04 Partners for the Future

Partners for the Future


Supply and Demand


There are a handful of global and local causes in which the UK public may welcome—or even collaborate with—the Church’s work. How do these align with the activities and campaigns UK church leaders say they embrace? For the most part, congregations’ level and variety of engagement is exceeding expectations. However, when it comes to some of the pressing or political matters of the day, there appear to be gaps in Christian leadership.

Supply and Demand 1Supply and Demand 2


At a Glance


Most church leaders believe mission work will also be increasingly effective in the future.


With the exception of local volunteering, UK church leaders rarely place primary responsibility for justice needs on those in the Church.


At the core of these strategies is financial partnership with Christian organisations that are respected in their sector.


UK adults in general, and non-Christians especially, are more hesitant to get involved with campaigns run by a Christian church.


Partners for the Future

Whose job is social justice?

It’s a big question—one that church leaders in the UK wrestle to answer. And, at this time, they don’t plan on the Church playing an outsize role in attending to society’s ills and injustices. But this report reveals they are open to partnering with capable charities and responding to the prodding of their empathetic churchgoers, so it’s possible the job description of the Church in the UK may continue to shift.


Taking Turns: Who is Responsible for What?

Barna’s survey presented UK church leaders with broad categories of local and global need and then asked them: Who is responsible for addressing each?

Church leaders designate community volunteering and support (49% local, 57% global) and advocacy work (36% local, 40% global) as tasks that should be shared equally by all individuals. They look first to the government when it comes to relief for large-scale problems like poverty (50% local, 59% global) or natural disasters (58% local, 66% global).

Church leaders hope members of the Church play at least some part in many social justice causes, especially in the UK. Almost half (47%) prefer that Christians take the lead in local volunteering, and about one in four says they are accountable for advocacy work (27%) and helping the poor (23%) in their own region. Globally, they also think Christians should be some of the crucial players in community support (41%) and policy changes (21%). These UK perspectives are similar to those of church leaders in the U.S.: In a study commissioned by Compassion International, Barna found that, while American pastors see international poverty primarily as a government responsibility (30%), they still want the Church to lead in caring for the poor globally (26%) and especially locally (34%).4

Church leaders place only a moderate burden on charities, usually for causes like political advocacy (23% local, 20% global), poverty alleviation (23% local, 19% global) and disaster relief (22% local, 28% global). This is true even of specifically Christian charities. Church leaders seem to welcome but not necessarily depend on the leadership of faith-based organisations in advocacy (26% local, 27% global), global disaster relief (21%) and helping the poor (18% local, 20% global).

While church leaders primarily task the government or individuals for any needs of the public, they do want to have a presence in political advocacy (35% local, 27% global) and embrace an obligation in community support (33% local, 26% global). These responses may reflect church leaders’ impression, mentioned earlier, that their ultimate missional objective is to equip the individual Christians in their congregation.

Of course, all of this pertains to how UK church leaders prefer the various societal duties be distributed. After asking church leaders who they see as most responsible for certain issues, Barna then asked them to identify who actually does the most to address them. Their responses suggest they perceive some discrepancies between who should and who does care for needs in the UK and beyond.

For instance, across the board, church leaders assume both secular and Christian charities are doing a greater proportion of the work than they should have to. Meanwhile, there are a few areas where they leave room for politicians and individual citizens to step up. Church leaders think those in their own field are meeting expectations, though they may want clergy to be even more active and influential in political advocacy. As mentioned earlier in this report, the general public is more prone to see the Church as overinvolved in politics, so this may be a tension that church leaders will have to be mindful of as they determine when and how to use their voice on politically charged issues.

To church leaders, poverty presents one of the greatest leadership gaps. Many recognise charities (50% local, 58% global), including Christian ones (39% local, 47% global), working hard in the trenches of poverty alleviation. As mentioned earlier, however, a majority of church leaders thinks governments should bear primary responsibility in this area. It’s likely that church leaders still welcome this effort from charities, but simply want political powers to assist further.

There is another explicitly spiritual task in which, notably, church leaders are unlikely to invite the involvement of Christian charities: local evangelism. Sharing the gospel in the UK is something they feel is best left to individual Christians (72%) and church leaders (68%), rather than faith-based organisations (6%).


Calling in Reinforcements: Opinions of Charity Partners

Public trust in charities isn’t necessarily a guarantee and has been particularly fraught in recent years.5 But many UK church leaders identify these groups as valuable allies. For the most part, church leaders would rather partner with an established charity than attempt to start their own independent mission programme (79%). This is especially true of smaller churches, whose eagerness likely stems from a greater need for the capacity and resources that charities can provide. The majority of church leaders (54% ‘strongly’ + 34% ‘somewhat’) prefers to work alongside charities with a Christian identity rather than with secular aid organisations, though they are open to looking beyond their own denomination.

Finding individual mission partners to support seems to be a more relational, local decision for churches; half of leaders (49%) agree at least somewhat that these connections should come from within their church, rather than a mission organisation.

Pastors First Choices for Charity Partnerships

Though church leaders want organisational partners that share their religious beliefs, they support Christian charities that partner with nonChristian organisations (73% ‘definitely’ + ‘probably’) or work in the secular sector (92% ‘definitely’ + ‘probably’). This may be something that church leaders look for when choosing partners in social justice and mission work: a capable charity that they trust to uphold their Christian values and to maintain credible, strategic connections in the field-at-large.

Nearly all churches (92%) do in fact support a Christian charity already, and church leaders believe the rest of their faith community—whether other churches (88%), individual Christians (78%) or denominations (65%)— should also consider affiliating with faith-based organisations.

Is it Appropriate for a Christian Charity to Work...


How UK Church Leaders Delegate Social Justice

Which group Should be Responsible For...


The Connections that Drive Mission

A Q&A with Dr. Krish Kandiah

Dr. Kandiah is the founding director of Home for Good, a charity seeking to find loving homes for children in the care system. His latest book, God Is Stranger, examines radical hospitality as a route to intimacy with God.

Global Strategies

Nearly three-quarters of church leaders (72%) say their church has a clearly defined strategy for supporting mission. What do they see as their steps forward?

When active Christians and church leaders are asked to identify the three primary ways they think their churches should engage, the top response is yet another endorsement of charity partners: financial support of organisations working in mission and social justice (79% and 75%, respectively). Majorities (66% and 53%, respectively) also mention educating the congregation on issues relating to global mission as a starting point.

For some activities, active Christians are more keen than their leaders to get involved. For instance, regular prayer for global mission is a high priority for active Christians, but much less so for church leaders (61% and 44%, respectively). Interestingly, half of church leaders who say their church is ‘very’ effective in mission (50%) list prayer as one of the top ways they participate in global mission. Overall, church leaders should take note that their congregants want to engage in corporate prayer for the world’s needs and injustices, and this spiritual contribution could also be a catalysing activity.

Active Christians also place greater emphasis on approaching global mission through advocacy (45%, compared to 26% of church leaders). This particular activity, often framed within social justice work, may feel like a public conflict for church leaders. As this study also shows, few UK adults, especially non-Christians, see political advocacy as a task for the Church to undertake, and there is rarely easy agreement on the best policies that could improve society. Regardless of whether churches should get involved in a more formal way in advocacy, active Christians may be inclined to take it upon themselves: After all, they are more likely than church leaders to say they want members to be encouraged to do global mission activities on their own (38%, compared to 21% of church leaders).

Sending members to serve abroad for short periods of time is lower on the list of priorities for both active Christians and church leaders, and those who do want to organise these ventures prefer that it be handled internally, without the external help of a Christian charity. As this study has mentioned repeatedly, the larger the church, the more engaged they are likely to be in this kind of costly endeavour: Church leaders of congregations with 100 or more people are twice as likely to include mission trips in their strategy (28%, compared to 10% of smaller churches).

A Blueprint for Global Impact


How UK Christians Give

Though UK church leaders are clearly amenable to charity partners and rely on them in strategies for global justice and mission, they are also protective of their church funding. A solid majority of UK church leaders (69%) believes that every member should give at least some amount of money to the church, and they have a firm conviction that this generosity cannot be treated as interchangeable with other faith-based charity donations. Three in five church leaders (61%) feel (including 35 percent ‘strongly’ so) that it would be unacceptable for a church member to give to a Christian charity instead of their own church. Leaders of churches who work with charities are likely not opposed to churchgoers’ interest in supporting the organisation, but wish for it to not detract from the potential of their church’s partnership (or from their weekly offering in general).

These church leaders need not worry, as the survey shows that very few active Christians give either only to their church (3%) or only to charities (2%). Instead, active Christians usually either favour the Church with their giving or give equally to both church and Christian organisations. This reflects a theme in other Barna studies: Compassionate and generous individuals rarely limit their focus to one area or cause. Instead, the more they care, the more they care.

Overall, nine of 10 active Christians (90%) indicate that they make some financial offering to their church, even when they also donate to charities. About one in five (22%) distributes their giving equally, while roughly half contribute to their church primarily (48%).

Distributing Donations

Younger active Christians are actually even more likely to direct their generosity toward the Church; half of those under age 45 (52%) give mostly to their church and some to charity. Many older active Christians strike this particular balance (46%), but they are also more likely to split their donations equally between their local church and Christian causes (25% of those over 45, compared to 13% of younger Christians).

According to church leaders, the main opportunity for Christians to donate money or goods through their church is the weekly offering (89%). Other common options include collections for food or clothing banks (86%), the church’s specific activities or ministries (79%), global (78%) or local (56%) natural disasters, as well as global (71%) or local (61%) mission organisations.

Another popular avenue of Christian giving is child sponsorship. Half of active Christians have sponsored a child through a charity, either presently (25%) or at some point in the past (26%). Even if they don’t participate, most active Christians (99%) are familiar with this model of helping children in need.

Opportunities for Church Members to Donate Goods and/or Money

Beyond financial giving, churches encourage individual generosity through volunteering. Church leaders refer most to volunteer opportunities within the church’s own ministries, such as youth group (88%) or in producing main services (88%), but they also direct volunteers toward community outreach activities (83%) or serving people in need (78%). Eighty-one percent of church leaders report that church members initiate volunteering opportunities themselves—an encouraging statistic revealing not only the drive of Christians, but also churches’ awareness of the concerns of their congregations even beyond existing activities or ministries.

Opportunities for Churchgoers to Serve Others or Volunteer


Generosity: From the Pulpit

Church leaders believe the most important reason that Christians should be generous is to reflect God’s own character, love (42%) and generosity (35%). A majority of them considers their own church to be generous (13% ‘extremely’ + 54% ‘very’), and, accordingly, they make sure their congregants hear about the subject on a consistent basis.

Regular church attenders are being reminded at least occasionally of a Christian duty to give to and serve others. Nearly all church leaders (94%) say that they or another person gave a sermon within the last year on practising generosity with personal resources (e.g., time, money and goods). One in three (34%) says such a sermon was shared within the past month. Older church leaders are even more likely to provide teaching about giving; 35 percent of church leaders 45 and older, compared to one-quarter of younger church leaders (27%), say this has been covered in the past month.

A majority of church leaders also reports delivering sermons that include biblical perspectives of addressing poverty in the past six months (61%), if not more often (22% in the past month). The topic of poverty surfaces frequently in larger churches: In churches of 100 or more people, more than half of church leaders (55%) say someone has discussed poverty from the pulpit within the past three months. In smaller churches, 37 percent of church leaders report this frequency. It’s possible that bigger congregations have more resources to give, more projects and programmes to discuss or more donors and volunteers to engage.


Making a Case to Unlikely Allies

In reviewing the data, it appears there’s a promising line-up of church leaders, Christians and faith-based groups intent on working together to enact justice around the world, on behalf of the Church in the UK. But those outside of this group might require some extra convincing.

One in three UK adults (33%) says they would not get involved with any activity or campaign run by a Christian church—no matter the cause or social issue being addressed. Another one in five adults in the UK (20%) is simply unsure if they’d support a church-organised project. Among non-Christians, the percentage of those who are either opposed to or unclear on partnering with churches climbs to two-thirds (47% would not, 20% are unsure).Lack of Public Confidence in UK Churches as Partners

The half of UK adults who are willing to support a cause alongside a church have vulnerable or poor populations at the front of their minds. Similar proportions say they would join in with a church to address local poverty through food banks, debt relief or combating homelessness (28%, including 21% of non-Christians) or to support the elderly, those with poor mental health or people with disabilities (28%, including 21% of non-Christians). One in five (19%) would help churches in championing child rights.

Presently, the outlook for multi-faith or interfaith initiatives in the increasingly secular context of the UK is bleak. Church leaders face a challenge to communicate the Church’s calling and work to a sceptical public, especially the significant portion who have not yet made up their mind on whether they would associate with Christians’ justice and mission work.

Then and Now - UK Church Leaders Perceive a Shift Toward Social Justice

As the general population contemplates the Church’s value to these causes, church leaders are still arriving at—and in some cases perhaps correcting—their own theories of how their churches should go out into the world. For example, looking at UK church leaders’ descriptions of the relationship between social justice and evangelism over time, church leaders sense there’s been a significant shift toward justice in the past decade. Now, they anticipate a future in which social justice and evangelism are both crucial in accomplishing the Church’s mission—an affirmation of active Christians’ belief that, in mission, these aims should have equal importance.

To UK church leaders, the forecast is favourable. They predict the Church’s efforts will only improve; more than half (53%) say mission work will become more effective in the future. Additionally, the church leaders who embrace an equal emphasis on social justice and evangelism are even more optimistic that this particular approach is the right track (63%).

Even as the general population in the UK sorts through uncertain impressions of faith and its institutions, the Church shows signs of burgeoning confidence, benevolence and partnership. Perhaps in time the clarity of these Christians and their leaders will be catching.

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