The Long Haul
Twice a year we gather leaders from FIEC churches in London and other guests to help envision and equip them for ministry. Rachel Dalby says the latest gathering included some fascinating statistics to help churches think about their long-term gospel witness in England’s capital city.
Could your church be more missional? That was the question put to the 80 leaders attending FIEC’s third London Gathering.
Keynote speaker Alan Black, London City Mission’s Director of Studies, encouraged delegates to consider if their churches could raise up gospel workers to reach out to the diverse ethnic groups in their localities.
With half of London’s residents having been born outside of the UK, Alan likened mission work in the city to that undertaken overseas.
“To be most effective,” he said, “churches need to understand and respect communities’ own languages and traditions.” It was only then that they could earn opportunities to tell people the ‘better story’ they were longing to hear.
Summarising some key milestones in London’s social history, Alan showed how waves of immigration, gentrification and land redevelopment had shaped today’s city.
Referring to 2011 Census data, he said that around one in eight residents described themselves as Muslim, and that there were around 460,000 Hindus living across the capital.
The most commonly spoken languages, apart from English, included Polish, Turkish, Tamil, Punjabi, Gujarati and Urdu – further illustration of London’s cultural diversity.
And there were vast differences in the social and economic wellbeing of communities, too. Alan said that while London was as wealthy as Saudi Arabia, the city had areas of deep poverty.
The upgrading of once affordable areas to live had forced less well-off residents into decreasing numbers of high density, poor quality housing developments. This had resulted in pockets of concentrated poverty. At the same time, said Alan, wealthier people had moved into high quality developments in and around central London, or had opted to move to the suburbs.
“Every area of every borough has a different cultural and socio-economic profile,” said Alan, “and it can take many years for missionaries to get to know and be accepted by a community. Churches in London need to be in it for the long haul.”
Alan urged the London Gathering delegates to consider who their ‘neighbour’ was, to learn more about them, and to work out how they could connect.
“Besides finding ways to give everyone a warm welcome,” said Alan, “congregations in missional churches need to be prepared for significant cultural change. We shouldn’t expect people coming into our churches to be happy to adapt to our own cultures.”
London City Mission works in the toughest parts of London, and its missionaries work in a wide variety of settings including community and homeless centres, school lunch clubs, prison Bible studies and churches.
Alan’s talk was followed by a meal which is an integral part of these gatherings. It provided time for discussion and for friendships to develop.
Questions to Alan followed the meal, and then some of the delegates shared news and diary dates. Ben Virgo highlighted the ministry and evangelistic opportunities of Christian Heritage London, and Pete Woodcock spoke about a new course for evangelists starting in the autumn at Chessington Evangelical Church.
Johnny Prime, FIEC’s recently-appointed Pastoral Ministries Director, advertised the next London Pastors’ Network Day, on 1st May at Christ Church, Mayfair. He invited pastors and their wives to book their places.
The evening concluded with prayer groups.
After the meeting, FIEC London Director Trevor Archer said there had been a real buzz in the room. “Clearly, relationships are beginning to form between leaders from different churches who, in most cases, had never met prior to these events,” he said.
“It was fantastic to see connections being made over dinner, and to hear folk starting to plan together about reaching more people in London for Christ.”
The next London Gathering will be held at Westminster Chapel on Thursday 27th September from 4-8pm.
Trevor added, “I’m encouraging pastors to bring their leadership teams along so that they can share in this exciting time for Independent churches in London.”