02 Social Justice & Mission

Social Justice & Mission


At a Glance


Meanwhile, ‘mission’ is commonly defined as proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ.


Active Christians and church leaders agree that there should be equal emphasis on evangelism and justice work.


Younger leaders, however, are more preoccupied with numbers—of commitments to Christ, of weekly attendees and so on.


A majority rates it as at least fairly effective, though they see room for improvement on a global level.


Social Justice and Mission

When UK adults, and non-Christians in particular, hesitate to offer firm conclusions about the Church’s impact or offerings, it indicates that some have a lack of positive ideas about Christianity. Yet in these vague responses there is also an invitation for the Church to better present—and represent—its work to UK society.

‘Social justice’ and ‘mission’ are central ideas in the conversation (or, at times, the debate) about the Church’s contributions. Even four decades since the First International Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, when evangelists Billy Graham and John Stott led a committee to ultimately ‘affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty’, the Church continues to grapple with how to balance these objectives—or how to define these terms in the first place.2

Barna gave church leaders in the UK a list of possible definitions for the key concepts of ‘social justice’ and ‘mission’ and asked them to select the most fitting ones. They usually associate ‘social justice’ with advocacy ‘on behalf of those who are less fortunate’ (27%) or ‘everyone working for the common good of all’ (24%). ‘Mission’ is primarily defined by these church leaders evangelistically, as ‘actively and intentionally proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ wherever you are’ (42%), though more than a quarter (27%) views it as ‘bringing transformation in the world to make it more like the Kingdom of God’. It’s interesting that the possible definition for ‘mission’ which includes justice language (‘an all-encompassing word for social justice, advocacy and relief work’) wasn’t selected by any of the church leaders surveyed, indicating that many church leaders see the two movements as distinct, even if complementary. Indeed, when asked to describe the relationship between mission and justice, three-quarters of church leaders (76%) say they are ‘different, but integral to each other’.


A Profile of UK Church Leaders in this Study


Barna’s sample of church leaders is mostly made up of those with a full-time, paid ministry position (83%), rather than other parttime and / or volunteer roles.


Forty-two percent of church leaders say their congregation is in a town. Three in 10 (30%) minister in an urban setting. Smaller percentages are located in rural (16%) or small cities (11%).


Leaders are distributed across a wide range of denominational affiliations. The most common is Anglican / Church of England (30%)—especially in non-urban settings (37%)—followed by Baptist (14%) and Roman Catholic (10%).


As with practising Christians in general, church leaders are an aging group; more than three-quarters of those surveyed (79%) are 45 and older.


UK Church Leaders Definitions of Social Justice & Mission


Balancing Words and Works

When surveying active Christians, Barna presented set, holistic definitions of ‘social justice’ (‘addressing the physical, social and spiritual needs of another and advocating on their behalf’) and ‘mission’ (‘proclaiming the gospel and demonstrating the transformational love of Christ by caring for others and addressing their physical, social and spiritual needs’).

With these somewhat comparable ideas in mind, active Christians in the UK are most likely to say that social justice and evangelism have equal importance today (45%). Thirty-eight percent of active Christians, however, say mission today is less focused on evangelism and now places more emphasis on social justice. Only about one in 10 (11%) sees the opposite effect: that the Church is increasingly focused on evangelism, rather than on social justice. Overall, their responses are in line with UK church leaders’, who tend to feel social justice has either emerged as a priority (39%) or is on par with evangelism (39%).

Active Christians in the UK Say Mission...

Regardless of the way they describe the balance between proclaiming the gospel in words or in works, active Christians seem to like what they see (or see what they like). A majority of those who detect an emphasis on evangelism (65%) wants churches to focus on evangelism, while a majority of those who recognise an emphasis on social justice (58%) wants churches to prioritise serving people in need.


How the Church Grades Itself

What does success in local mission look like to UK church leaders? Mainly, they assess it by an intangible yet far-reaching metric: ‘the extent of the change or difference made in people’s lives’ (69%). Some church leaders look for something more quantifiable, like the number of people who heard the gospel or learned about Jesus (42%), the number of people helped (35%) or the number of people who decided to follow Jesus after hearing the gospel (32%). More than a quarter of church leaders (27%) regards weekly worship attendance as an indication of local success in mission, though they are less concerned with the number of new people at these services (10%).

Church Leaders' Metrics of Success in Mission by Age Milestones in the UK Church's Work


Younger church leaders are more likely to feel success is reflected in how many people have made a commitment to follow Christ (43% of those under age 45, compared to 29% of church leaders over age 45). It’s possible, considering that fewer people in their generations are Christians, conversion carries a profound sense of urgency for this younger group of pastors.

So, what goals do churches actually work toward, given that some of these signs of success are deeply spiritual and perhaps incalculable?

Nearly two-thirds of UK church leaders (62%) see mission’s ultimate goal as preparing their own members to be more effective witnesses; their objective is to equip their members to share the gospel with others in their everyday lives. A majority also focuses on tracking increases in overall church engagement among members (53%) or interest in outreach opportunities (51%). All three of these outcomes point to church leaders as being most concerned with the growth and spiritual development of their people, more so than the results of the mission work. In other words: Church leaders see mission first and foremost as a discipleship tool.

Active Christians Rate Their Churches' Effectiveness in Mission

They seem less concerned with monitoring congregants’ connection to various international or social justice needs, though they do watch for an increased interest in opportunities for outreach or caring for the poor. However, as this particular question was specific to mission goals, it’s possible these responses simply underscore church leaders’ tendency to relegate ‘mission’ and ‘social justice’ to somewhat different realms, rather than an actual disinterest in other global, social needs.

However UK Church leaders choose to judge outreach outcomes, its laypeople are mostly encouraged by its involvement. A majority of active Christians sees their church as at least fairly effective in its mission work, whether locally (67%) or globally (56%).

What kind of programmes and endeavours do churches in the UK actually offer? In the next chapter, we’ll examine how churches put their priorities into practice.

In Words and Actions

A Q&A with Roy Crowne

Crowne was brought up in London’s East End. Convinced that no one is beyond hope, he spends his life bringing that good news to people in prisons, villages, towns and cities. Crowne worked for Youth for Christ for 28 years, the last 13 years as national director. He then founded HOPE 08 alongside Mike Pilavachi and Andy Hawthorne to mobilise the Church in mission using words and actions. In 2011, he became HOPE’s executive director, seeking to organise the whole Church to work together to make Jesus known in villages, towns and cities throughout the UK.

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