Optimism for Gospel Growth (Annual Review 2022/23)
There are reasons for optimism when we look at the growth of the gospel in FIEC and its churches over the past year.
In 2023, we find ourselves in a post-Christian context with a declining institutional church, making Christians in an ever-decreasing minority.
Yet evangelical churches - that faithfully proclaim Christ, provide a warm welcome, and connect with their communities - are growing in a significant way.
In the past year, we've seen how FIEC churches, our help for churches, and our staff team are all growing.
During the 2023 FIEC AGM in Blackpool, FIEC National Director John Stevens gave a review of FIEC over the past year (September 2022 - August 2023).
Between September 2022 and August 2023, we have been delighted to have officially welcomed 23 churches into affiliation.
- All Nations Church
- Ardgowan Square Evangelical Church
- Bethany Christian Centre Houghton Le Spring
- Centre Church Droitwich
- Emmanuel Church Northstowe
- Grace Church Brighton
- Grace Church Sandbach
- Grace Church St Austell
- Grace Community Church Loftus
- Hope Church Ambleside
- Immanuel Church Bodmin
- Loch Leven Church
- Redeemer Church Leeds
- Ridley Community Church
- Rossington Community Baptist Church
- Servant's Church
- Southam Road Evangelical Church
- St John's Evangelical Church
- Stonedge Chapel Chesterfield
- Town Church Bicester
- Upton Baptist Church
- Welcome Hall Evangelical Church
- West Denton Community Church
Please pray for these churches as they work together to reach Britain for Christ.
I'm often asked, am I optimistic or pessimistic at the current time? And the honest answer is I'm actually both at the same time.
At one level, I'm pessimistic about our broader cultural context. I'm pessimistic about the state and the future of the institutional church in general in our country at the moment. But yet, at the same time, I'm optimistic about the gospel and the state of the true church.
We increasingly find ourselves in a post-Christian context. And the broad and big picture is that the church institutionally and generally is in spectacular decline. That's largely because in many cases it has compromised on the gospel, and it's not preaching Christ faithfully. And it's not surprising that therefore, within the church context, more broadly, Christians find themselves increasingly marginalized because we are an ever smaller minority that is likely to continue unless the Lord does something remarkable for the next couple of decades, as many churches will quite literally die out because they're predominantly older people and there are not new people who are coming in.
That's the pessimistic side. But actually the other story, which is not so often told, is the story that evangelical churches are, I think, growing across our nation: those that faithfully proclaim Christ, those that provide a warm welcome to people, those that try to connect culturally with their communities are seeing growth. It's not necessarily spectacular growth, but it is a significant growth year on year.
Now, no doubt there are many challenges that we continue to face in that context. But what I want to do this afternoon is just say I'm really grateful and thankful for growth that we are seeing. And that's some of the essence of my annual report. And I just want to highlight five areas of growth that are really encouraging to me and I hope will be encouraging to you.
FIEC churches are growing
We are a family of churches. It's the churches that are FIEC. And as I visit churches, as we hear reports from churches time and time again, I'm hearing stories of growth. I actually think that the majority of our churches, post-COVID, are seeing growth, in some cases quite significant growth. It seems to me that anecdotally from the ground, from what I'm hearing, even from conversations with many of you at the conference here, the Lord does seem to be doing something and is growing his church in a way that I haven't seen in the last ten years but have seen in this last couple of year.
I think that growth is taking a number of forms. It's taking the form of conversion growth. I think churches are in general seeing more people converted and baptized than they are than they have done. It's certainly being seen in what I call good transfer growth, which is people moving to churches from churches that are drifting from the Bible and the gospel, seeking out churches that are faithfully proclaiming Christ and standing firm.
And then another significant factor is migration growth of people coming to the UK who are believers, who are joining churches and getting stuck in again. Hong Kong Chinese have made a huge difference to many churches in terms of adding to the work of the gospel. It's been thrilling. If you were here last year and you've been using it to pray, to have a hundred projects from last year, we were able to invest over £1,000,000 in gospel work.
But what I think has been so thrilling is reading what churches are doing to get the gospel out to their communities and the initiatives, the creativity, the variety, and actually to hear our churches praying for one another. The number of churches I've visited where people are saying, “We found that really helpful, to pray through what God is doing and learn what we could do in our context”.
FIEC is growing
It’s a wonderful encouragement that churches are wanting to join FIEC and again, post-COVID, we've seen a bit of an increase in the number of churches that are wanted to come and be part of FIEC. We are now 640 gospel churches across the country.
We need to, in a sense, grasp something of our scale and also the responsibility that that brings us at this particular cultural moment.
What is it that's attracting churches to it? Well, I think it's very often it's they're attracted to our gospel clarity where we take our stand on core gospel issues, but also gospel generosity that within those boundaries there's a wide degree of diversity and welcome for a variety of different ministry philosophies, ways of doing things.
And then they also value the ministry help that we provide to churches. And those are drawing people to want to come and identify with us and join with us and be part of our mission. Again, an encouragement post COVID is, I've noticed, a sort of an uptick in the amounts of church planting that's happening, and it's wonderfully encouraging to be hearing churches that are planting again and starting new churches.
One of the really big challenges we've heard in this last year is the number of new estates that are being built all around the country and the need for churches to be being planted into those places. That's going to be really significant for the next few years.
The FIEC staff team is growing
TWe the FIEC central staff team, we exist to serve and support our churches. We want to be able to do that in the best way that we can. And in the end that is down to people. It's really through our staff that we serve and support churches. The vast majority, if you're giving to FIEC, goes towards paying for the staff who are there to serve churches.
And again, we've been able to grow our staff to fulfill our strategic plan. To some extent, that was slightly put on ice during the COVID period and because of illness. But now we're in a position where we're really beginning to implement that, and that is wonderfully encouraging to me.
I'm delighted that we've had Graham Boynton join us as our new Head of Local Ministries. He started in September. That's a wonderful provision of the Lord, and we're actually thrilled and delighted that Johnny Prime has made a good recovery from his operation and has just been appointed to the role of Director for London. And we think that's a wonderful way the Lord has provided. And we're so thrilled that Johnny is going to be able to serve us in that way.
One of the really big things that we're doing to seek to serve and support our churches is the appointment of a whole raft of local directors. We've wanted to, as we've grown, bring FIEC closer to our churches. We know that people really appreciate local fellowship, local support, that sense of connection. So the big thing that we've been doing is raising up local directors who will be able to serve and support churches around the country and, we hope, make FIEC both more helpful and more meaningful to all of our churches.
So now in the course of this year, we've been able to make a number of appointments. So we have local directors working in Scotland, in London, in Yorkshire, in the West Midlands, in South Wales and in Suffolk. That's a combination of some part time staff, some full time staff and some volunteer staff who are serving our churches and that is being so appreciated on the ground.
So we're delighted this year to have welcomed to come and work for FIEC in these ways Paul Mallard, Gareth Lewis, Daniel Grimwade, Mark Howson, and our hope is that over the next three years we'll be able to grow that team of local directors, so that will be able to be serving all of the country. We've also been delighted to be able to welcome Hannah Hutchinson as our new Chief Operating Officer who's really getting us in order in the office and is a wonderful blessing to it.
And Becky Thomas, who works as operations manager at Beeston Free Church, is working a day a week for FIEC as our Church Governance Advisor, helping churches with all sorts of issues connected with governance, constitutions, and those kinds of things. And so I'm grateful that the FIEC staff team is growing. If I can give just two special thanks and my thanks are inadequate in the short time that we've got available here.
I'd really like to particularly thank Andy Hunter, who's our Scotland Director, for the way that Andy stepped in to be our Acting Head of Local Ministries in the time that Johnny was ill. And he's done a fantastic job of both supporting the work of the gospel in Scotland and also that work nationally. I just want to thank Andy for all that he's done in that regard and helped us through this period.
And also Trevor Archer, who is our Director for London. Trevor has done so much to serve the FCC over the last decade or so. First as our Training Director and then as London Director. Trevor is going to be retiring in February and will be saying thank you to him properly. I just want to say here what a wonderful blessing it's been to have Trevor and his service and his work of FIEC in these roles.
We're so grateful to Andy and Trevor for your service.
FIEC’s help for churches is growing
I think how we exist, as I say, to help churches in that ministry and it's been great to see how that work has been able to grow. So our conferences have been reestablished. Our national conference, our local conferences, the Hub Conference, Pastors Wives Retreat, Thrive Conference.
In the course of this year, we're beginning to try to put together some ministry teams sort of to grow the number of people involved in the work and helping with the work. And the goal of those is to help churches in key areas to enable us to know how we can do that well, to produce resources that will serve churches, whether on our web, podcasts, things we publish.
So, areas we're going to be looking to work in: discipleship, leadership, theology, evangelism - as we talked yesterday about our partnership with A Passion for Life - for smaller churches, and then our cross-cultural mission. And then we've been able to grow what we've been able to do in terms of practical help for churches. Our colleagues. Edward Connor Solicitors continue to provide 30 minutes of free legal advice to churches a year, but we've been able to bump up what we were able to do in the way of the non-legal issues for it.
We mentioned Becky Thomas, who's coming and helping with church governance issues. We've heard a little bit about our partnership with The Church Office and the services they're able to provide. We work closely with Christian Safeguarding Services. So, for example, they provided us with a template for a complaints procedure for churches. I think because of all of that, we're able to do more to provide the practical help and support that churches and their leaders need.
All that we are able to do is because of your generosity in funding our work through your annual donations. Through the COVID period, we were able to keep our annual donations simply to the level of inflation. So we've not for a couple of years had a real terms of increase in donations, and the Lord has provided for us.
We've also had along the way a number of significant additional donations that have helped us invest, particularly in the local directors. We're hoping that we've been pledged another gift of £100,000 to help us to be able to do that in the course of this year. So the Lord has provided and this year we've, as part of our expansion and what we've been trying to do, we have increased our donations to enable us to be able to accomplish this.
And thank you for your continued giving and your continued support. We know that it's not been an easy time that we've been through a period of a cost-of-living crises with all sorts of uncertainty. So we're incredibly grateful to you for your generosity that's met our needs and has provided those resources. And as I'm sure we’ll hear, we're wanting over the next couple of years to invest our excess reserves in investing in our ministries so that we can continue to serve and help our churches.
So all of those things are things for which I'm grateful and wonderfully encouraged as how the Lord is at work bringing that growth. So I just want to say thank you so much to the FIEC staff team. It's a wonderful privilege to work with this godly group of men and women serving our churches.
I would say thank you to Ian and the Trust Board for all of their support and their guidance and their leadership. But most of all, I want to thank you the leaders of our churches. You are, FIEC. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your prayer. Thank you for your engagement and thank you for your generosity.
And I hope that even if you are pessimistic in some regard, you can share something of that optimism that God is at work. At one level, given the gospel that we've got, how can we be anything but optimistic? And it's wonderfully encouraging to in a sense, reflect on how God is at work.