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Taking the gospel to council estates

When a church thinks about reaching areas of deprivation, often the first things that come to mind are establishing ministries that meet practical needs like a food bank, a CAP Centre, or a back-to-work club. While these things clearly have their place, how many churches think about moving into the area of deprivation that they are trying to reach in order to worship, live, work, and socialise? If a church is serious about reaching council estates and people on low income, then it needs to be supporting and planting churches in these areas and encouraging Christians to move there too. This article lays out some core principles to that effect.

Worship

Join a church

Most churches in areas of deprivation struggle because they lack finance, resources, and people. Regardless of your gifts, a mature Christian joining a small church in an area of deprivation would bring encouragement to the leadership and members, added finance to the weekly giving, and an extra pair of hands to the harvest. Don’t underestimate how helpful you could be by becoming a member of a small church.

Don’t underestimate how helpful you could be by becoming a member of a small church.

Plant a church

If you are part of a church that is trying to reach a local council estate, think about stopping your outreach to that community and plant a church in that community instead. Identify an existing elder or employ a church planter whilst encouraging members to join a planting team and start a new church in the community you’ve been trying to reach.

Live

In recent years a number of our church members have moved to an area of deprivation. This means that our church has become a 24/7 gospel witness to that community. Every day we are seen by and have opportunities to build genuine friendships with the local community. From using the local shops, businesses, and amenities we have developed relationships with staff and customers which have led to gospel conversations in the gym, library, and social club. It is because our church members live in the community that we are trusted and seen to be part of the community – rather than as an outside organisation who only visit the area to go to church once a week. This trust has been built up over a period of ten years and is one of the reasons that a local businesswoman invited our evangelist, Rachel, to start a Bible study for women in the local hair salon.

Work

Just like living in the community, working in the community is another way of developing relationships and generating gospel opportunities. From volunteering in a charity shop, working in a school, or doing a few shifts in the local off-licence or butchers, there are dozens of opportunities to find a job that will put you in the heart of a community that you are trying to reach with the gospel.

…working in the community is another way of developing relationships and generating gospel opportunities.

Socialise

Socialising is one the best methods for building relationships in our community and the friendships we build are genuine and long term. From BBQs to football matches to chatting over the garden fence, our 24/7 presence in the community has led to our members developing friendships that are mutually beneficial.

We haven’t entered the neighbourhood as service providers who are looking to serve our service users, we have joined a community as neighbours, and we are following the biblical mandate to love our neighbours. And more often than not, our neighbours love us back in return.

We haven’t entered the neighbourhood as service providers who are looking to serve our service users, we have joined a community as neighbours, and we are following the biblical mandate to love our neighbours.

One of the greatest blessings of our type of ministry is how our neighbours love to serve us, from helping us fix the car to giving us a lift to the hospital or inviting us round for a brew. It’s as we socialise with our neighbours that we are reminded that we aren’t called to be a church for our community but to be a church with our community.

A reality check

Reaching a community suffering the effects of social, economic, and spiritual poverty is hard work, sacrificial, and requires a long-term vision. A mission event, week, or even a month isn’t going to cut it. What these communities need is a 24/7 gospel presence. They need churches and Christians to be present amongst them – worshipping, living, working, and socialising – so that they can hear the gospel preached, see the gospel lived, and experience gospel transformation for themselves.

My prayer is that whilst people are talking and thinking about mission and evangelism to areas of poverty and deprivation, it will lead some to moving to these areas to be a 24/7 gospel witness.

Ian Williamson

Ian Williamson is a church planter and pastor of New Life Church, Middlesborough. He is also a former prison chaplain and the founder of SixtyEightFive, a ministry which takes the gospel to and supports families affected by fatherlessness.

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