According to a recent poll the number of atheists in Britain has risen from 14% to 42% since 1963. While the sample size of 1,749 people represents only 0.0027% of the UK population, few would argue that our country has become increasingly secular. Moreover, while the steady decline in church attendance seems to have finally bottomed out in the last couple of years, the church in the UK has been increasingly marginalised. As a result we now sit on the margins of society.
However, as with many institutions, the church is a broad…well…a broad church, of various groups and the picture is not the same across all the denominations. Indeed, there are encouraging pockets of growth in some areas.
What is interesting is that what you find when you look within the sub-trends where the church is particularly weak – fewer men, fewer young people, more people believing without belonging, fewer poor people. According to one source, in the last 20 years 49% of men under 30 left the church. How do we respond to these challenges? Can we engage with and influence the forces shaping our culture? How do we reach those beyond the fringes of our church activities?
As someone who has spent the last 10 years working every day in this culture alongside people completely outwith the reach of the activities of the church I have seen first hand their changing views on the church. I have also seen first hand how the business world impacts professional men and women and the pressures it puts on them that make church involvement harder and harder. Others will be better placed to speak about issues impacting the poor and the young, but I want to share some ideas for how I see the world in the UK marketplace.
Over the course of three articles I want to illustrate how UK society has changed and how we need to respond to that change. I believe we need to better understand and engage with our culture before thinking that we are able to speak into it. The articles also seek to provide a high-level context of some of the main cultural shifts that have taken place over the past few decades as society has moved away from its Judeo-Christian roots and towards secular humanism. It is in response to that changing landscape that our traditional concept of what ministry is and how we do ministry within and without the sphere of influence of the church must change. The challenge for our generation is to take the eternal, unchanging truth of God into a rapidly changing, anchorless and disintegrating society.
Salt and Light
I believe the need of the hour in the UK is to reconnect our faith with the workplace. What does it mean to thrive as a Christian in our secular employment? First we must remind ourselves of God’s perspective:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5.14
This is the original mandate to the Church – to be a city on a hill for all to see. It is about our POSITION – to be somewhere where we are visible and effective. I want to try and show that through the barriers and silos that have been put up we have largely been hidden from the eyes of popular culture and the wider society. It is not enough anymore to open our doors and expect people to come in; we must go out to them in ways that are meaningful to them.
We must think again at how churches, organisations and individuals can re-establish connections with the culture around them. The majority of Christians are in the working world for the majority of their time – what does that mean for us? How do we become that city on a hill? Can we find a vehicle / mechanism that enables us to be more exposed?
However, it is also about PURITY – the second illustration Jesus uses is the salt of the earth. This is a personal challenge. If God increases our visibility, it is with the end goal of glorifying Him through our actions – would shining a light on our lives lead to the glory of God? Are we ready to be used? We must address this challenge first. God is looking for those individuals who have cleansed themselves and are clean vessels, ready to be poured into by His Spirit.