New Life Church Middlesbrough

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Making things difficult for the working class

By Ian Williamson, 17 Nov 2017

Making things difficult for the working class

Why don’t the working class come to church?

A research report conducted by Tear Fund on 'church attendance' in the UK tells us that church attendance is associated with those of higher social grade; that the highest church attendance is by professionals and that the lowest church attendance is by people on benefits and the working class.

For most of us this comes as no surprise, but it must make us wonder why? Well as somebody who statistically shouldn’t be at church, I am often asked “how can we attract the working class to our church?” and I am often told “We can get the kids in, but we cant get the parents in, they will come to toddlers, they will come to fun days but, they won’t come to a service. We’ve tried everything but they wont come!”

Is this story familiar to you?

I’ve seen plenty of Christians worn out with trying new initiatives and programs lovingly, spending time, money and effort, constantly looking for a specialist evangelist or event, or course to run, that will get the working class through the doors. Some of you reading this might be one of those loving, but busy, exasperated and worn out Christians trying to reach the working class?

Well my challenge for you and the church today, is to stop thinking what do we need to start doing, and start looking at what we need to stop doing.

1 Cor 1:22-23

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 

The bible tells us that the hard hearts of unbelievers will be a stumbling block to the gospel, and some churches accept this is the reason that they cant reach the working class, but the bible also warns us! It warns us about putting stumbling blocks in the way too.

Rm. 14:13 

Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.

So the main problem in reaching the working class, is that we put too many stumbling blocks in the way of the people we want to reach. In fact the church is responsible for putting a Ninja Warriors Assault Course in the way of the working class never mind a stumbling block! Many of the working class aren’t hearing the gospel being preached to them, because we, the church make it to difficult for them to enter the building never mind hear a sermon.

The absence of the working class in the church has been going on for centuries and the problem isn’t with attracting the working class - the gospel does that, look at Jesus he was surrounded by the poor! The problem lies with us, the church, it is us and how we do church, that has been repelling, rejecting and confusing the working class for years………..

Read this:

If an intelligent working man, brought up with all the religious disadvantages common to such, is persuaded to enter the Church which he has hitherto neglected, what does he meet with? and with what is he likely to be struck? 

Generally, he meets with what is enough to disgust and repel him for ever—with what is fitted to make him believe that the religion of minister and congregation is but a mockery both of God and man. 

This is taken from Preaching the gospel to the working classes impossible under the pew system by the Rev. John W, H. Molyneux, in 1858

it goes onto say

He meets with no welcome where every heart should be open to receive him. He is a stranger in what is, in truth and right, his own home, his own Father's house! 

He sees some well-dressed "respectable" Christians sitting in their private seats, from which he is as much excluded as from their drawing-rooms; and he sees some ill-dressed and mostly crushed looking people sitting in pauper seats; and he hears the minister, who acquiesces in this state of things, saying "With God is no respect of Persons!" No wonder free seats are generally half empty, and the occupiers of pews keep the doors of their hearts, as well as of their seats, closed.

This paper was written in response to the Pew System, which allowed the privileged, dominant culture to separate themselves from the Riff Raf by renting pews and concealed booths. This segregation showed the poor that church wasn’t for them, that they didn’t fit in and that they were not wanted.

And my argument is, that although we don’t have that system in place today, we still have many preferences and styles of doing church that subconsciously repel the poor by communicating that they don’t belong and that they are not wanted.

I am making a BIG statement, so where is my evidence?

  • History has shown this, 
  • I have personally felt this (along with many other working class christians and ministers)
  • Academic studies have also highlighted this. 

For an academic perspective take a look at 

'The Person God Made Me to Be': 

Navigating Working-Class and Christian Identities in English Evangelical Christianity

J McKenzie Durham University

So with this historical, anecdotal and academic evidence we must be compelled to focus our attention on preaching change to the middle class church before we focus our preaching to the working class. We need to preach to the pastors, the elders, the deacons, the members of our churches and ask them to search their hearts and answer, What is more important to me than the lost hearing the gospel? 

Is it ..

  • insisting that someone moves from their seat because that’s where Gladys has sat for the last 40 years? 
  • showing your disapproval by tutting and shaking your head when a child is crying or misbehaving, at the expense of the single mum being made to feel welcome and at ease?
  • insisting on bibles written in a language that hasn’t been used for over 400 years so those hearing it don’t understand a word thats being said?
  • Even worse is it using language from 400 years ago in your sermon?
  • insisting everyone who greets at the front door, leads a service, gives communion and preaches wears a suit?

The following illustrations have actually happened, they are not digs they are facts, they are stumbling blocks that have been put in the way of me and my family. 

Whatever means more to you, than people hearing the gospel, get rid of it, its idolatry and an affront to God. Thomas Chalmers  had a great motto – “Who cares for the Free Church compared with the Christian good of Scotland”. 

We need to remember the church is a tool for the gospel not our preferences and that if we want to reach the working class, we need to stop putting stumbling blocks in their way.