Urban Ministry: Resources I

I think one of the most obvious issues of ministry in more deprived urban areas (although it's by no means exclusive to those areas), is the issue of resources.

One level of this is the straightforward financial issue. On average the people in the area have less money.  So on average less money is given to the church.  In practice I think this means a very constrained church.  For example, how do you keep a building going (especially an old crumbling one) without any money?  And if all your money goes on very basic stuff, how do you pay for mission?

Traditionally church and evangelicalism in particular has been thought of as successful to the middle-class, but not so much outside that.  I wonder how true this is, but certainly there are a lot of tougher towns around the north where there is at best a very struggling gospel witness.  I wonder if there is, at the root of this, a financial problem.  Certainly the pastor of a poorer church will necessarily be setting sights financially lower in terms of mission and outreach projects

Now commonly, there is a pushback to the richer churches here.  Why are you not supporting the poor churches?  I think that is right.  We see in the NT how the Gentile church did support the poorer Jerusalem church (Acts 11:27-30; 2 Corinthians 8-9), although it is worth noting this seems to have been a physical survival issue.  There must also be a Great Commission motivation as well.  If we really want the gospel to go everywhere, there need to be resources to do that.

It is hard to hear of the multi-million pound building projects of the richer middle-class churches and not feel that just 1% of that money could make a massive difference in poorer parishes.  Although I want to rejoice in the growth of gospel ministry in these places, I wonder if we could encourage a mindset of: "What could we do without to serve gospel ministry elsewhere?"  I also know we need to acknowledge that many richer churches are working hard to give in support of other ministries.  For all that pushback, it seems to me to be unlikely that the richer churches are really about to have a huge turnaround on this and that even if they did, whether there's really enough money for what we need.

There is also advantage in being part of a denomination in poorer urban contexts.  So in the Church of England, poorer churches are supported by richer churches.  We are required to give less back to the diocese, my salary is paid centrally, as is training.  There are pros and cons to this approach in general, but it allows for the existence of poorer churches in tougher urban areas.

There is also money available in the form of grants to poorer churches, in tougher areas.  Increasingly we have to be careful what money we take from whom for what.  For example, if you have a crumbling church building that English Heritage slap a listing on, then you're in trouble unless you go for the English Heritage funding, which is lottery money (tax the poor to restore buildings that no-one is interested in apart from a few middle-class people who would never come anywhere near in case their car gets nicked - but that's a whole other post!).  Similarly, there's loads of money for outreach into the community so long as you don't want to tell people about Jesus.  There is also the problem of who does all the work in getting these grants - if it's not the minster (it's not really what our priority is right?), how many people in your church could deal with it?

This leads to some tough conclusions I think for those of us in poorer urban areas.  I think the reality is that we need to become lighter on our feet as churches.  We know we don't need buildings for example - do we mean it?  Would we meet in homes, or schools, or the like to reduce our overheads.  Do we need full-time ministers?  Could we persuade wealthier Christians to move in and be part of our churches, even when it won't be aimed at them?  It seems to me, if we really want to reach poor urban areas we need to be radical.  Relatively rich middle-class Christians need to get radical in their discipleship and we need to be more radical in thinking about how church could actually work.

The big problem here is that, we are simply not there in our culture at the moment.  The kinds of sacrifices called for are so counter-cultural and our churches are so infected by our culture, that it's hard to see this sort of thing happening.  What do you think?


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