Latest News

Church growth blogs

Responding to the challenge of the ‘Client to Christian dilemma’

Case study on St Andrews Clubmoor taken from the 2016 report on developing church growth in deprived areas.

God calls the church to be a sign and foretaste of his coming kingdom and an instrument by which more of the reality of the kingdom would be realised here on the earth.
Lesslie Newbigin

St Andrew’s, Clubmoor is in a very deprived area of Liverpool. On indices of multiple deprivation, 6.5% of the ward in the 1% most deprived nationally and a further 65% in the 5% of most deprived nationally.

St Andrew’s Church is supported by and works closely with the well-established charity St Andrew’s Community Network, set up in 2003 to tackle poverty in the local area.

Development funding from the Church Commissioners was granted in 2012 to bring the mission and this practical work closer together by developing principles, practices and programmes to help move people along their faith journey.

Community pastors

The funding paid for two community pastors providing intensive resource towards missional communities, the equipping and training of staff and volunteers, to research and share learning, and to work towards equipping of other churches locally. Over the two years the charity expanded and developed its social action work significantly and, while some Missional Communities closed, new ones were started.

A range of outreach activities include Celebrate Recovery, family fun days, Christmas programme, ‘Client to Christian’ evangelism and mission training, women’s and men’s breakfasts and community film nights.

All of these social settings provided a bridge for community members and people who had accessed support services through the Network to hear the gospel in an accessible way.

They sit alongside the community support activities – e.g. a well-used Foodbank (20,000 people supported in three years), a debt advice service (900 cases per year), and complex mental health work including depression support groups.

What is church for you?

Many clients see the Missional Communities as ‘church’ and while the Missional Communities are small, they provide an alternative form of church – where Church is defined as gatherings of people exploring faith.

However, there was very little growth in the congregation at St Andrew’s congregation there, continues to fluctuate – largely reflecting the challenges faced by those supported by the network.

The charity continues to grow and deliver activities that meet people at a point of need. This continues to attract financial support in the form of grants and clearly develops a wider mission field.

What is apparent from the project is that few people made a transition from being a ‘client’. i.e. someone who receives support through the charity, into making a faith commitment.

The only area where this happened is through volunteering – where clients go on to work with the organisation and this relationship is then framed differently.

Church growth has happened, but this has largely been through Missional Communities or the greater focus that the church has put on mission.

This is clearly a complex issue. One the one hand, social action models kingdom work; it builds the reputation and standing of St Andrew’s in the community, and provides avenues for people to get involved, exercise leadership and make a community contribution.

One the other, tensions exist between the social objectives of the charity (and its workers) and the community pastors about how to introduce faith safely and ethically, or how to build relationships with ‘clients’ beyond the service that is being provided.

St Andrew’s experience also indicates that those who are prepared to engage with faith as well as practical support may have made more progress along their practical recovery.
The implication is that engaging with faith may be part of the long term success in support for debt, addiction, food insecurity, or mental health recovery.

Lessons from St Andrew’s Clubmoor

  • Missional Communities are Church for many
  • Significant social action provides opportunities to model Christ-centred compassion for the most vulnerable, and provides avenues for greater involvement.
  • The direct evangelism strategy that seeks to move people from ‘client’ to ‘Christian’ is not universally effective and warrants greater investigation.
  • The financially self-sustaining charity with ability to attract inward investment helps to support the Church in its ministry
  • Church and Charity staff work closely together – this creates pathways to Church for those who want to take it

< Back to Mission Network News