The Evangelical Alliance have recently carried out a piece of research into the beliefs and habits of Evangelical Christians in the UK. You can read the first results online here or download them as a pdf.
It isn’t easy to discern how this initial report reflects the further tranches which will be released later, so it is difficult to comment in detail. So far, there is nothing very surprising or new in the research results and it is rather difficult to justify the description of the research as ‘groundbreaking’ on the current showing.
However, there is one issue which does stand out, or rather does not stand out in the report: overseas mission. One of the things which used to be typical of evangelicalism in Britain was a support for various forms of overseas mission; yet it does not merit a single mention in this report. To be fair, some of the more generic categories such as support for Christian charities might include overseas mission, but it is far from explicit.
I can imagine a number of reasons why overseas mission is not mentioned; perhaps it will be the subject of a later report in the same series, or perhaps it did not cross the radar of the people drawing up the survey. However, it must be significant that the first release of some important statistics about Evangelicalism totally ignores what was, until recently, one of its defining characteristics. Whether it has been totally ignored, or simply moved down the agenda, it would seem that for the authors of this report, overseas mission is not at the heart of the Evangelical Church. This is a huge change and probably the most important thing revealed by the report.
What is even more sad about this, is that the report shows how we are struggling to relate the Gospel to a rapidly changing culture in Britain. But who are the organisations who have decades, if not centuries, of experience in doing just that; crossing cultures with the Gospel? It is the same overseas/cross-cultural mission agencies who are not mentioned in the report. If, as I mentioned yesterday, mission is from everywhere to everywhere, the input, experience and contacts of cross-cultural missionaries could be a huge help to the British church. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to figure in the thinking…. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?
I await with interest, but no great expectations, for the follow up reports.