Personal healthcare—physical, mental, and emotional—occupies much of our thoughts these days during a pandemic. What about the spiritual health of our churches? When was the last time we have given our local and regional church a thorough health check? Has it been growing or declining? To answer that question accurately, we need some thorough research and deep thinking, analysing the various factors for the growth or decline. Dr Peter Brierley, a statistician who has been collecting and analysing church statistics for over 50 years, gives us a model demonstrating how that could be done in ‘Christianity in the UK: Church trends in the 21st century’.
Peter’s ‘health report’ shows negative growth in some UK churches and positive in others. Looking at a couple of lessons from the growing churches, we learn, for example, that ‘the Pentecostal churches in the UK have exploded in the last 20 years, from 2,500 congregations in 2000 to 4,200 by 2020’ partly due to the ‘enthusiasm, gospel-centred drive, willingness to help and serve in many of these congregations.’ The smaller diaspora churches, including Asian, European, and Indian churches, are also growing, and ‘the reason is simply (mostly) evangelical churches responding to the needs of floods of immigrants coming into the UK.’
This approach of meeting the needs of immigrants in our midst has motivated four organizations (Beit Sar Shalom, Missionary Church, Finnish Israel Mission, and Jews for Jesus) and others to start working together to reach Israelis in Berlin, as seen in ‘Reaching Israelis in Berlin: Inside the collaborative world of Jewish evangelism’. Events organized for them are ‘designed to provide a safe space in a foreign country where they could speak about deep issues in their native tongue.’ In the article, Aaron Lewin, Director of Jews for Jesus Germany, argues that the synergy of their cooperation has allowed them to achieve much more than if they had chosen to work separately. Recognizing the many challenges of different groups collaborating for this mission, he suggests some helpful recommendations to strengthen the partnership.
Church growth could also come from larger churches helping existing congregations, as shown in the UK Church statistics. In ‘Growing Churches in Hostile Contexts: The potential of media and local fellowships’, Phill Butler, Senior Strategy Advisor with visionSynergy, affirms that ‘energizing existing and emerging local fellowships’ and empowering their leaders are ‘key engines in church growth’. Particularly in areas hostile to the Christian message, this could be achieved through strengthening (including funding) the locally owned media or communications strategies that are sensitive and effective in the local context. With this objective in view, Phill highlights some priorities for media content suggested at a North African regional evangelism conference. One significant priority highlighted is ‘sharing stories, case histories, and testimonies of leaders and other fellowships who have seen real blessing as their local fellowship becomes a reproducing element in God’s plan.’
In this era of global Christianity, Western Christian leaders are challenged to become ‘global leaders with a global mindset’, writes Mary Ho, the International Executive Leader of All Nations, in ‘When Leaders Drink Tea Together: A critique of western Christian leadership in light of global trends’. With the explosive growth of the church in the Global South comes a sharp rise of non-Western leaders serving in extremely difficult socioeconomic and religious contexts. Their leadership styles also differ from Western leaders. If Western leaders believe that the future of the church depends on the success of global collaboration, Mary argues that they must be prepared, first of all, to ‘learn from the global church that is predominantly non-Western and in the Global South’, and to ‘adjust their leadership styles to be effective in different cultures.’ This is a tall order, she acknowledges, but necessary if we wish to ‘dine and drink tea together.’
May the fragrance of our table fellowship draw many more outside the church to the Lord’s table of communion.
Lausanne Global Analysis is also available in Portuguese, Spanish, and French. Please send any questions and comments about this issue to [email protected]. The next issue will be released in November 2021.