Why don’t relatively well-resourced churches help?

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://stephenkneale.com) 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.

11 comments

  1. I think we have to just keep on saying it keep on asking. I think there is the need to be missionary minded including going out and seeking out the workers and the supporters. It’s probably worth reminding ourselves that when William Carey started talking about the need for missionaries and Hudson Taylor said let’s go inland in China that they were also not pushing doors that seemed obviously open at the start

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    1. I also wonder whether a lot of missions budgets are sorted in terms of we give x % to mission we we support a number of parachurch missions organisations. When actually a strategic decision to support a specific church whether in this country or over seas would be a better way to support world mission

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      1. Yes, I suspect you are right. I am all for supporting individual missionaries (which, if done rightly, is tantamount to supporting the sending work of a specific church) but our giving includes such organisations and no specific churches. Having said that, some changes to our situation and those with certain partners may mean we divert some of our mission giving elsewhere. We are conscious that it would be good to support other struggling churches or planters, we just don’t know who or what yet.

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  2. I agree with the first one – we have a couple of people who we support because they are “sent” from us -so we support them. Within that context it may also mean that a few churches club together to help support them. I also don’t want to be legalistic about the parachurch groups – I’d prefer to give to the org so they can properly run their infrastructure than putting pressure on administrators to fund-raise. However, I would want us to be clear that there was a mission partnership where working with the org towards the wider Gospel purpose makes sense. I would also say that part of missions support may be about time -especially for cash poor churches. So, we have given time -including an elder who gives a lot of his holiday time to travel and support a specific context. Actually if you were to put a cash value on it, that is probably one of our most significant mission gifts! Now, here’s a question for you. When I was studying at Oak Hill, there were a couple of trust funds that gave bursaries -however I know in at least one case that they would not give if on your budget you had a tithe because they argued you were not fully using the resources God was giving you for your Gospel mission. What do you make of that -and what would happen if churches that were either just making ends meet or running a deficit took that view?

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    1. I think we are in broad agreement up to your question, so I will just address it. Frankly, I think that is an absolutely appaling position!

      It encourages poorer churches to adopt a ‘me-first’ approach to their resources. It also smacks a little of suggesting the widow should have kept her mite – what foolish stewardship!

      How can churches such as our expect anyone else to give to us if we aren’t generous with what we have (even if it isn’t much)? Whilst we have a monthly deficit, it is not debt. We do have funds coming in and doesn’t the Lord tell us to put aside as each of us has prospered? I struggle to see how that doesn’t apply to churches as to individuals, even if those churches are poor. If we encourage our poorer members to be generous and give (rightly), surely the same applies to smaller/poorer churches?

      I think the approach implies a selfish, faithless approach to mission and partnership. I cannot see any biblical mandate for it (and some biblical warrant to actively eschew it). It sounds like the decision of a business manager/accountant rather than one borne out of any gospel-centred, faith-based concern.

      Sounds like middle class money-management to me!

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      1. Thanks – before you get too worried the approach we took when we saw that conditional on a personal gift was to say “no thank you” – we believed there was something deeply essentially to being generous and partnering in mission. We would rather forgo the gift and trust God. As it happens all our needs were provided for. So you may not be surprised to know that I would take the same view towards churches. However I wonder if such thoughts are also sat in the back of as you put it “middle class minds.” We too in effect run a deficit but not debt because the church were able to build up a fighting fund when they were between pastors.

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  3. Good that saves me doing it – you can count that as your mission gift to Bearwood 🙂 But it just struck me that there may be some other quietly held pious assumptions that are roadblocks and maybe it is worth getting them on the table. Are there any other “It will shock you to discover” kind of attitudes out there.

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      1. Well it shocked me at the time. I suspect it fits into the wider category of control and micro-management. But really when we give to individuals either because of Gospel work or because they are in need then we should not begrudge them when they seek to live as normal members of the body including seeking to be generous.

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