Churches in deprived communities need more than the emotional reponse of a moment

I saw this video the other day on BBC News. I’ve also seen one or two sharing it on social media. Do watch it through. The video centres on Burnley, an area of real social and gospel need.

Once again, many watch the video and have an outpouring of grief. Isn’t it awful, they say. Aren’t people’s lives so hard. Look at what some people are going through. But it doesn’t cost us very much to have all the feels.

The fact is, this is the reality for lots of people in our area. There are several food banks that run in our town (we looked into starting one too but we decided against it because provision was already there). But this is what people are facing day to day. It is not new, it is not special, this is precisely the stuff that we have been talking about for years. This is the reality of life for many people living in our most deprived towns.

But all the feels doesn’t seem to lead to all the churches. As I type ‘Burnley’ into the FIEC church finder, here is what shows up:

If we do the same for the North West Gospel Partnership, what do we get?

Nothing within 10 miles of Burnley. Apparently, all the feels doesn’t quite seem to lead to all the Christians acting upon them. Whilst there is great material need, the spiritual need is even greater in places like Burnley. Worse, Burnley is hardly unique. This story can be multiplied across dozens and dozens of deprived towns.

I’m not sharing these two pictures to particularly have a go at the FIEC or North West Gospel Partnership. The issue is hardly unique to them. It is an ongoing problem. Christians – perhaps even especially Conservative Evangelical Christians who style themselves as being especially motivated by the gospel – simply do not go to these places. It is not an issue for a particular network or denomination, it is a problem full stop. As Ian Paul noted in his recent blog post, the working class are largely missing from our churches. At least part of the reason for that is that our overwhelmingly middle class constituency isn’t willing to go and reach them.

So, if you were moved at all by that video, realise that it wasn’t just a video to us. Those are the kind of issues we are dealing with every day in our area. They are the kind of issues faced in most deprived communities. If your heart was moved by a video showing you the reality, but it hasn’t yet been moved by the gospel enough to do something about it, we need to think seriously about whether we understand the priorities of the gospel we claim to love.

What tends to happen when these videos get picked up is one of two things. Either there is a mass outpouring of grief on social media for a few days and then it all dries up a gets forgotten. Or, people inevitably start asking what can I do to help, only – much like the rich young ruler – don’t much like the answer when it comes. But an immediate, but ultimately fleeting, emotional response to a video has no more gospel value than an immediate, but fleeting, response to the gospel itself. Your emotions – no doubt genuine as they are – do not keep the lights on in churches that exist in these areas, and do nothing to ensure that others might be planted where there are currently none.

But if you are genuine about helping, if you see the dire material and spiritual needs and really want to help, here is what you can do:

  1. Genuinely ask yourself whether you could move to a deprived community. If there is a church being planted, ask yourself seriously whether you might organise your life so you could be part of that. If there is one already in a deprived area that could do with more workers because the harvest is vast, approach its leaders and ask if there might be a place for you in that church to serve as you are able (I bet the answer to that would be yes!)
  2. If you know you can’t go for legitimate reasons – you can’t find work in the area or you have specific commitments that only you can fulfil (or whatever) – could you consider supporting a church in a deprived area? Our church would not survive on internal giving alone, we are reliant on external partners because most our members come from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds.
  3. If you are a pastor/elder in your church, could you consider partnering your church with one in deprived place so that they can continue to be a gospel light where there are precious few? We often have no problem spending thousands of pounds to see people fly abroad to reach people whilst ignoring the unchurched places on our own doorstep. That’s not to say we shouldn’t support mission abroad at all, but it is to say that we seem to have a bias toward it at the expense of the increasingly significant need of home mission. Could you make one of your partners a church in a deprived community?
  4. If you are in a position to plant something, could you take seriously the idea of actively choosing to plant in a deprived area? It could be a deprived part of your own town or it could be in an altogether different region of the country (the North East, particularly, is crying out for churches!) Rather than replicate your ministry in an area where many of your people live already, could you encourage your people to move to an area that is deprived and has no access to a Bible teaching church?
  5. Commit to praying for a church in a deprived community regularly. We can’t achieve anything unless the Lord is at work for and through us. We need the prayers of God’s people to fire the work of ministry. And, who knows, maybe as you pray regularly for a church in a deprived community, the Lord may lay it on your heart to do one, or more, of the points above too. He has a habit of not only working to help those we are praying for, but working in the heart of the one doing the praying too.

These are the real needs in deprived communities. Many people want to put on a training event or run a week of mission that will solve all our problems. But that will do nothing to help the social issues in the long run and, to be frank, will have (at best) a limited gospel impact. Instead, we need the faithful, ongoing witness of gospel preaching churches who will love their communities both by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with them and by serving them practically as Jesus himself calls us to do. To do have that, we need people to come, we need people to fund us and we need – above all else – the Lord himself to work through the prayers of his people.

If you are serious about wanting to help, if you are really moved by that video – one that documents the very things we are dealing with every day, the situation of friends of mine – will you help?