I have previously written about the problems associated with leading churches that act, essentially, as mission posts. One problem facing churches reaching out into areas populated primarily by Muslims is that often those who convert are unable to stay in the area. Despite what was written in an otherwise excellent article in the Oldham Chronicle (you can read that article here), we have those from Muslim backgrounds converting and having to move area, sometime out of the borough altogether. It is extremely difficult to grow your church when those converting can no longer remain in the area.
In my previous article, I argued that smaller churches are only likely to be able to continue their ministry to Muslim people if other churches see fit to support them. Whilst most churches can go out, win people for Christ and spend time discipling those who convert, churches reaching out in tight-knit Asian Muslim communities simply cannot function on this model. As people leave Islam and come to faith in Christ, they cannot remain in an area in which they are known. They will often face hostility, if not outright threats on their life, remaining among the people they know in their communities. Given that such converts quickly need to move away, one way small churches are reliant upon believers moving to the area to build the church and serve in the mission.
The problem with relying upon this is obvious. If your model revolved around people who haven’t yet moved to the area, you are doomed to fail if they don’t arrive. When we reckon with the fact that the cavalry simply aren’t coming, we are as good as saying places like Oldham are unreachable. This simply will not do.
An alternative approach is to create a network of churches working among Muslims. Having to move converts out of the area is an issue by no means unique to Oldham. It is, therefore, worth building a close network of churches working among Muslim majority people. With such a network, those seeing fruit from Muslim work would have a ready-made set of churches to whom they could relocate those who have come to Christ in their area. In turn, churches in other areas would have a similar network of churches to whom they could relocate their converts.
As I have argued here, we are calling people to give up a tight-knit and close community in favour of following Christ. It simply will not do to offer them anything less than a compelling community in return. Whilst there are obvious and serious reasons to relocate somebody from their locality when they convert from an Asian Muslim background, being able to plug them into another Christian community – which is multicultural enough to have people like them in attendance – is vitally important. It is not just a case of sending folk away to another church, it is finding a genuine community in which they will not be the token Asian, wheeled out to make an evening of testimonies a little more interesting. They need a church in which they can work out the gospel in ways that are relevant to their cultural background without being forced into a Middle Class white British mould of how church ought to be.
One way to see this happen is for a credible network of like-minded churches working in such mission fields to join together. To provide churches that will disciple Ex-Muslim converts in an environment where they are not under threat as a known apostate and in which they can worship with other people like them. Such a network would provide a basis of mutual support for churches working in similar environments and would make it possible to invite Muslim people into a genuine community, in which they will receive care, away from fear of retribution from their own community.
If you are working among Muslims and think such an approach may be helpful, please get in touch. We would love to talk further about how such a network may benefit the UK church and serve Muslim people seriously considering coming to Christ.