Lessons from churches in deprived areas
Andy Delmege is Vicar of St Bede’s Church in south Birmingham. He is the Urban Estates Mission Enabler in the Diocese, and is Chair of the National Estate Churches Network. In a recent blog, he highlighted the following:
Estate ministry and estate churches have a distinctive nature. The parishes are largely made up of council or ex-council housing, often on the outskirts of urban areas. People living in them often experience high levels of deprivation, although they often meet this with great resilience. There are often issues with education and with self-esteem.
Austerity has led to the social fabric of estate life being squeezed and threatened. Many people in these neighbourhoods are struggling with the basic necessities of life, things like a home, food, clothes, warmth, at a time when a lot of the vital support to negotiate the systems is being stripped away. Many estate churches are working out ways of feeding people.
Most estate churches are deeply involved in the fabric and life of their parishes, often through actions and partnerships that seek to serve the community. However, many estate churches face problems of capacity and congregation sizes are often small. There is often a feeling of not being understood by the wider Church.
In much of the country, people who live on estates come from a predominantly white working-class background, although in some areas there is fast demographic change. This can result in a damaging gulf between the culture and assumptions of the Church in its national and diocesan forms and how it exists on estates. This can take the form of assumptions that a middle-class lifestyle equals a Christian lifestyle; assumptions that people have spare money or access to computers; to what can be a deep-rooted feeling that you don’t belong.
Andy comments, "Churches, although they're small, really punch above their weight in serving the community. Flourishing estate churches are right at the heart of what the gospel means, and if things are going to be able to work on an estate, then they can work anywhere."
For those on estates in England you may want to connect with NECN via the link above.
Mez McConnell, is the Senior Pastor of Niddrie Community Church (Edinburgh, Scotland) and the founder and Ministry Director of 20schemes. 20schemes are seeking to establish churches in 20 deprived estates (housing schemes) in Scotland. Their vision is to tackle the problem of reaching Scotland’s unreached housing schemes by revitalising and/or planting gospel centred churches. They don’t necessarily believe that one size fits all. In various blogs, he highlights some key lessons for them:
Each area will be different and the approach on the ground, as well as working with some existing raw materials, will be different. Each will require a certain kind of leader and team member. There are lots of factors to consider.
Gather a “full time” team. Look to have a group of around 10-15 committed Christians (living within the area) in order to begin a new work on a scheme. Preferably, at least 2 of these people ought to be full-time to see any sort of traction in the community in the early days. Key members of the team to be in full-time employment which helps finance the work but we need to have a full-time presence around the place to build any sort of momentum. That team doesn’t have to be in place straight off the bat but we should be working toward that figure within the first 5, yes 5 years - it takes time - be in it for the long haul. This type of ministry is not a sole venture. A wide-eyed, 20 something, Bible College grad on his/her own is going to get eaten by anybody over the age of 8! Without a wider strategy and team support system in place, this is almost certainly a disaster.
You must have a full-time female worker (not necessarily the planter’s wife). Without this, you have little or no chance of developing a wholistic ministry and breaking into to what is often a very matriarchal system (mums and grans rule in these here parts!). Often, they can be the key to the rest of the family.
Be careful with the kinds of leaders on the ground. Spiritual and character considerations aside, they will have to be strong leaders, positive thinkers and have a real entrepreneurial and persevering spirit. Quiet, laid back characters who are easily discouraged will not be good news for this kind of work in the early years. Somebody building a team and a church from scratch will look very different from another who takes on a dying work and has to pastor it through its death and rebirth.
On housing schemes, the ‘work‘ of establishing your ‘credentials’ is done very early on. Here, people will want to know who you are and what you are about straight off the bat. They will want to know what you’re doing in their area, primarily, because people (particularly those who are skilled and educated) dream of moving out not in. Therefore, if they establish the key leader(s) as ‘safe/cool/alright’ then they will generally accept the rest of the group, even those they don’t know so well. Being visible during the day and having a routine (paper shop, pub, local caff etc) will enable you to get traction more quickly. You can't do the job by commuting in. Why should people invest in a ‘church’ when the leaders don’t even live in the community?
In housing schemes, people regard religious gatherings in what they view as non-churchlike buildings with great suspicion. Anything not considered a ‘church’ is considered cultish and extremely suspect. I cannot overstate this point enough. Do not undervalue the ‘where’ of a new church plant when working in the schemes.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Don't compare yourself to other leaders who seem to have bigger churches, better facilities, websites, worship band, etc. Forget all such distractions that surround you and focus on running your race, your calling, in your lane.
Don't start with a vision for what the Sunday ‘event’ should look like. Church is about Jesus and His people, not buildings, programmes or Sunday events. Start with a vision of Jesus and His bride and let everything else flow from that.
Don't be the person who does everything. Let the gifts of others determine ministries. Start by looking at who Jesus has placed in the church, what their gifts and skills are and release them into the ministries that they are clearly equipped for and passionate about. Stop ministries that don't have the right people to fill. Empower people to say no when asked to serve in a way that they didn’t feel equipped to help in. Other men and women in the church will be more gifted than you - be far more intentional in raising up leaders from the start.
Stop obsessing over numbers and focus instead on the spiritual fruit of those God has called you to lead.
Place great emphasis on prayer.
See also other blogs on this subject:
Letting go of a megachurch - taking on a new adventure
Mission and ministry in deprived areas
Church growth in east London: a grassroots view
'Every effective renewal movement has started with the poor'
"Jesus is close to the poor and dwells among the broken hearted and down trodden"
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