We work and minister in a context that means we need some long term external partners. Whilst we really covet the prayers of other believers, we need people who will financially partner with us over the long haul. Here are a few reasons why it is imperative that people partner with us long term.
Who we’re reaching
The reality of the people we’re reaching means that we’re unlikely to ever become sustainable this side of the parousia. Most of the fruit we see comes among Iranian (and one or two other nationalities) asylum seekers. Imagine if we saw all the asylum seekers in Oldham brought into the kingdom, our church would be several hundred strong. But financially, we’d barely be better off than we are now. Asylum seekers are not renowned for their lavish lifestyle and megabucks. As it happens, we have not seen every asylum seeker in Oldham brought into the kingdom and so, as much as the point holds if we had, magnify the point for every asylum seeker we haven’t yet reached.
But, of course, we’re not only reaching asylum seekers. But everybody else we are reaching is similarly poor. It is the reality for the vast majority of people we are going to reach in a town that was once England’s most deprived (we have done well for ourselves and we’re now only 13th most deprived, so still essentially deprived but not deprived enough to give us a sexy stat to bandy around anymore). We just aren’t reaching anybody who is likely to come into the church who is going to be well placed to help sustain us financially. Because of the kind of people we are reaching, we need long term external partners.
I know transience is a problem many middle class churches suffer from as well. Their people up sticks and go to university or move for work. But it is a problem we suffer from in spades. Many of the people who come to faith with us have been placed in our town by government agencies and can be quickly moved out by them too. When they do eventually get their right to remain, it is not always possible for them to stay locally for a whole host of different reasons.
Since I took up my role with Bethel Church c. 5 years ago, we have seen nearly an entire turnover of our Iranian people (twice!) The overwhelming majority of those who have moved on remain in touch with us and are elsewhere blessing other churches. We happily see that as the ministry to which the Lord has called us and we are glad that he is pleased to use us in bringing anybody to a knowledge of saving faith. But it also means that our figures over the last 5-years showing the number of people being baptised and coming into membership of the church vastly outstrip the existing number in membership.
We are seeing real fruit for the kingdom, but we are seeing people come to faith and then going on to bless other churches. Whilst we gladly serve the Lord in the ministry he has given to us, it means that traditional church growth models and plans for sustainability do not work in our context. We are reliant on partners helping to support our work from outside so that we may later bless their churches by sending on our people who have been saved, built up and equipped in Oldham.
Great physical need
One of the realities of serving in a deprived community is that our people tend to have the least financial ability to sustain the work whilst, at the same time, having the greatest need of financial support amongst themselves. There is hardly any time we don’t need to help with people who cannot pay various bills, who find themselves in crippling debts in a bid to feed their families and who require basic help much of the time. Typically, these are not issues that crop up with any frequency in churches in which everybody is working and in stable, professional jobs.
This means we have real need of external support so that we can help our members as needs arise. We regularly need to help people buy food, pay bills, source things for their children and the like. It is not at all uncommon to have people staying in our homes because they find themselves between accommodation. We have less money within the church to help with such things and a greater frequency with which these sorts of issues arise. For this reason, we need external support.
Nobody else is here
Perhaps most significantly (and given the previous points), the greatest reason we need external support is because we are here. Or, to put it another way, if we don’t have external support nobody will be here. And if nobody is here, there is no ongoing witness. That is a borough of 230,000 people, who do not know their right hand from their left (and much cattle here and there). We need external support because we are here, others are not and the gospel will equally not be here should we no longer be able to continue.
If we have a genuinely kingdom-focused attitude, we need to support those who have gone to places where there is no gospel witness and where we would find it extremely hard to get one there again should the current one disappear. We need to ensure the gospel is going out, bearing fruit and ministry sustained in deprived areas. We can’t support ourselves (and are highly unlikely ever to be able) but we are seeing fruit. You can partner with us by helping to sustain us both financially and in prayer. To reach the whole of our nation for Christ, this is the kind of partnership we need.