As you probably know, the BBC relocated much of its operation up North to Salford Quays. Whilst the move was not without its issues, most notably benefiting the local area but not wider G. Manchester region, it has been a major catalyst for growth and development within Salford. Other studies have suggested a bigger impact in terms of jobs and investment locally. Certainly the building projects and the jobs brought specifically by the relocation itself have been beneficial and an area once in disrepair and full deprivation has received a much needed boost.
I have made the case in the past that Oldham – as England’s most deprived town – could do with a similar relocation of a major institution for revitalisation. Whilst there was some talk of shifting Channel 4, it seems already wealthy cities like Liverpool, Birmingham and Sheffield are vying for the privilege. I am almost certain Oldham will be discounted due to its location within the G. Manchester region, despite there being two cities (Salford and Manchester) between Oldham and Media City and our town receiving no discernible benefit from its placement in Salford. There has been talk of breaking up Westminster departments and housing them in different areas of the UK. This would certainly be a boon to a town like Oldham.
Nonetheless, I was set to thinking about church revitalisation. If a town can be revived by moving an institution to a deprived area, might the local church be revitalised by moving some of our Christian institutions to needy areas? A quick glance at the HQs of Evangelical fellowships and mission organisations will tell you that not many are located in deprived communities. The FIEC is located in Market Harborough, Leicestershire; GBM in Abingdon, Oxfordshire; SIM in Stowmarket, Suffolk; UFM in Swindon, Wiltshire; EMF in Welwyn, Hertfordshire; I could go on.
Each of these organisations will draw ministers, missionaries and those with a wealth of experience to them. In the towns where these organisations are based exist some of the best resourced churches in respect to personnel (and, often, finances) that you will find anywhere in the country. Imagine the impact of moving these organisations to places in real need of workers, especially those hard areas in need of real pastoral experience.
It has been said before that the typical ‘progression’ (such that we should ever view these things that way) is to start pastoral ministry in a small, unknown church and to end one’s ministry in larger churches. Of course, typically, small churches are small because of the areas they are in or the pastoral problems they present (or both). Larger churches tend to be better resourced with both finances and workers and, in many ways, easier to lead. This ‘progression’ – as has been noted before – is often backward. Younger ministers would find it much easier to ‘cut their teeth’ in a church full of workers who are all (more or less) on the same doctrinal page and experienced ministers would bring a lot to small and struggling churches.
Imagine, on a larger scale, the impact of moving an entire HQ to a much needier area. If the FIEC decided to move its operations to Oldham, several things would happen:
- The running costs of FIEC operations would reduce due to the relative local cost of living
- A small FIEC church (the only one in the area) would be resourced with a wealth of preachers with pastoral experience and potential elders
- Church planting initiatives in the area would become better resourced and an FIEC presence would increase in an under-served town
- The problem (which FIEC say they recognise and wish to address) of Evangelicalism being a primarily White, Middle Class concern would place those leading the organisation in the thick of non-white and deprived communities allowing them to understand the issues on the ground rather than just theoretically in principle
- It would show other organisations what could be done in similar areas and might spark similar thoughts in other under-served, deprived towns
- It would show a measure of intent that, rather than just talking about resourcing deprived communities, would be a practical step in doing so
The fact is that Middle Class, affluent areas do not need such support. For one, as desirable areas, they usually see Christians moving in to the town for work on a regular basis. Second, in such areas, it takes fewer givers to support the church due to the level of income and relative ability of each church member to give. Third, few people have to be convinced to move to Oxfordshire or Suffolk with a ‘missionary heart’ because these places are desirable already.
If the BBC can move its operations to a an area in need of regeneration, why couldn’t Christian organisations consider doing the same? I know that when talk of moving government departments out of London, a decision to be taken by MPs themselves, the response was that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. I would like to believe that truly gospel-hearted, mission-minded organisations and their leadership teams wouldn’t take such a self-interested view.
I know we would all like to live in affluent, well-heeled market towns and villages. But we all also know that if we all do that, we are condemning the poor and disenfranchised to a lost eternity. Here is a suggestion that lets organisational leaders set a solid gospel example, will save them and their organisations money in running costs and will revitalise severely under-resourced churches in areas that these same leaders claim they want to see the church growing. Well, it’s only a suggestion, but I’m struggling to see any downsides.
Hands up who’s coming?