Jeremy Marshall seems like a good chap. He seems this way to me because he is asking questions that do deserve an answer. He referenced me in a recent blog post, here is what he said:
More highly educated people are more (not less) likely to be committed Christians than average in the UK. Ironically, the situation is exactly the opposite – that the least reached parts of the UK for the Christian faith are in general the poorest parts such as the old industrial towns and cities of the North. An interesting question which Stephen Kneale a pastor in Oldham and others have raised repeatedly (here is his very good blog https://buildingjerusalem.blog) is why the relatively large and well resourced churches in London dont do more to help churches in poorer areas. You can read my thoughts on that here.http://jsjmarshall.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/was-bishop-of-burnley-right-are-we.html
In other words, the Evangelical church is predominantly educated, middle-class and not great at reaching the poor.
Now, we can all recognise (a) that the middle classes also need the gospel; (b) churches need to reflect the demographics of their areas; (c) not all churches need to be full of BME and working class people to be biblical (as I mentioned here). The problem, however, is that the Evangelical church is overwhelmingly centred on the south, by a ratio of nearly 2:1, and though some denominations have a reasonable presence in the most deprived communities, John Stevens rightly noted ‘the probability is that the churches in the poorer communities are generally smaller, so that an analysis of numbers attending would reveal a much greater disparity’.
What this tends to mean is that churches in deprived communities are smaller and typically reaching those who are never going to be able to give substantial amounts to the finances of the church. My own church, for example, is seeing great fruit among Iranian asylum seekers. Such people have no finances and, although not always, have a tendency to be quite transient. Likewise, those from local estates – although less fleeting – again, tend not to have massive financial clout that they can bring to the church.
There are churches in the South East – the home counties and surrounding areas – where two or three members are perfectly able to cover the entire running costs of the church, including its workers, simply by giving a cursory 10% of their income. In areas like ours, we can see hundreds of asylum seekers and benefit class folk coming to the Lord but 100 times nothing equals a financially unsustainable church.
The question Jeremy asks is, therefore, significant. Why don’t the relatively wealthy churches of the South East do more to support (particularly financially) the poorer churches in deprived communities?
Whilst nobody wants to throw money down the drain, one would like to believe there are churches out there that would love to support fruitful ministry to the poor and to churches, such as ours, seeing real fruit among Muslim people. As I have stated before:
Having read John James’ book Renewal, I was heartened when his revitalisation was deemed successful due to something like 18 baptisms in 5 years. This was with the help of a core team who had been specially bussed in to help. At Oldham Bethel Church, we have seen around 10 baptism in 3 years and are, in the next month, due to baptise a further four. This was without receiving a single external worker during that time.
I am grateful that we have two or three individuals from outside the church who do support our work. But no churches support us as part of their missions giving and those who do support, whilst we are extremely grateful to God for them, do not even come close to plugging the hole of our monthly £1500 deficit.
So, Jeremy’s question is pressing. A tiny fraction of the budget of an appropriate South East church would see our church and mission sustained long-term. Sadly, at the moment, it looks like we’ll be bust in 3 years time. Why don’t the relatively wealthy churches in the South East do more to help?
If you’re in such a church and in any way inclined to help, please get in touch. I’d be glad to explain how you could support fruitful mission in which you could meaningfully partner in Oldham.