We have a problem with resourcing the church in deprived communities. Let me state, in the plainest possible terms, what most under-resourced churches need:
Prayer: by which I do not mean generic prayer like, ‘we pray for Deprived Church on the Crack Den Council Estate. We pray they would get whatever it is they probably need (you know what it is Lord, we don’t because we didn’t ask them) and that you would provide it miraculously entirely apart from our having to do anything’. I mean real and informed prayer.
Get in touch regularly and ask what you can pray for them. It may shock you to know that some of us find it quite embarrassing asking others to pray for us apropos of nothing. A lot of Middle Class people have never had to contend with the sheer awkwardness of going cap in hand to those who may graciously choose to offer some help. As such, it is so heartening when people ring/email you to ask what they can pray for you. It means we are not foisting ourselves upon you but you have actively sought us to see what how you might be able to partner with us in prayer.
Support: Again, I do not mean cursory support. Despite what anybody says, and helpful as they can be in lots of ways, fraternals of a dozen or so people do not qualify of themselves as credible support. Fraternals, at their best, offer an opportunity to meet those with whom you might become friends. Their friendship and support is likely to be found outside of the fraternal itself – the meeting being just that, a meeting.
Real support means real friendship. It means speaking with people outside of these meetings, going for a coffee and discussing how we might actually help one another. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, fellowship cannot be reduced to little more than meetings. If the extent of our fellowship is sitting next to someone in a meeting at which someone else speaks and engaging in a bit of small talk afterwards, we are doing it wrong.
Money: We are all pretty familiar with the phrase, ‘put your money where your mouth is’. It is quite tiresome to hear lots of talk of support and help that, interestingly, never extends to our bank accounts. We’re very happy calling our members to ‘give generously’ to our church and then, as churches, tend to be less generous in giving it out.
As a small church running on a continual deficit (I was informed at our most recent meeting with the church treasurer that for the last quarter it was nearly £5000), we still give regularly to mission partners and affiliate bodies. In deprived communities, it is hard to rely upon the wealth of those converting to give substantially to the church. Despite the fact that most do give from what they have, when it comes to supporting the work of the church it is unreasonable to expect asylum seekers and those on benefits to fund the entire work of the church. You will need huge numbers of them to maintain a church on their ability to give alone.
To my knowledge, we have had one couple from outside the church give us any financial support (for which we are extremely grateful) but it is simply not enough to support the work on its own. Churches in areas like ours need outside supporters to help us survive.
Workers: Ultimately, even more importantly than financial support, we need workers to come and settle. Workers will bring their own finances. Either they will be funded by sending churches or they will simply be people in secular work with a gospel heart coming into the area. An influx of workers would both help the financial situation of the church and increase the ministry of the church. Ultimately, we want people to come to know Christ and, to do this, we need workers who are able to commit to the town and share him with those that live here.
The problem is that churches in deprived communities are getting almost none of these things. Churches and organisations do nothing to encourage workers to move to deprived areas. We may put up adverts for ministry trainees and church planters (both of which we need, see here) but due to a lack of funds, we are asking people to do their own fund raising and self-fund their own work. It is hard enough getting people to move to deprived areas as it is without then asking them to pay for the privilege of living where most people are trying to leave. It would be great if someone, or several someones, would set up a fund that would pay workers for one or two years to live/work/train in deprived towns like Oldham. We simply aren’t able to fund it ourselves.
Without putting too fine a point on it, we have no outside supporters giving financially to the work of the church. We have not seen a single penny from any organisation to which we are affiliated nor from any other church. There are even so-called ‘resourcing churches’ who have shown precisely no interest in sending us either financial support, workers to help in existing ministry nor those who might come and plant on local unreached estates. The issue isn’t that we aren’t seeing fruit (e.g. see here). We are seeing fruit among the poor and deprived who are unable to give vast amounts to the work financially and many from other countries who cannot engage with existing academic programmes because English is their second-language with which they tend to scrape by.
Support has been lacking and the only thing we have received from anywhere is prayer. I do not want to denigrate how important prayer is to the work, we truly covet prayer, but doesn’t John say, ‘let us not love in word but in deed and truth’? Did John not also say, ‘if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?’ (1 John 3:17). Is ‘we’ll pray for you’ alone a legitimate response to John’s words?
We have members who don’t know where their next meal is coming from and who cannot afford to turn on the lights at home unless we help them out. There are people in this town who will not hear the gospel, and who face a lost eternity, but for the fact that our church is here. How do John’s words stack up when weighed against the building projects and extension plans of churches up and down the country for extra seats and bit more storage space?
Let us not hope to resource in word but in deed and truth.