November 2012 saw the launch of a new church revitalisation and planting initiative aimed at bringing gospel hope to housing schemes and other needy areas of Scotland.
The brainchild of Niddrie Community, Edinburgh, in partnership with Bardstown Christian Fellowship, Kentucky, and supported by 9Marks, this exciting new ministry aims to reach out to some of the least evangelised areas of our country.
Mez McConnell, the director, explains: ‘During a detailed survey of the 50 most deprived schemes in Scotland we discovered that at least half have no gospel church present and, of the rest, even though there was the presence of some form of church, we were uncertain as to their theological and gospel convictions. One thing was clear, though, not only were Scotland’s 50 most deprived schemes in trouble economically and socially, but they were desperately deprived spiritually too. Therefore, if we were really going to see a turn around in the lives of residents in council estates and housing schemes, we were going to have to embrace a radical and long-term gospel strategy which will bring gospel hope to untold thousands’.
The mission is simple. It is building healthy gospel-centered churches for Scotland’s poorest communities. EN put some questions to Mez.
EN: Why do you want to do this?
MM: For a number of reasons. Firstly, we believe that the gospel changes everything. We believe that we need to raise up a generation of Bible teachers and preachers who will go into the forgotten schemes of our country.
Second, we recognise that the presence of the church is mercy ministry. In other words, we want to see local churches built up, evangelising, discipling and equipping a new generation of men and women from within these housing schemes who, likewise, will go and make disciples.
Thirdly, we are heavily burdened for Scotland’s housing schemes as we see these communities with no, or very little, gospel witness. Planting new churches is a key strategy in reaching the lost in these areas.
Fourthly, we desire to assist and resource existing churches — across denominations — and/or gospel ministries in these areas to bless them and further Kingdom work. We will plant if we have to, but we would rather support and encourage existing work by offering people, resources and training.
EN: How will you do it?
MM: We intend to identify 20 schemes as priority areas over the next decade. Then, where possible, identify church revitalisation partners in those schemes.
We want to recruit church planters, female outreach workers and ministry apprentices to send into those schemes as the ‘first wave’ of a long-term strategy. We aim to recruit local leaders if possible, but we will recruit outside the UK if necessary.
Then we will need to develop church partners worldwide to support and resource our work in the schemes and invest long-term in indigenous leaders by providing training, resources and support.
EN: Describe for us what the housing schemes you are trying to reach are like.
MM: These are some of the poorest and most underdeveloped areas of Scotland, very similar to many housing estates in England, Wales and Ireland.
Many were purpose-built during (and after) the Industrial Revolution in Britain as a way to move the poor out of slums and into affordable housing. Although there is much revitalisation going on in these areas today, there is a history of urban blight, unemployment, high mental health issues, addictions and crime.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. We still have a core of working-class families who love their communities and want to make them better places to live in. But, there is a desperate lack of healthy churches in these areas and we long to see this transformed by a new missionary church-planting movement across the country.
EN: How have you linked up with 9Marks and what backing do you have?
MM: We have formed a working partnership with 9Marks in the USA, alongside relationships with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Practical Shepherding. We have recently had the pleasure of being offered help, training and resources from Ligonier Ministries. In the UK we have links to Acts 29 Europe, Porterbrook Training and the FIEC.
Niddrie Community Church is on the board of the East of Edinburgh Gospel Partnership — a group of evangelical church leaders across various denominations seeking to strengthen gospel ministry in our city and beyond.
We hope to achieve our aims by building a broad evangelical consensus across denominations in Scotland. So far, we have friendships with Baptist, FIEC and FC churches, ministers and youth workers.
EN: What about churches which are already in these areas?
MM: Our aim is revitalisation, primarily, and planting where necessary. Therefore, the aim has to be to strengthen already existing evangelical churches in these areas.
Because there are so few, it makes the task all the more urgent. What we have found is that there may be para-church organisations, individuals or small groups doing ministry in poor areas, but there is very little in the way of planting and/or revitalising existing local church ministry. Our aim is to provide teams and/or gospel workers necessary to either establish or revitalise local church ministry.
EN: What are your greatest needs at present?
MM: To build a solid, prayer and financial base in order for us to be able to build a sustainable long-term infrastructure. We need interns, female outreach workers and those prepared to spend their lives on behalf of the poor in our inner cities.
EN: What encouragements have you had?
MM: We have seen many come to faith and we are now seeing our first intake of indigenous interns being trained and prepared to be the next generation of local church leaders and team embers.
Mez says: ‘If we can serve you or your church community please contact me. If you are interested in finding out more about how you could serve as a planter, a women’s worker, a ministry apprentice or an intern, please also contact me at email@example.com or use the form on the website. We will be happy to help. We are currently seeking financial help and are looking for opportunities to share about the work in churches. Thanks to you all in advance and praise God for his great mercy. Let’s pray for a gospel revival in Scotland’s housing schemes’.
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This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057