'Friends' Groups can be a valuable mechanism for engaging with the community and generating support for the care of church buildings.
Why have a 'Friends’ Group?
Many churches have found Friends groups to be an effective means of encouraging support for the care of church buildings and associated fabric as heritage and community assets. They can help to raise additional funds for repairs and development projects. They can also facilitate social interaction for people beyond the congregation, and demonstrate community involvement in development projects - which in turn can be very helpful when approaching other potential funding sources.
A Friends group is just that, a group of friends of your church. They may be worshippers, volunteers, members of the local community or people who have moved away. They may be called a Friends group, heritage group, or anything you and your church decide.
A Friends group is a way of reaching out to and engaging with the wider world. It's a way of saying 'This building isn't just here for religious people – it belongs to everybody'. These days, a lot of the public has never set foot in a place of worship and may be wary about doing so. And yet many of them may also be keen to get involved in a capacity other than that of being part of the congregation. There may be people who don't live locally, yet feel an affinity for the building – former local residents or people with an ancestral tie, for instance. So the importance of that message can't be overestimated.
Who might be interested in joining a Friends group?
- Supporters of history and heritage
- Those who wish to use the church for events but don’t worship regularly
- Maintaining a key community building
- Visitors who want to maintain a link with the building
- Those with family ties to the church
- The church family
Typical Terms of Reference for a Friends group
- To help towards the cost of the preservation of the church
- To help towards the cost of the building insurance
- To help towards the cost of repairs to the church
- To help towards maintenance costs of ornaments and furnishings
- To raise funds for the above purposes
- To help with the maintenance and upkeep of the churchyard
A study by the National Churches Trust in 2011 found that there are several hundred Friends groups now in existence around the country, with many thousands of people involved, of whom typically more than half are not members of the local congregation. The average Friends' group raises over £2,000 per year towards the care of church buildings and over £3,000 towards development projects.
Setting up and managing Friends Groups
Many groups grow organically, usually from a group of people who know each other already. You can achieve a lot as a group of enthusiastic friends, but when it comes to attracting more members or applying for funding it’s well worth formalising your arrangements. There are some good advice materials available to help you plan a new group or review your existing group. We recommend that you look at these and consider what arrangements are going to be most appropriate for your church and community.
The National Churches Trust offers lots of advice on caring for churches, including a helpful guide that sets out simple steps to follow to set up a Friends group. You can download the guide via this link: A Friends Group for Your Church - A toolkit for action (PDF document), and a Friends Model Constitution and Guidance (PDF).
The Diocese of London has also produced some useful guidance, which you can find on their website here: Building Friends: a toolkit for new Friends groups. Some additional material is also available at the foot of that web page.
If you are setting up a new group, please let us know, so that we can keep in touch with developments and share good experiences!
Some examples of Friends' groups in the North East
We know there are must be other examples of Friends’ groups in the area, so please let us know and we will add links from this page!