The Urban Context
Britain is 91% urbanised. Of those built-up areas, most of the people live in the inner-city areas, or in overspill estates that share similar characteristics. These tend to be where there is multiple deprivation, where those who can move out quite often do move out. Headlines about these areas are usually about the bad news and feature terms such as "sink-estate", "hoodie", "work-shy". There is some bad news, but most people most of the time are decent, law-abiding and trying to get on with their lives as best as they can. There are many positives and joys, but these don't tend to get reported. And so a negative stereotype of inner-city areas, people and young people is built up and reinforced. Worst of all, local people can come to share a general belief that they and their streets are useless and not worth investing time and energy into... including their own time and energy. There is an unspoken feeling of "What's the point?" It is a situation crying out for Good News of a Creator God who loves each one of the people he has made.
There is a long history of churches being present in and engaging with inner-city communities. However, one of the benefits of a person becoming a Christian is their growing as a person and fulfilling more of their potential. They realise they are valuable to God and they are worth bothering about - books are read, training is undertaken, a job or better job is found. They acquire the ability to move away, and in many cases, for understandable reasons such as wanting a better school for their children or a bigger house or garden, they leave. The Church Growth experts call this process of suburban drift "Redemption and Lift" - perhaps "Redemption and Leave" is more accurate. Though some continue to travel in to their Church on Sundays, many members of suburban churches once lived in inner-city urban areas.
This leaves many inner-city and estate churches struggling with a constant draining away of their best resources - people. In simple numerical and economic terms, Churches in the areas of greatest need have the least ability to minister to it. God is good, and a lot is accomplished, but often at great personal cost. This is the "mission-field on our doorsteps".
The Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city. The very thing that is sometimes seen in scripture as the symbol of human rebellion against the Creator (Cain, Babel) is made the focus of the final redemption of fallen creation. God is for cities. He instructs the Jewish exiles in Babylon to: "Seek the welfare of the city where I have placed you, for in its welfare you will find your welfare". The word translated "welfare" is a very powerful Hebrew concept, "shalom", meaning peace, wholeness, health and well-being physically, mentally, socially, economically, politically and spiritually and is applied to individuals and communities. Its sense is carried over into the New Testament word "eirene", normally translated "peace". Between them, these two words occur over 340 times in the Bible. Governments and Councils recognise the need for growing a sense of 'well-being' in urban communities, but the Jewish and Christian scriptures got there first! God is present and at work in the inner-city and part of the church's task is to find out where and how and join in, helping to build shalom. We believe this can be done more effectively if we are incarnationally present in these communities.