In the church circles that I move in, it is often said that when people are moving house, they should first ensure that there is a good evangelical church in the area that they are planning to move to. If there is no church, then they should move elsewhere.
This advice is well-intended, but I’m not convinced that it is appropriate to the situation that we are living in today. There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, when people say “good evangelical church” they tend to mean and evangelical church that is like this one; probably one that is part of the same denomination or network. Now the thing is, the evangelical church in the UK is incredibly diverse and also shamefully divided. Christians from one tribe (perhaps the best way to illustrate the tribes is by which festival they attend; New Wine, Word Alive, Spring Harvest etc.) will often rarely meet believers from other groups. From the perspective of the person in the pew, the church isn’t particularly diverse because all of the Christians they meet do similar things to themselves, sing the same songs and go to the same meetings. Our witness to the secular UK is hampered by this division. If you are moving to a new area, be prepared to attend a church that is not like the one you are used to; as long as they are evangelical the question of whether they are more or less reformed/charismatic/denominational than you are used to is a secondary issue. Yes, you might feel uncomfortable for a while (for a long while?), but you need to learn to appreciate the breadth of what the Lord is doing in the UK and that isn’t always easy.
Secondly, saying that people should go to a good evangelical church inevitably means that people will gravitate towards some big, flagship congregations. There are big, well-known churches of all different flavours in most big cities and they will draw people in from a wide catchment area to the detriment of smaller, less famous congregations in the suburbs and the smaller towns. Sometimes it takes a while to find these smaller places which are valiantly bearing witness in their locality while resources and people all head off to the city centre.
Thirdly, I don’t know if you have noticed, but there are large swathes of the UK where there are few, if any, evangelical churches. If we insist that people should only go to places where there is an existing congregation then we are exacerbating the existing problem. The “great commission” assumes that Christians, all Christians, will bear witness to Jesus and make disciples wherever they go. This isn’t something that is restricted to missionaries or specialists. Through history, the church has spread when ordinary believers have taken the gospel with them, sharing it as they change their location for work, commerce or fleeing trouble. Rather than encouraging people to find the safety of a like-minded church, we should be encouraging them to start neighbourhood Bible studies in their new location. This of course implies that they have been equipped to lead Bible studies…Rather than encouraging people to find the safety of a like-minded church, we should be encouraging them to start neighbourhood Bible studies in their new location. Click To Tweet
One problem with what I have said above is that we are not equipping Christians to think and act in this way. I don’t think that congregations or church leaders have got to grips with the seriousness of the situation in which we find ourselves. We are in a missionary situation in the UK and we need a missionary mindset and a missionary approach. If we are serious about seeing the nation reached for Christ then we need to think, act and equip people appropriately.
If this post has made you think or annoyed you, you might want to check out my article on Things Home Mission Can Learn from Overseas Mission which originally appeared as a series of blog posts.We are in a missionary situation in the UK and we need a missionary mindset and a missionary approach. If we are serious about seeing the nation reached for Christ then we need to think, act and equip people appropriately. Click To Tweet