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Sustaining Major Parish Churches

Front cover for Sustaining Major Parish Churches

Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities

By Rebecca Burrows on behalf of Purcell

Major Parish Churches represent some of the most special, significant and well-loved places of worship in England. The Church of England has identified more than 300 'Major Parish Churches'. This is a recognition of historically significant parish church buildings with a different scale of opportunities and challenges faced compared to the vast majority of 12,267 listed Church of England church buildings.

A Major Parish Church has all or some of the following characteristics: they are physically large (over 1000m2 footprint); are grade I, II* or II listed; have significant heritage value; are open to visitors daily; and make a civic, cultural and economic contribution to their communities.

The project partners - Historic England, Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Greater Churches Network, the Church of England's Church Buildings Council and Doncaster Minster - want to understand the potential challenges and opportunities within Major Parish Churches. This project has investigated the perception of these buildings, their physical condition and the resources available to maintain, repair, manage and sustain them.

This research, funded by Historic England, provides a robust baseline of evidence based on a sample of Major Parish Churches from across the country. We focussed on a large sample of buildings, providing both substantive evidence and individual narrative.

Key findings were:

  • These buildings are important repositories of the material, cultural and spiritual history of the nation
  • The great majority of these buildings remain well cared for and in a good state of repair. Substantial amounts of historic fabric can be costly to repair and maintain, many do not have the facilities to sustain complementary uses, most find it increasingly difficult to recruit skilled volunteers, few have effective strategic plans in place and paid staff or incumbents face considerable pressures on their time. There is a substantial disparity between income and expenditure
  • Very few Major Parish Church representatives consider their church buildings to be a hindrance or a burden, though public understanding of how these buildings are funded or managed is low
  • A Major Parish Church needs to grow its congregation to continue delivering its core mission and ministry but demands upon resources may limit its ability to do so. A variety of new models of governance are being tested but long-term effectiveness is still unclear and financial support from national funding bodies is vital for major projects
  • The dedication of those responsible for care and maintenance is an unparalleled resource
  • Major Parish Churches require support to improve strategic planning and income generation, to provide new community and visitor facilities, to increase clergy staffing and to grow capacity. There is a requirement for more support with funding sources, a strategy for repairs and a forum for sharing best practice.

The report and case studies will be a valuable resource to those responsible for the management and care of Major Parish Churches, both individually and strategically at local, regional and national levels. This research provides a foundation from which to stimulate debate about the potential future of Major Parish Churches.

Purcell carried out this research on behalf of the project partners.


  • Research Summary
  • 1. Sustaining major parish churches
  • 2. Articulating the distinctive characteristics
  • 3. Understanding the opportunities and challenges
  • 4. Summary of findings
  • Appendices
  • 50 case studies
  • In-depth case studies

Additional Information

  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Pages: 74 (report); 144 (case studies); 216 (in-depth case studies)


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