I grew up in the city of Norwich with a population of 150,000. Located 100 miles north-east of London, Norwich is known for its mustard and its 10th century Norman castle. Norwich prides itself in its religious history and has a cathedral that has been standing for a thousand years. I spent twenty-two years of my life there, never going to church or having a Bible in my home. Now twenty years later becoming a Christian and having six years of Theological schooling/training. I have a burning desire to give back to my hometown. Many who envision England still believe that this nation is a religious stronghold. Great Britain in the 18th Century was a powerhouse, which was fueled by great preachers like William Carey, John Knox and David Livingstone. These men evangelized India, Asia and the Americas. In the 21st Century but this is far from the truth.
21st Century Christianity in England
Norwich is steeped in religious history and there are several stories of the city in Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World. One story involves Simon Miller who in 1557 was a local trader that did business in Norwich. Because he was a man of faith he would speak openly against Catholicism, he would later be arrested and brought before the Chancellor. During the hearing, Chancellor Dunning asked him to recant, however Miller stood firm and so was sentenced to be burned at the stake. On July 30th, 1557, Miller was led out; with him was a young lady named Elizabeth Cooper who was also condemned for the same crime. The location for this punishment was the St. Andrews Church, located in the center of Norwich. The chancellor read the crime to the on-looking crowd and they lit the fires. Elizabeth was afraid and she began to cry out. Miller put his hand out towards her, telling her to be strong and of good cheer, “for good sister” he said, “We shall have a joyful meeting hereafter.” This reassured her and they both stood still and quietly committed their souls to the Lord. 1(Foxe’s 186) Why is this story so personal to me? It was at St. Andrew (Hall) where I would party in Norwich. In my adolescence I remember collapsing in a drunken stupor during a party in this Church building! Today, it is ironic how this place of radical religious fervor is now place of sin and debauchery. This describes the religious landscape of England today. Other alarming statistics of the decline of faith in this country is the church conversions.
Methodist Chapels – In the last 75 years, somewhere in the region of 8,000 Methodist chapels have been closed. Many of these were constructed in the 19th century and being smaller than Church of England churches are more suitable to conversion as a single home. 2(Church Closures Statistics our property.com uk)
Church conversions to homes are the new eclectic living especially in London: The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) says that in the last 5 years around 500 London churches have been turned into homes3(Church Conversions Church our property.com uk). Churches have been converted into bars and restaurants4(www.priory restaurant .com.uk). One conversion that caused a stir was in a small town of Clitheroe in England. Where the city council approved f a Methodist Church to be converted to a Mosque! 5(Sweetness-light .com .uk) In places like Blackburn, the constituency of Jack Straw, the leader of the House of Commons, there are 30,000 Muslims among a population of 80,000. But in a telltale sign for the future, the number of children 10 years and younger is evenly divided between Christian and Muslim 6(Sweetness-light.com uk). I read on BBC’s religious website that “Church attendances have been dropping and only 4% of the population goes to church.”7(BBC Religion and Ethics Stats www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions) Between the ages of 15-30, attendees are non-existent. Britain may continue to regard itself as a “Christian nation,” but practicing Muslims are likely to outnumber church-attending Christians in several decades, according to a recent survey by Christian Research, a group that specializes in documenting the status of Christianity in Britain 8(Ibid). In some cities one can even see the skyline peppered with as many mosques as there are churches.
As another sign of what may be to come, many of the youth today are reverting back to paganism. In my last visit to Edinburgh there were hundreds of students involved in Beltane, which include festivals and rituals that “awaken elements of Air, Earth, Water and Fire.” This movement caters to the mystic and environmental awareness of this postmodern generation. It is sad to see such a spiritual void in England so much so, that there is a regression back to hedonistic practices. The future of Christianity looks bleak in Britain, but sometimes in the darkest dark, light can be so bright.
From my research and several years of preaching and teaching in England, I have developed a missional strategy. Wagner stresses that the mission must have a “cutting edge” approach, 9(Perceptions, C. Peter Wagner 533) one must keep in step with the Spirit and learn as we go 10(Galatians 5:25). There is nothing like experience and learning from the knocks and bruises of everyday ministry. I find that today’s church programs are filled with questionnaires and rote answers, which produce a sterile environment and shallow relations. What is missing from our society today is sincerity. The following passages elaborate on this point:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves (Rom 12:9-10)
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
A true sincere love for the lost is missing in programs. When we have to go to a class to love the lost, we have lost! Our outreach should be an overflow of one’s salvation and God’s grace:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness (Col 2:6-7).
Last Christmas I spent it in Norwich, my wife and I visited two churches; one was a Catholic Church which was several hundred years old. It was very orthodox and I quite enjoyed it, because when I was a child, our school choir sang a hymn in that church. The average age of the parishioners was sixty years old and only fifty people were in attendance. This service drove my wife crazy, with their emblems and sacraments. So we left and went to another church about 100 yards where I use to live as a child. We entered the church and to our surprise, we saw young faces and a band playing! The minister started to preach and he had an American accent. I was shocked! This church was a planting two years ago from America. I enjoyed the preaching and when he had finished, he asked everyone to come down to the front and kneel. All the members left their seats and knelt before the preacher (we stayed in our seats). The preacher started to speak in “tongues” (It was not a comprehensible language). Then the service finished, people were very warm and reached out to us. One observation that I made was that the minister’s message had a lot of illustrations from an American perspective. The minister had not assimilated to the British culture and seemed to come across more as a foreigner. The minister showed a lack of connectivity to the locals. These two snap shots show where England is at today. Either Orthodox or over the top! My parents who are unbelievers would not like either one of these services.
This charismatic church models itself after the American Pentecostal movement. In America we see a decline in Christianity 11(George Barna: Revolution page 32.) in this country and also in Britain 12(BBC Religion and Ethics ). My question is why anyone would imitate something that has proven to be flawed. True discipleship starts with a calling and then a time of walking with someone, sometimes for several years. This type of discipleship takes an individual who is worthy of imitation and has excellent relational skills. George Patterson’s views on discipleship are to “Teach and practice obedience to Jesus’ commands in love, above all else.” He continues that a church must start out with intimate discipleship from the beginning. 13(Perspectives George Patterson 601) Most churches try to engraft discipleship into their fellowship but it is met with little success. In order for it to work, they must be intentional from the inception of the church. Today, many look for programs and the latest Evangelical trends. Nothing will or should ever surpass the ministry that Jesus established by walking with others. 14(Mark 1:17) The English are starving for relational discipleship.
As a minister I have spoken several times in England. Over the same holiday period, I spoke at two churches in London. It was refreshing to see the spirit of the people. Our churches have slowed down in growth due a corporate and impersonal paradigm model from the states back in the late 90′s. Due to this rough past, our English churches now have a low view of leadership but are lacking training and direction that once came from America. They find themselves in a quandary. Considering my past and training I am becoming more involved with these churches because I understand the people of England and the cultural challenges.
Whilst speaking in London and other churches in England I have stumbled across those who once lived in Norwich or were actually born there. These individuals have shown great interest to go to Norwich on a mission trip. Some of the funding would come from wealthy friends that I have met whilst in the States, they were willingly to support the mission and my hometown. The premise of my initial outreach will be my family and friends who I grew up with. To win them to Christ, I will use my own spiritual formation and my experience with the Norfolk people. There will be no programs but true discipleship. The gospel will be shared by our mouths and lives. People will be trained by walking with one another. Paul shared this to the church in Thessalonica:
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us (1 The 2:8)
Opening our home, and opening our life will help to expose Christ’s power to others and help form trust. This relational foundation will build a sincere and relatable fellowship. The ministry will be based on empowering one another and one must rely on the Holy Spirit and not programs. Jesus writes about the power of the Holy Spirit:
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26)
With the help of the Holy Spirit we will have energetic services with a traditional twist which will bridge the generational gap. Good sounding biblical preaching that relates to the locals and their context will help them to connect to Jesus. Once establishing the church, I will raise up local leadership and disciple the church from the States. This is my plan but there is always the Lord’s plan! If the Spirit shows me something different I am open to change my course.
If one did a web search on Norwich and Religion, he/she would find the name “Julian of Norwich.” In May 1373, she received sixteen revelations from God. From these revelations she wrote a book called “The Revelation of Divine Love“. 15(Livingstone 323 ) This book is about God’s love and the lost having a relationship with Him. In her book she laments; “I speak of them that shall be saved, for in this time God shewed me none other. But in all things I believe as Holy Church believeth, preacheth, and teacheth.” 16(The Revelations of Divine Love ,11) My heart is like Julian’s to go back to Norwich to preach and teach God’s Word so that my people “shall be saveth.” 17(Ibid 11)
All the proceeds from this book are going to British Missions. If you want to help in the missional work personally or give financial support, please email me at email@example.com