There is a similar situation in many churches in our inner cities. There are small congregations in buildings that quite simply need more people. It would be wonderful if these were filled through conversions, but that is not happening. No doubt some churches are in-grown, but most churches I know are actively evangelistic. What these churches need is more people with the attitude, gifts and money that will strengthen them in their mission.
The answer is not simply church planting. One of the most encouraging developments in recent years is the planting of new churches. While sometimes I think this is a bit of a fad that is seen as a cure all, there is a tendency, at least in London, for many of these plants to be the ecclesiastical equivalent of a boutique hotel with a niche congregation of people of all one type. Nevertheless it is good news that churches are being planted.
However, church planting is not the whole answer for the inner city. So what can be done to help older churches there? In some cases church restarts work, but that is not possible for all. They have their own congregations that simply can’t be disbanded or shoved aside. While in some churches there are some deep problems that may need to be addressed, many are relatively healthy spiritually, though small. One reason for this is that the demography of their communities has changed dramatically. Not least, for over a century evangelical Christians have been moving out of the centre of cities.
The relocating option
I have no comprehensive answer to this problem. However, one thing that could help is if some Christians would seriously consider relocating to the inner city. I wholly understand why some may not consider doing so. Some families need larger homes and parents understandably want to send their children to good schools. On the latter I think schools have improved recently and things are not as bad as people think. However, affordable housing is a problem and getting worse. But some people could think of relocating church and home.
1. There are wealthier Christians who can afford to live in the inner city and if necessary send their children to independent schools. Why follow your colleagues to the idyll of a salubrious suburb?
2. There are childless Christians for whom education is not an issue. Childlessness is a heartache for many couples, but in the providence of God it may allow them to use his gifts in a church where they may not otherwise.
3. There are retired Christians who can downsize after children leave home and they no longer need to live near their work. Why not use a decade or so of retirement supporting a church in the inner city. Cities are great places for retired people with an array of cultural and recreational opportunities.
4. There are comfortable Christians who simply want a challenge. You don’t have to go abroad, but simply move into an inner city neighbourhood where you can make a difference. Take a risk for the kingdom.
5. There are suburban Christians who can’t relocate their home, but could move church. Some who have been attending relatively big churches could, in agreement with the church leadership, attend and even join an inner city church. They would become a kind of missionary.
Are you in one of these categories? Please give serious consideration to relocating.