On the way to Leeds in England, a group of us on the recent United Kingdom Partnership trip were asked by a young lady on the train: “What are all of you doing here? It sounds like something religious.” One of our fellow travelers explained that we were a group of Presbyterian pastors and members visiting the UK for the purpose of planting churches throughout the region. Her reply was, “What is a Presbyterian?” As we continued the conversation, we discovered she had never been to church – not once. She had no category for even considering a spiritual reality as she walked through life as an agnostic married to an atheist with children that they would let figure it out and choose for themselves.
This conversation is indicative of the spiritual winter that was settled over the UK for years. A recent census revealed that 7.2% of Scotland’s population regularly attends church, and 42% of those are over the age of 65. That percentage of church participation in Scotland is down from 17% in 1984.
We partner with City Church Manchester led by Ralph Cunnington and Matt Waldock, where only 4.7% of 2.7 million people attend church, and less than 1% of those are at a Gospel-centered church. Of the 95,000 students in Manchester, fewer than 130 are involved in any campus Christian group at all.
Consider Leeds in the county of Yorkshire where we partner with church planter Jonty Rhodes at Christ Central Church. Don Carson writes in Reflections on the Church in Great Britain: “In Yorkshire, the percentage that goes to church once a month or more is .9 percent; evangelicals account for only .4 percent. Both figures are still falling. This is comparable to the state of affairs in, say, Japan.”
A church planter in London described it to us this way: “Christianity is not even make-believe to people here in the United Kingdom, but is completely alien.”
These numbers may seem like a depressing report on the bleak, hard spiritual winter in the UK, but I have a bit of a surprising weather forecast to report. Spring is coming.
C.S. Lewis writes in The Chronicles of Narnia, when Aslan is on the move, that which was winter begins to become spring: “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, at the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more; when he bares his teeth, winter meets its death. And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” Frank Hitchings and Ed Norton (IPC Memphis) have been traveling to the UK for 20+ years and have seen many frozen days. But they confirm what I saw and experienced: the thaw is happening. We felt the drips and drops of renewal and revival while we were there.
To see this, you have only to look at what has happened at City Church Manchester over the last three years. They have grown from 27 to 118 members. Their worship attendance, at 275, is at capacity. They have held 15 baptisms and have grown from five to 24 children and from zero to 60 students. They have an astounding 163 people involved in their midweek connect groups, and 100 are involved in their one-on-one and prayer groups. Those are the drips showing that the thaw is happening.
The desire for the warmth of spring is even greater as they long for these realities in the next 10 years:
- 500-750 adults, 200+ children, and 35 nationalities (already at over 30)
- 15 church planters for the North of England and three church plants in the Greater Manchester area
- Expanding with God’s global mission to engage church plants in Kiev, UAE, and Connecticut
They are looking to partner with a church in Dubai that has already planted four churches and has plans for a further two. Think about that! Your daughter in Manchester promises to deliver to you a granddaughter in Dubai!
Winter is becoming spring in Manchester, Leeds, London, Edinburgh and St. Andrews. Rejoice! You are a part of Kingdom advancement. Pray for the spiritual thaw in the land of the UK and that the rivers of spring will flow freely and swiftly throughout the land.