A couple of weeks ago I read Tim Chester’s Unreached: Growing Churches in Working-Class and Deprived Areas. If you work in what may be termed a ‘working class’ context this book is definitely worth a read. Much of it is based on interviews with guys doing some great works in just these kinds of places and their insight is helpful and astute. Within the book are a host of useful ‘diagnostic’ tools including some definitions of terms – what is meant by ‘working class’; helpful stuff on contextualisation; some general characteristics of classes; and some great material on ‘subversive fulfilment’ and points of intersection (you’ll have to read the book to find out what these mean and why they’re important). There’s also some helpful ideas on how to reach a ‘non-book’ culture. All in all lots of good things to glean.
A couple of things to be aware of as you read: First, all of this research is done within churches that would count themselves conservative evangelical. I’ve no beef with that – I count myself with them. But do conservative evangelicals have the monopoly on answers when it comes to successfully reaching working class areas? Is there anything to learn from evangelicals of other stripes? Second, many of the works held up as examples follow a particular model – small church, relationally based, doing life together. In fact the conclusion of the book implies that being faithful in this work will mean you are small. I’m sure that’s not what Tim intended, but that is the message which comes across, which in turn is a (again, unintended) dig at large churches. But there are larger churches, with multiple staff and programs who have an arguably larger footprint on the deprived communities around them. These models aren’t really considered or explored at all which is disappointing. At the level of principle, theory, diagnostics, and tools this book has much that is useful. In terms of practical models for growing churches in these areas it feels a bit thin.