Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Who will reach the north of England?

I've been in the north of England for nearly five years now. It certainly wasn't my plan to move this way, nor did I envisage my move northwards being any more than a brief foray. But the Lord has other plans, and now it seems that we're set to be in the north of England for the forseeable future.

One of the things that has struck me in the north of England is the comparitive need of the Church here compared to the south of England. I guess I'd always assumed that the needs of the gospel were fairly similar across the UK. But this isn't the case.

Most recently, I came across this article from Tearfund. The statistics aren't full and there's a lot more going on, but I was impacted by the paragraph showing the groups of people that are consistently under represented in UK church attendance (the figures are the percentage of people that attend church at least once a year - the UK figure for adults was 26%):

  • Men (21%)
  • 16-24s (16%)
  • 25-34s (22%)
  • C2 social class i.e. skilled manual (21%)
  • DE social class i.e. unskilled labour and unemployed (22%)
  • single people (19%)
  • council tenants (19%)
  • NE region (18%)
  • Yorkshire & Humberside (17%)
  • Wales (24%).
I guess there'd be quite a lot of cross over between some of these categories. The headline is, I think, clear. It's the poorer areas in the north of England where church attendance is at its very lowest. (Interestingly, the north west of England had also featured in previous surveys as being under-represented but church attendance apparently shot up 8% last year - possibly a sign for optimism but possibly a statistical anomaly).

I think this fact has been brought home to me personally over recent years. In my region of the north west, the churches are generally reaching middle class people (certainly evangelicals seem to be making barely any impression on the working classes). There have been a number of occasions when northern students have become Christians through CUs and we've wanted to recommend an evangelical church in their home town, only to realise their isn't one.

What is to be done? I'm pleased to see that Tim Chester and co. and others are seeking to buck the trend. I'm seeking to do my bit too (and getting a reputation for it!) - through encouraging fairly footloose Christian graduates to stay in the north (whether in full time paid Christian ministry or not). Often more attractive jobs are in the south of England (both in secular work and Christian ministry). But we need to ask - if we are not to reach the poorer northern towns with the gospel, who will?


Paul said...

It's quite strange because I've always found people from 'up North' to be much friendlier than southerners like me.

I think there's a strong argument to get ministry training wherever you can and, unless there's a good reason why not to, head back to where your roots are (north or south) and serve the church there.

The town that I'm helping church plant in has more than its share of evangelical churches - but there are still thousands of lost people here. We could have a church of 5000, not stealing any Christians from other churches and still only about 25% of the town would be saved. By serving here I don't have the problem of trying to get to know the town, the culture, make Christian and non-Christian friends in anywhere near the way I'd have to if I went to Preston to church plant. But I know Christians from Preston for whom the reverse would be true, and they're best equipped to serve there.

Dave K said...

Peter I love you!

It does need saying and I'm glad you are getting a reputation for saying it!

Still, you make me see the error of my attitude in recent comments when I facebook messaged you with your comment: "if we are not to reach the poorer northern towns with the gospel, who will?" After all York is not exactly a poor northern town. I remember Sam N always used to joke that it was a southern enclave in the north. It certainly is wealthier than most of the country around.

BTW Big mention should also go to Melvin Tinker and his team at St John's Newland in Hull. A large Anglican church that it is serious about reaching all classes.

Scott Thomson said...


Being born and converted in Hartlepool in the NE (from a non-Christian family), studying in Manchester and now back in Hartlepool, I may be a little biased, but I agree! There's such a great need!

Here in Hartlepool there are around 100,000 people, but very very few (and relatively small) churches that preach the gospel. And I think we're not unique as a town.

It is a bit grim up north, haha, but very few are trying to reach the working classes (praise God that there are some), and there is such a need! My pastor and his wife came from Farnham in Surrey to Hartlepool (what a step down huh!) for which I'm very grateful, so to hear of more heading this way is a real encouragement.

In conclusion: good post!

P.S. If you are looking for a suggestion for a church to join in the north east that is in a working class town, trying to reach the working classes and is Bible centred, I might be able to give you one ;).

Anonymous said...

As a whole you're right, however, it is also quite clear that there are areas in the south, that are more like the 'northern stereotypes' than the southern.

There are areas in the south that are pretty much ignored, although I grant that that is probably a much more localised issue than in the North where it is much bigger areas.

I guess there is a need countrywide but the North does seem to be lacking the most in resources and definietly does need people to be committed there long term!!!

ernie said...


We're moving to Huddersfield, quoted by a well known evangelist as the "most spiritually starved (in terms of churches) place in England" - I don't think he had statistics, or even anything solid to base that on..?! but then I can't think of a single Bible teaching church within a 15 minute drive of my house...! there's about 6 in that distance in Liverpool (which I think is the anonomoly in the North in terms of number of churches)

Basically, you're right. and I'll reach the North. I don't like southerners anyway... ;) hehe

Matt said...

Amen brother!

My long term aim is to work in full time Christian ministry in the north east of England. I have lived here all my life and see the great need their is for good Bible teaching churches that engage with the community around them.
I hope to be involved in that if God so wills.

Looking forward to working in closer proximity with you next year!

peterdray said...

Aha! I thought this post might generate a few comments. I'm glad to see the northerners out in force. I hope that there's a few exiles from the south (like myself) that will also come to see the need up here.

Sarah and Paul: you're obviously right, there are clear gospel needs in the south of England. The statistics are national, and so the poorer communities across the country are pretty much unreached. And Paul, you are right in saying that even towns with quite an evangelical heritage still have vast numbers of people that are yet to hear the gospel.

Whilst I agree somewhat in principle with what you say about serving where your roots are, the logicial consequence of this issue is that unreached areas would stay unreached and the disparity between north and south will simply be reinforced. Missionaries are prepared to move. And so the north of England needs to stem its flow of Christians to the south, but it also needs pioneers to establish gospel ministries where there are none.

Paul said...

Yeah, I agree with that... I said "unless there's a good reason not to" and I should have explained that better. We should send gifted missionaries to everywhere that needs the gospel, China, Bulgaria, even Yorkshire- we need to look out for the people who are gifted in serving the gospel in areas they're unfamiliar, and send them off with prayer. I just think that in our current situation in the UK, the default position is like the Ethiopian Eunuch's - back at home.

Paul said...

One more thing - Sussex, where I come from seems to be an immensely popular place for C of E Ordinands to come and take parishes. Within the last 3 or 4 years, I can think of at least 4 evangelicals who've taken over formerly liberal churches within 15 minutes drive of our church. I don't want to judge any one of them, but I do wish for more workers to head North.

Tanya Marlow said...

Just to say... There is another region in the south that isn't the south east!

We work in Devon and there are very few workers on the ground in Devon and Cornwall, though people are really hungry for the gospel. It's great that so many are getting the vision for ministering in the North of England - but we'd like a few here too!

All the best for your new post - we were excited to hear it.
From Tanya Marlow, Plymouth (formerly in Oxford, before that in Durham!)