Working in partnership with others can bring huge benefits in the form of specialist knowledge and skills, additional funding and the sharing of resources. Churches are able to offer a building, volunteers and a wish to help their communities and support those in need. This could include hosting an outreach Post Office® two mornings a week, where all the equipment is brought in at the beginning of a session and taken away at the end of each session, or supporting the homeless in partnership with an experienced homeless charity by providing space and volunteers.

Many projects are a partnership between the church and the local authority which may want to deliver a statutory welfare service to a specific locality. Such partnerships are especially vital in rural or deprived areas where the church can provide facilities, have links to hard-to-reach communities, and contribute knowledge of local circumstances. It will be important that both sides have something to offer and to gain from the partnership and that you both share the same objectives and values. It is important to understand how each organisation works and its core objectives.

Here are some options and considerations when looking at partnerships:


Speak with the Ecumenical Officer regarding church partnerships.

Speak with other Methodist organisations, such as MHA and Action for Children.

Here are some examples from our Inspiration page:


A social enterprise is a business which has primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners. They can involve a traditional community-based activity or can operate in a commercial arena. Social enterprise isn’t for everybody, but it can provide a valuable model.  The Plunkett Foundation supports rural communities through community-ownership to take control of the issues affecting them. Some activities include:

  • support rural communities looking to set up and run community-owned shops;
  • help rural communities to set up a wide range of community owned enterprises, social enterprises and co-operatives to provide vital rural services;
  • enable community food and farming enterprises to set up and run successfully.

 You can find out more information about other social enterprises on:

  • A new service for the growing number of communities wanting to raise finance for co-operative and community-owned enterprises has been launched by Co-operative UK and Locality. The Community Shares Unit offers information and support on a wide variety of topics relating to the operational duties of IPSs, including those of secretaries and directors. It has a number of model rules for bodies wishing to register as IPSs, including community investment model guidance and case studies. 
  • Social Enterprise UK is the national body for social enterprises 
  • Your local Community Voluntary Action group/Council for Voluntary Services (CVS) offer advice to community organisations and can help to find groups in your area. 
  • The Action with Rural Communities in Rural England, the ACRE Network (previously known as Rural Community Councils). They are able to offer advice on governance, as well as having a network of village hall/rural community buildings advisers. 
  • Stir to Action offer community resources from setting up a Crowd Funding campaign to hosting a SOUP which is a live crowdfunding community dinner or a Map Jam ie: creating a community map. 
  • Village SOS: Support, Outreach and Sustainability was a £1.4m campaign, funded by the Big Lottery Fund (now the National Lottery Community Fund) between 2014 and 2016. It offered support and guidance on all aspects of setting up a new business with the aim of regenerating rural communities. Although, it has now ended, you can read about some of the successful projects and watch short films on YouTube. A few involve church buildings. 
  • The National Lottery Heritage Fund commissioned and published research looking at whether social enterprise can be an effective method to assist the sustainability of rural places of worship. 
  • Historic Support Officer
  • The Community Development Officer at your local council, or Partnership Project Officer at your local Strategic Partnership if you have one. (Search your local authority’s website for ‘community grants’ and this will point you in the right direction.)

 Pro-bono support
There are now plenty of companies/organisations that will offer their services pro-bono for community projects. These include lawyers, architects and mentors for social enterprise. Websites listing companies that can offer these services can be found on the internet.

Legal Considerations

If your project includes partnerships, the partners should be informed of the decision-making process and assuming the project goes ahead, it would be good to formalise organisational structures and responsibilities with the partners.  You should speak with TMCP about the partnership and discuss heads of terms.  You can view some information on Letting Property and Third Party Use. However, here are some general considerations to work through: 

  1. Whether you have set up a delegated sub-group or a new separately constituted community group, ensure that representatives from the church council and/or clergy are included within your group.
  2. Just because your project may use the church building, it doesn’t mean that someone from the church council must chair group meetings. Clearly though, the church council must be supportive of the project and the community group!
  3. Establish some terms of reference between the community group and the church as soon as possible. It prevents later problems arising that could impact on the project.

Consideration must be given not only to the legal mechanics of how you will work together but also to how you will share the space in your church with another group or organisation. You may want a licence to allow the group use of your space or, if you are planning to collaborate on running the new activities, you may want to set up a legally separate entity. In any case, you will need a licence or lease agreement for the other group or your newly created organisation to occupy part of the church and run your new activities.

Over the last few years, models have emerged that provide new ways of sharing the space and the responsibility of managing a building that is being used as a place of worship and also a community space. These are not going to be appropriate for everyone, but they will encourage you to consider different options. Some are about finding ways for congregations and their communities to work together ‘to share the burden’ of looking after a building. This is more than simply bringing the community into the building to enjoy it and use it; it is about setting up structures which enable people from outside the congregation to help look after it

Key items to consider:

  • You must be very clear about the degree of control you want to retain over your building. This will include both the type of secular uses allowed and also the priority given to church activities. While you may want to delegate overall management and responsibility for maintenance and a proportion of the fundraising, you may also want to retain responsibility over any future proposed physical changes to the building.
  • Do you want to remain under the Ecclesiastical Exemption rules or are you happy for part of the building to be closed and for that part to come under secular planning jurisdiction (with the possibility of some overlap), and possibly different taxation regimes?

You need to be aware that different arrangements will have different implications:

  • Listed churches can claim for the repayment of VAT through the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme. Applications can only be made by the church body. As this will amount to 20% of the cost of the building works including professional fees, it should not be disregarded.
  • As charities, whether registered or exempt, churches enjoy a mandatory exemption from business rates. A community group, even if it is a charity, will not benefit from this exemption. If the group is a registered or exempt charity, it should enjoy an 80% reduction but will be obliged to apply for exemption from the other 20%. A commercial operation such as a village shop will pay full business rates. This can present problems for the church in ensuring that its portion of the full exemption continues to apply.
  • There will need to be a written agreement whether it is a licence or leasing or a Memorandum of Understanding between the managing trustees and community group formalising their mutual responsibilities and use of the space. It will need to be carefully worded and will require permission. You will need to be in contact with TMCP and are advised to seek your own legal advice.
  • Whichever route you choose, it is important that an appropriate number of people who are there as representatives of the managing trustees are included in the new organisation as a member of the management committee or ruling body of the new organisation. The governing document (constitution) of the new organisation should specify how many representatives of the church body must be included

More general information about governance structures can also be found in Chapter 4, Governance – Choosing the Right Organisational Structure in Crossing the Threshold.  For more specific guidance, please contact TMCP


Individual churches of most denominations enjoy charitable status and therefore may only conduct activities falling within the charitable purposes of the church. When you are considering activities which fall outside these purposes and will amount to ‘trading’, you need to check the legislation to see what the implications are. Any doubts about the effect of this aspect of the law on a local church should be discussed, in the first instance, you should contact TMCP. You should also check with the relevant department in your local authority as to whether you would now be liable for Business Rates.

Also check with your Insurance Company if you are undertaking activities which bring in an income, such as starting to trade.

You need to get legal and financial advice to ensure you fully understand the different options and their implications. Spend time on this and talk to other projects and TMCP and/or a solicitor. If you get this wrong, it can cause pain and expense in the long run.

Don’t be afraid to talk about money – get this right and it can ensure your sustainability and remember, it has to be viable for both parties. The document should clearly set out what each partner is responsible for and cover details such as cleaning responsibilities as well as who is going to pay for what e.g. servicing of equipment and maintenance and what proportion of the utility bills.

You will also need to obtain Consent from the church council, circuit and District as you are, in effect, giving rights of access to part of your building to another organisation. You will be able to get advice from TMCP or the panel of solicitors. If this seems a little daunting, don’t panic. There is plenty of help out there. Remember, there are thousands of community groups up and down the country doing something similar.


The government offers tax relief on investment in social enterprises which would place investment in a social organisation on the same footing as investment in a for-profit enterprise. However, social enterprises are not charitable and consequently some funders will not offer them grants. You should be confident that you can raise sufficient funds to accomplish your goals within your community before committing to this kind of legal structure.  If you are considering a social enterprise, please contact TMCP for further advice. 

In fact, getting advice and support is a sensible step to take, so go and ask for it. Try to find out as much as you can, as early as possible. People to consider approaching include TMCP as well as your local Mission Enabler, District Property Secretary or the Connexional Property Support Team. 

Further Resources

The Charity Commission provides detailed guidance on setting up and running a charity. You don’t have to be a charity to benefit from reading this information which is freely available on the website. 

The Plunkett Foundation helps rural communities to set up and run community-owned shops and other community-owned rural services. They also offer advice on governance. 

A new service for the growing number of communities wanting to raise finance for co-operative and community-owned enterprises has been launched by Co-operative UK and Locality. The Community Shares Unit offers information and support on a wide variety of topics relating to the operational duties of IPSs, including those of secretaries and directors. It has a number of model rules for bodies wishing to register as IPSs, including community investment model guidance and case studies. 

Social Enterprise UK is the national body for social enterprises. 

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