Thank you for your prayerful support over the last month as I preached the gospel in England.
The main reason for travelling was to speak at the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union mission. This mission is held every three years, roughly once in the lifetime of each undergraduate. It is a great thrill to see the students fill and literally overflow the Guildhall in Cambridge each night of a week to hear the claims of Jesus Christ.
We have heard of students acknowledging faith in Christ and many are now signed up for a five-week course “Exploring Christianity”. The follow up work of a mission is critical and so it is important that we continue to pray that God would bless the students at Cambridge and bring many to a living faith in his son.
Having heard the consistent reports of declining numbers attending church and of the deep malaise and imminent extinction of the Church of England, it was a pleasant surprise to see the good health and growing numbers of people at each of the churches we attended. Wherever I preached – in Cambridge, Hull, Sheffield, Durham, Oxford, and London – I was speaking to churches packed with young adults.
In Oxford for example, a capacious church building had only one vacant seat at 11am, and that was the seat I vacated to go to the pulpit. Because of the growing number of people attending this parish church, there were four gatherings on the Sunday we were there. I preached at three of these and the building was never less than two-thirds full. Apparently, it is like this every week during university term time. This is not the only growing church in the city, for Oxford is full of churches and other parishes have large congregations as well.
While it may be fashionable to attend church in places like Oxford and Cambridge, most people speak of dismal church attendances in The North. But at the little suburban church in Hull where I preached, more than 500 people attended. There was a widespread of ages and ‘classes’ amongst these congregations. The Church in Sheffield is so full that it has started planting daughter churches around the city. This pattern of church planting was common to all the congregations that we attended.
The statistics of decline in the Church of England are a matter of real concern. Across England fewer people express any desire to attend or be involved in the regular fellowship of God’s people. Those who are still attending are older than the average of the population. The combination of declining numbers and increasing age gives a very bleak forecast for the future.
This makes the churches that we attended all the more remarkable. Instead of dwindling numbers and increasing average age – there were increasing number attending and a wide range of ages including especially young adults and young families.
What these churches had in common was an unswerving commitment to preaching the word of God. They were given to evangelism and serious Bible study amongst the members. They required high commitment from their members, and the highest level of probity of their clergy. They were prayerful congregations who trust that God will bless their endeavours in his name. They are churches that plant daughter churches and send young men and women into training for ministry.
The most important other thing that they have in common is the clear blessing of God on their ministry of reaching English people with the gospel of our Lord and Saviour.