In this article, Freddy Hedley examines an article from the Group for Evangelisation (GfE).
One of the most challenging and yet most open opportunities for mission, church planting and fresh expressions of church for many years has been the context of new housing areas. These new housing estates provide a unique short-term window of mission opportunity for five years or so. This is because: a) Those having major change in their lives are most open to new things, including the gospel, and so there is a whole population more receptive to evangelism; and b) New housing areas notoriously lack community so that any good ‘community in mission’ can be the one place new arrivals can find it!
There have been some notable successes in church planting into new housing estates over the decades. Some have been inter-church or ecumenical, but Local Ecumenical Projects (LEPs) present the greatest challenge to start and stay mission-centred.
These developments range from estates to whole new towns, where there is no church presence and no history of church involvement (either to build on or to hold you back!). They are new harvest fields that are just as important in our changing society as the increasing focus on network planting. And yet there is very little in the way of resources or supporting material to help missionary activity in these crucial areas.
In July 2009 the Group for Evangelism (GfE), in partnership with Churches Together in England (CTE), have released a paper that explores some of what is happening on the ground, giving some stories from those involved in this mission context, highlighting the opportunities, challenges and key issues that are faced and outlining a series of helpful resource sources for those who are either actively involved or feel call to reach out to new housing areas. In particular, in their email which sent this paper round, they talk of how the current difficult financial climate is an important time for taking stock of where our projects are up to:
“During this time when many of the new housing developments are on hold, at CTE we are scoping where developments are planned and what the state of the project is at present. This is a time when the church can re-assess, pray and plan ahead.”
In this short web space we want to outline in brief some of their key findings and to encourage you to read their paper in full (itself only short at two A4 pages) for the stories and resources they have identified. You can access the paper here.
Opportunity, Challenge and Issues
In addition to the new housing areas that have already been built in the last twenty or so years, the government has called for three million further new homes to be built in the coming years. So this is a mission context that is not going to plateau but continue to grow. Immediate key issues and challenges that arise from this opportunity include where and how these will emerge and what the Christian response should be – for example, protest or welcome? GfE highlight this and several other issues and challenges they have observed from the experience on the ground so far. These are outlined in the paper as:
- Consequences of the credit crunch and the resulting implications for Christian projects already underway when no new buildings are going up;
- Questions of best ‘model’ regarding evangelisation, e.g. church planting vis-à-vis fresh expressions networks;
- Addressing the perennial question: ‘To build or not to build’ a church, especially in larger new housing developments;
- Facing the challenge of churches to work together in partnership when seeking to share the good news of Jesus Christ;
- Answering questions of how to engage with evangelisation where there is no community and, ‘How to create community’ as an expression of ‘good news’;
- How to work best when planning processes and partnerships are long and complicated, while the finance needed for building can be daunting;
- Overcoming the challenge of churches often having too few people resources to pioneer and maintain a new Christian ‘presence’;
- Once started, maintaining and growing the work to make it sustainable and effective in further evangelisation.
Research and the growing wealth of available testimonies suggest that these are the crucial challenges and issues which must be addressed for any mission involvement, church plant or fresh expression of church to be well planned, relevant and fruitful. For those who find themselves discerning whether a new housing area is a mission field God is calling them to, we would recommend that time is taken as a team to consider these together; and also to read the GfE paper in full directly, being encouraged by the stories from what is a growing network of pioneers and accessing the websites and other resources they have identified as being most helpful.