Magazine article The Spectator

God's New Business Plan

Magazine article The Spectator

God's New Business Plan

Article excerpt

Justin Welby wants the C of E to focus on growth - and he's enlisting bankers to help


A new mood has taken hold of Lambeth Palace. Officials call it urgency; critics say it is panic. The Church of England, the thinking goes, is about to shrink rapidly, even vanish in some areas, unless urgent action is taken. This action, laid out in a flurry of high-level reports, amounts to the biggest institutional shake-up since the 1990s. Red tape is to be cut, processes streamlined, resources optimised. Targets have been set. The Church is ill -- and business management is going to cure it.

Reformers say they are only removing obstacles that hinder the Church from growing. Opponents, appalled by the business-speak of some of the reports, object to what they see as a ruthless focus on filling pews.

Two reforms in particular have generated headlines. One is the plan to swipe £100 million from the Church's investments to pay for more priests (target: a 50 per cent increase in trainee clergy by 2020). The other is to give business-school training to bishops and deans and, more controversially, to identify a 'talent pool' of future leaders -- in the official language, people 'with exceptional strategic leadership potential for Gospel, Kingdom and Church impact'.

Provoking more anxiety, though, is the emphasis on growth in numbers. Half of the central fund distributed to help poorer dioceses is to be diverted to support thriving projects. The previous system was thought to 'subsidise decline'. The new approach, to be brought in over ten years, is meant to 'incentivise... Church growth and innovation and flexibility'.

To many in the Church this feels like new ground. The C of E, they say, should be focused on God, not growth. The Revd Canon Professor Martyn Percy, dean of Christ Church, Oxford, says he has received hundreds of emails and letters from people worried by all the talk about 'efficiency, success, targets and data'. Jesus, he says, 'didn't spend a lot of time going about success'.

Such unease is only likely to be heightened by the involvement of high-flying City execs. One report was written by Lord Green, ex-chairman of HSBC; another by John Spence, former chief executive of LloydsTSB Scotland. A third refers to a working session, requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, with executives at Lloyds Bank. (Success, Church officials were told, 'requires focus, determination, organisation and adequate resourcing'.)

While bankers are among the key architects of the reforms, the fiercest critics have been academics. The idea of a 'talent pool' has come under particularly withering attack. The priesthood, says one theologian, is meant to be about service, not self-promotion. The idea of such a pool 'doesn't have a theology'.

Welby has tried to calm the backlash. The talent pool, he has argued, is about preparing people for senior posts, rather than dumping responsibility on them at the last minute. And beneath all the horrible jargon, the proposals on leadership mostly look practical. The MBA-type training for bishops and deans is sensible when you consider they run institutions with dozens of staff and turnovers of several million pounds.

John Spence, the ex-Lloyds chief who now chairs the finance committee of the Archbishops' Council, is central to the reforms. He is regarded as formidably competent -- he rose to the top at Lloyds despite going blind in his thirties. …

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