A few of us have been arguing for more of a focus on deprived communities. As I noted here:
Evangelical churches in the South outnumber those in the North by a ratio of 2:1. John Stevens has further noted that if the relative size of churches in more affluent communities compared to those in deprived communities, the sheer number of Christians reflect a bigger problem than the mere number of churches. Beyond this, over 80% of Evangelicals hold a university degree or higher while UK figures suggest somewhere between 60-70% of British citizens have never been to university. This tells us that British Evangelicalism is overwhelmingly middle-class and extremely poor at reaching those in deprived communities.
Whenever this trend is noted, it is met with a few responses along the lines that some are sitting up and take notice. And, to be fair, some funds are going to churches in deprived communities. There are some folk sitting up and taking a bit of notice and that has got to be a good thing.
This is not any great cause for high-fiving and backslapping. Not because this isn’t a good thing but because we are barely scratching the surface. We are starting from such a long way back. The inequality between the wealthy and poor is stark in the church. A friend recently said to me, the major problem within British Evangelicalism is quite simple: we just aren’t generous enough. We have a fundamental generosity problem. This is the main issue that must be overcome. Essentially, as far as those distributing the funds are concerned, there are simply more requests than there are resources to distribute. Inevitably, decisions have to be made.
Thankfully, some of those decisions are beginning to benefit churches in deprived communities. The issue we have now, of course, is that we are in danger of suggesting that we are now supporting church in deprived communities because we are helping a few. It is very easy to find our token deprived ministry guy, throw them a few bones and then consider it job done. And, to some degree, with limited funds to distribute there’s always going to be a bit of that so long as there are fewer resources than requests being made.
I would want to argue that – as the stats bear out that most fruit is to be found in deprived communities (see previous posts on this for how I reach that conclusion) – the vast majority of our resources ought to go to churches in such areas. Not only would that be the right gospel-focused strategic decision, it also follows that such churches are the ones that need the most help.
Churches with some resources generally find it easier to leverage what they have to get more whilst churches with nothing have nothing to leverage. For example, it is far easier to receive ministry trainees when you have funds available to cover course fees and living allowances. If you have neither funds for fees or subsistence, faced with a choice between two ministry training schemes, which one are most people going to gravitate toward?
We need to move away from giving more and more resources to churches that are already reasonably well resourced. We also need to get away from the idea that if we resource one or two poster boys we can consider ourselves to be amply supporting a given form of ministry. We similarly need to get away from the view that says we give a set amount of resources to people in deprived communities and then expect them to become self-sustaining.
We must move away from the first because these are the churches that need the least resources. They are already well resourced and that is why they have become “successful”. We must move away from the second because supporting work in deprived communities requires more than just supporting a church or two in such areas. We must get away from the third because there are some churches that are seeing regular conversions and are training up their people brilliantly, making huge inroads for the kingdom, but it is amongst people who have the least ability to support gospel work financially. Some churches could see hundreds of people saved and yet still not be self-sustaining because of the kinds of people they are reaching. This is a far cry from the one or two conversions in the city that could happily fund a gospel church on their own for a lifetime.
So, I am grateful we are beginning to notice ministry in deprived areas. I am pleased there is some support going to these places and some are genuinely beginning to think meaningfully about it. But let us make sure we use our resources wisely and let us be strategic in that those with the least, who are seeing the greatest gospel fruit, receive the lion’s share. And, if the issue is fundamentally a generosity problem, let’s actively encourage the financial haves to give to the financial have-nots, rather than simply replenishing the coffers of their mates and utilising what they have to gain even more.