In a speech at the annual New Wine festival, Bishop Philip North, Bishop of Burnley in the north-west England diocese of Blackburn, says that that the church has forgotten England’s poor and working class areas.
In his speech, North said that the Church’s “mission approach…is almost entirely focused on the needs and aspirations of the wealthy. Rather than speaking good news to the poor, we are complicit in the abandonment of the poor.”
“For the past 25 years I have been delighted to see a vast and ever growing industry of evangelism that now sets the pace in the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is passionate about evangelism and has made it one of his major priorities, backed up with initiatives such as ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ Dioceses almost all have strong growth strategies in place. The Church Commissioners have released £100m in assets to invest in mission initiatives. Planting new congregations has become an industry in itself, even having its own bishop and backed up by the work of New Wine, HTB [Holy Trinity, Brompton], Fresh Expressions, Messy Church and many others.
“We have had over two decades of evangelical ascendency and the majority of senior leaders will now emphasise mission and evangelism above anything else. New evangelistic resources appear on the scene all the time, countless new para-church groups and agencies appear with fresh ideas or new materials. We massively emphasise discipleship to try equip existing Christians to share faith more successfully. I could go on and on. This is a vast and ever-growing industry.
“And what has been the impact? Accelerated decline. In 2001, according to census data, 71 per cent of the UK population identified themselves as Christian. In just ten years, that figure had dropped to 59 per cent. And the trend continues.”
He said: “We are all trying massively hard to renew the Church. We are working like crazy, we are praying like mad, we are trying every new idea under the sun. Yet the longed-for renewal does not seem to come. In fact decline just seems to speed up. Why? Why are we struggling so much?
“I want to suggest that the answer is quite a straightforward one. It’s because we have forgotten the poor.
The Telegraph reports that he called on an approach that specifically targets less wealthy areas.
“I am astonished at the number of people Jesus is calling to plant new churches as long as they are in Zones 1 and 2 of the London transport system.”
He added: “If you feel called to plant, we need you on the outer estates, we need you in our northern towns, we need you in areas where a majority of people come from other world faiths, we need you in those areas where the trendy coffee shops and artisanal bakers are hard to find.
Full speech here.