I am the pastor of a small urban church in the middle of one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the South West of England.

Life expectancy here is ten years lower than other parts of the city I live in. 48% of children who arrive at the local primary school are classed as being SEN. 50% of children here are classed as obese, the highest rate in Devon.

We have 6 small churches in the area, and in the particular area I am in we have 3, and one of those no longer meets on a Sunday. If things carry on we will have no churches in this area in 5-10 years. That makes this area an unreached people group.

Christians do not live here, they do not serve here and they do not worship here.

Serve here – the local salvation army hostel is in the heart of our community, it offers beds for the homeless and an opportunity to move on, through training and a roof to start from. It has a Christian ethos but almost no Christian staff. Christians don’t seem to be interested in working here.

Live here – some Christians have moved in, but most Christians who retire to the south-west, move into the South Hams or Cornwall, we as a church do not have a single recently retired person in our congregation. Recently retired people are often the life blood of churches, because they are often rich in time and energy.

Worship here – when Christians do move here, they tend not to choose local churches, preferring to go to city centre churches, where they can hide rather than serve. There are huge resources being ploughed into city-centre churches with new church “plants”, but sadly these often drain Christians from the margins of cities, where they are most needed. My experience is that local people will not travel to go anywhere, let alone church! Church has to come to them, it won’t work the other way around.

There are positives to our little church; it is a great community, we know each and we get one well. We can experiment with different ways of doing church and it is a creative place to be. 80% of our church are under 50. Millennials are passionate about the environment and social justice, and our church reflects that passion. However, they are inexperienced and often work and social lives mean they cannot commit as they would like, they are sadly time and money poor!

My fear is that over the next ten years churches like mine will die, while middle-class/suburban churches will become the norm. Does that matter? Yes, I think it does; Jesus was born into the margins, grew up in the margins, lived his life in the margins.

The Gospel started into margins of Galilee and moved to Jerusalem, it then started in the margins of Jerusalem and moved to the centre in Rome. If people want to see a revival, the place to begin is not at the centre and work out, that is not how the Gospel works, but to start at the margins and work in.

There are a lot of church resources being ploughed into the centre, but maybe those resources are being wasted, maybe if we are really going to impact our nation, those resources need to be poured into the margins?


Michael Shaw

20 years ago Michael Shaw was the UK Marketing Manager for a large multinational software company, with a house in Surrey. He gave it all up to live by faith and is now a Baptist Minister in Devonport, one of the most deprived areas of the South-West of England.