Reaching the Unreached

unreachedA 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.

3 Replies to “Reaching the Unreached”

  1. Thanks for this Martin.

    I’m now working for a city church in a small city in South Africa. We have a lot of very needy people in area, and a lot of poverty.

    Do you think this book would be a helpful read within this context, or is more towards “British working class”?

    1. Hi Ryan. Yes, I still think the book would be very useful to you. Lots of the things said, while written from a UK context, are generic enough to be transferable. Definitely worth checking it out. Martin

  2. A good review Martin, I read it earlier this year and found it useful -for our context. I think the reason there’s a focus on the smaller situation is probably linked to the focus on planting/new start contexts. The expectation is set for a tough time because it often is pioneering work. You may not grow quickly because young don’t get the extra uplift of transfer growth -however relational links mean that once one person is interested they seem to bring others along with them. There’s probably a read across to larger churches in that really getting into an estate might not mean a new small church but you are going to find focused work in a particular area so that it is actually in the community -e.g. a small group/missional community. Have a look at Sunbridge Road Mission’s website in Bradford. Historically a large church with a big impact on working class areas, it isn’t as big as it was -lost a lot of people in the 90s but has done a lot of pioneering work over the last 10 years including a meal reaching prostitutes, Hope House as a base in a particular community etc. If you can get the history its fascinating (my bias is it’s where I grew up) -independent Methodist roots so slightly different perspective

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