Come to Cumbria
We gathered a group of church leaders together in Keswick last week to talk and pray about gospel growth in Cumbria. Andrew Nicholson reports on this significant gathering.
There are particular challenges in reaching Cumbria for Christ.
A third of the county is taken up by the Lake District National Park and Cumbria’s population of 500,000 people spread out over 2,600 square miles makes it one of the least-densely populated counties in England. In addition, two thirds of the population of Cumbria live in 20 towns, but the other third are widely scattered over a very rural area.
But those challenges can be met as God equips his church to reach people with the gospel. In many ways that’s the summary of our Cumbria Gospel Vision Day.
Arranged and facilitated by FIEC, more than 30 church leaders – including ten from those 20 population centres – considered how they might work in partnership to reach Cumbria for Christ.
Although unable to join us on the day, input from representatives of the North West Partnership and Keswick Ministries had helped provide invaluable information to stimulate our discussions.
Setting the Scene
John Stevens (FIEC National Director) gave a biblical introduction, taken from Matthew 9:36-38. He presented the gospel need in the context of the national scene, emphasising FIEC’s role in helping to catalyse churches for mission.
John then highlighted some statistics from The Churches Trust for Cumbria which showed that among the main denominational churches, the average congregation is approximately 20 people. These churches are in rapid decline with half of those attending more than 70 years old and only one in fourteen attenders under the age of 18. Nearly two thirds of churches have no one under 18 in their congregations.
This need for healthy and thriving churches had already been highlighted in our Go Into prayer cards, with Penrith & Eden Valley and Barrow highlighted among the 50 places of particular gospel need. It’s clear that there are still significant gaps where gospel churches need to be planted.
Before asking for feedback, John summarised what he saw as some of the major gospel implications:
- Gospel growth may be slower than elsewhere in Great Britain due to the particular demographics of the region. Gospel work will involve a long, hard slog and we need people committed to a long-term vision.
- In this context, working together to grow and plant gospel-driven churches is going to be essential.
- Help from outside the region is a vision that will need to be cast – to bring in resources of workers and funding. “Come to Cumbria” might resonate with a new wave of gospel workers, excited by a fresh gospel challenge, as they feel compassion for the lost (Matt 9.36), see that the harvest fields are plentiful (Matt 9.37) and are drawn to pray for others to join them (Matt 9.38).
- Establishing thriving churches in key centres will help to reach the wider population – with market towns being the rural hubs for surrounding villages and scattered communities.
- Relationships between leaders will need to be established and developed so that trust is built up and a vision for the region emerges. It needs to be owned by the leaders and churches as FIEC can’t and won’t seek to impose from outside.
The next part of the day was facilitated by Pete Walkingshaw, pastor of Carlisle Baptist Church, as he led the churches through feedback and news. This was both stimulating and challenging and fostered a growing sense of the needs of people who showed little interest in their eternal destiny.
Discussions in smaller groups highlighted the need to support and pray more for one another, to invest in training (both lay leaders and those leading as pastors) and to find and bring in resources (people and money) to advance the gospel.
There were no pre-determined outcomes for the day and so John Stevens ended the discussions by saying ‘over to you’ for the leaders to take things forward.
Questions to ponder as people keep in touch with one another include establishing leaders who can drive the vision among their peers; such leaders seeking the permission of their churches to commit time to the wider gospel needs of the region; and asking FIEC to introduce those leaders to others in Great Britain who have faced similar gospel challenges.
Contact details were exchanged and, as is the case in many such gatherings, it will be the conversations that took place over the coffee and meal breaks and as people keep in touch in the coming months that will begin to shape a vision owned and advanced by leaders and their churches. But we were left with two very practical steps:
- Keswick Ministries is also seeking to facilitate cooperation among gospel churches in Cumbria and we each see our initiatives as complementary and not competitive. Church leaders from the region are invited to a special gathering during the Convention on Monday 18 July at 2.00pm. The Keswick Ministries’ Gathering of Church Leaders includes a guest speaker - Simon Manchester - and will take place at the Skiddaw Hotel in Keswick.
- We would be delighted to hear from individuals with a heart for Cumbria, so that we can put you in touch with leaders in the county. Please contact me, Andrew Nicholson, at the FIEC office.