William Wade shares his history and wonders how Christians can get better at reaching his neglected demographic.
I am a Baptist Minister in Hertfordshire. However, I often get told that I do not look like the clergy type.
That may be because I have a shaved head, tattoos and a Belfast accent. It may be because my face shows the marks of having been a boxer and having one too many scraps outside the ring, too. Whatever the case, my own background allows me to have a desire to see a particular demographic within the UK reached with the gospel. This demographic is white, working-class and sitting somewhere between the ages of 18 and 50. It has been described as reaching chavs for Jesus, but there is an inherent value within this demographic that refuses to allow me to use that term.
I am extremely grateful to have been used by God to reach this subculture within housing estate ministry and within my role as an evangelist to British Forces, where there is no end of young men from working-class backgrounds. In my 20 years of ministry, I have noticed a few ‘helps’ in trying to reach this often disaffected group, and these may assist anyone currently trying to do the same. Let me share them…
Having your own story helps. Before I was converted, I was a glue-sniffing skinhead, used to getting drunk, high and in trouble with the police. In sharing my own story with those I have tried to reach, this has immediately broken down walls of class and of privilege – two suspicions of the white, working-class male. In whatever way possible, try to tell your own story of brokenness in your background. We all have something we can share that can reach the brokenness of the person you are talking to.
An understanding of their culture helps. It is worth accepting the fact that this demographic has its very own culture. This culture includes loyalty, aggression, ruthless banter, fronting, honour and deceit. If you are already street smart, this will come as second nature, but if not, getting to know and to understand this culture will help to understand motives, behavioural patterns and how to engage sensibly.
Following sports helps. Better still, following their sports helps. Their sports are football, combat sports, darts and horse racing. Their sports are not equestrian, hockey, swimming and ice skating. Follow the Premier League; find out who is fighting in the octagon; be able to hold a conversation on these subjects. Sport is the small talk of the working-class male.
Straight talking helps. When it comes to issues of faith, shoot from the hip. Courage is key in engaging with this demographic. Vagueness will be shouted down; fear will be sniffed out immediately. Be bold in declaring that Jesus Christ is your saviour and that He has changed the lives of sinful, broken people for generations. Don’t step back – white, working-class men live off stories of heroism – give them the greatest story of the greatest hero ever told. Pull no punches and make it personal. Incorporate testimony and Scripture as a pincer attack, and stand your ground. It works.
Involvement helps. If you are not involved, you do not have access. Choose how you can break into groups of white, working-class men. Join their gym; support the local team they support; take your dog walking where they take their dogs walking. I have boxed with them, played football with them, done cage fighting with them, all in order to make the inroad that means involvement. Speaking from within is much more effective than speaking from without.
Speaking of Jesus as the transformer of lives helps. Presenting Jesus as a social justice champion or as a subversive in the religious landscape of Judea will not get an audience with this subculture. Jesus as the redeemer of Mary Magdalene, or the transformer of the thief Zacchaeus, or the saviour of the Gadarene madman will hold sway with this group of men, as they are painfully aware that they need a life transformer – not someone to spruce up their lives and make them better, but someone who will give them a whole new life to begin with. Give them Jesus, the only one that can transform their lives completely.
Close discipleship helps. As I have seen many of these men give their lives to Jesus, they need close discipleship in order to help make the break from their often extremely broken lives. They need you to walk with them, not just to teach them a couple of memory verses. They need to see what living for Jesus actually looks like, more than seeing Christian culture within the walls of a church every Sunday morning. You are their spiritual father, not just their evangelist, so walk with them and have the kind of relationship in the beginning that Jesus had with his disciples, and certainly that Paul had with Timothy.
Encouraging immediate evangelism helps. When I gave my life to Jesus, the very next week I was challenged to give my testimony at an open-air service in front of the park where my friends would be hanging out. I did it, and it was an extremely wise move from my Pastor to have me do that. It was a public declaration, nailing my colours to the mast. It helped me to make a clean break from my old life. I have encouraged others to do the same – perhaps not in an open-air meeting, but as soon as possible, to make the statement that they have become a Christian. It is always met with banter, but always, in the end, respected for the courage it demands. Get them to share their faith immediately, it also helps their own faith become ‘theirs’.
An interesting observation I have made in ministering to men from this background for two decades is that when men from this demographic do commit their lives to Jesus, they often make for dynamic witnesses and evangelists. When I think of men like Alan Mortlock, the Tough Talk team, Andy Flute and Gram Seed, these men are outstanding at reaching men just like they used to be. They can connect with those they are trying to reach because they have been there, and they have also been saved from there. I believe we need some more of us that know the life-changing power of the gospel to reach out and engage with these men. Who knows what may come of our efforts under God?
I was converted after two 15-year-old girls gatecrashed a party I was having in greater Belfast. They walked into the house, turned the music off and told us all that we needed to get right with God, using terms like ‘born again’ and ‘saved’. Three weeks later, four of us did get saved and I am so grateful for the gospel courage of those girls.
If two 15-year-old girls can walk into a house full of drunk young men and preach the gospel to them, what could you do? The truth is that, with the word of God in your mouth and the Spirit of God as your strength, you really can reach this neglected demographic. It might take a deep breath and a prayer for courage, and be met with immediate and colourful banter, but for their sake, it is absolutely worth that risk.