It is easy to see small churches and read a narrative of decline. The lived reality is that, very frequently, small congregations have a disproportionate effect within their local communities. Small groups of people act as salt and light, offering transformation in the light of Christ to the communities they serve. In the quantitative element of this research, we found URC respondents listing “community outreach” as their highest priority, even above pastoral care of their own members. In towns, villages and cities across the three nations, the URC is in partnership with many others at local level, meeting community needs, and serving Christ as it serves those beyond its walls. (Foreword. Page 8)
Popular perspectives of historic denominations are that they represent an overwhelmingly older demographic. There is much truth in this. But again, behind that reality lies something more complex. The URC is a place where the voices of children and young people are heard, and actively influence the decision-making of all the governing councils of the church. Just as the URC places service to the local community above meeting the needs of its own members, its members, who are of an older demographic, place attending to the voices of young people centrally within the decision-making processes of the church.
In the end, then, the Church’s place in a changing religious landscape is not solely understood by grasping the right statistics or the high-level demographic changes, but by The United Reformed Church the way it acts on the ground. This report illustrates that the human face of the Church in modern Britain is found locally, as it is called to love its neighbour as itself.
As came through in the qualitative and the quantitative elements of the research, a clear strength of the URC is its vibrant activism or, as one survey respondent put it, “its unrelenting generosity to the local community”. All the churches we visited as part of the research had at least one project or initiative of building relationship with, and serving, its local community. In many cases, despite their small size, churches were involved in multiple projects, engaging a variety of groups, and responding to a variety of needs. (Aspects of Flourishing 1. Page 15.)
Our mission is to be out there, doing the work, and maintaining a place of welcome, friendship, love and support, where we talk honestly about things and where we share as much as we can of our life and faith, and our assets of time, money, and gifts. The marks of successful community outreach that we came across include (1) intentionally listening to the needs of the community; (2) recognising the assets of the community; (3) creatively deploying the assets of the congregation, and (4) working as much as possible in partnership with the community, in a model of mutual, rather than unidirectional service (Aspects of Flourishing 1. Page 20).
Chine McDonald (Director, Theos). Rev. Dr. John Bradbury (General Secretary, United Reformed Church.