need across Wigan.
The evaluation aimed to provide an independent evidenced based assessment of the seven-year project which formally ended in 2021. The evaluation was conducted between November 2022 and January 2023 using a range of research techniques to gain its information.
The report states that there was general agreement amongst parishioners and clergy that change was need to halt the decline of the church in Wigan. Clergy also agreed they needed outside help if they were to change.
The report stated that Transforming Wigan had two key aims:- To turn around the church in Wigan’s financial strength; and to make Wigan a missional powerhouse. It found that it has been successful in the missional focus through
• Establishing 63 worship communities in schools and the community
• Engaging over 12,656 people in missional activities
The report attributes that success to the training of just under 200 lay leaders giving them permission and support to set up and lead various activities. Clergy experienced a significant change in the way they worked building a team across the whole deanery. This had a great positive impact when it came to responding to the challenges of the Covid pandemic.
The evaluation also concluded that while there have been new friendships across parish boundaries in some areas there has been tension with a feeling that traditional church has been neglected and traditional activities less valued.
The pandemic had a significant impact on the project with challenges around being able to recruit staff, volunteers stepping aside and congregations declining.
All that said there remains a significant financial challenge. There are four main reasons behind this:-
• The church in Wigan was financially challenged before this work began.
• There has been a loss of regular income as some people disaffected by Transforming Wigan have either withheld their giving or transferred it elsewhere.
• Covid had a huge impact on the finances of many churches, including those in Wigan.
• There is a major challenge in transforming members of new congregations into committed and regular givers. Nobody seems yet to have cracked this problem.
Diocesan Secretary Mike Eastwood commented: “We always knew that the Transforming Wigan project would be a major challenge, even without the disruption of Covid. Being the first to embark on a missional journey such as this takes courage and it has been a challenge for all involved, and we didn’t get everything right. We also knew that Transforming Wigan would produce a great amount of learning that we, and the national church could benefit from. We are determined to do that. However, we can increasingly see the missional energy and dedication to facing the challenges that lie ahead with increasing confidence and excitement”.