Many evangelical churches in the UK have a huge heritage, often dated back to over 100 years.
The 18th century saw a number of major evangelical revivals, not least of which was the Brethren Movement. Although the best-known cases were in Oxford University, Dublin and Plymouth (from which it got its name “Plymouth Brethren”), there were many small groups of believers gathering out of different denominations in villages and towns across the nation. These groups enjoyed the freedom of getting back to New Testament Christianity and the joy of seeing many come to faith. Often with these companies or assemblies of believers (as they still like to call themselves), there was an amazing work among children. Some of the older folk in the assemblies still recall hundreds of children being collected from local estates and enjoying bible teaching and activities in Sunday schools. It is incredible that most modest gospel hall and chapels were able to accommodate such numbers. Many of the buildings that Church Growth Trust holds, stewarding them on a long-term basis and keeping them in Gospel use, are gospel halls which can seat in the main worship area 60-100 people. This was fine where assemblies did not employ church workers (leadership was with elders who were in full-time secular employment) and where the vision was to plant a new assembly when numbers reached 50-60. However many modern evangelical churches would expect to grow the congregation to at least 100, partly to make it sustainable when employing a pastor. Buildings therefore often need to be enlarged to enable growth.
One hundred or even 50 years ago most of the population had some connection with church and may also have been familiar with the Gospel from school assemblies. There were also very few alternative Sunday activities and so parents were happy to send their children to Sunday school, both for the moral teaching and to entertain them. Today churches have huge competition from sports, entertainment and shopping. Also, two or three generations of families have no church connections, with children only knowing the name of Jesus as a swear word, and the rise of secularism and atheism, often presenting the church as out of date and anti-freedom, mean churches cannot expect people to come through their doors in the way they did 100 years ago.
To read more of this interview click on our Foundations magazine below and you can continue on pages 7&8