05 Conclusion



A New Conversation About Social Justice and Mission


A significant faction of today’s general population in the UK looks at the Church and wonders: ‘What’s the point?’ A persuasive response might be to point to the many social justice and mission activities that churches are undertaking. In fact, the good that Christians do in the UK and around the world is well-documented, but apparently not well-understood. Why?

One reason may be that those within churches—leaders and attendees— seem to tell the story of the Church in different ways. Even within these specific groups, ideas about how to minister to and serve others are further diffused, often across generations. Though some broader beliefs may be shared (take heart: spiritual growth is still widely seen as essential to the Church’s mission!), some of the discussions in or surrounding the Church’s role in social action have broken down with time—or seem to be missing altogether.

As ministries consider how to better communicate and fulfil a call to social justice and mission, this study points to a few relationships that could use nurturing:


Between Christians and Non-Christians

In spite of significant evidence—in this report and elsewhere—that the Church in the UK is generous and engaged in a range of needs, a sizeable percentage of the population is unsure or sceptical of its impact. And as rates of Christianity decline in the UK, so does the likelihood of meaningful and positive encounters with people of faith—like a recent headline from The Guardian pronounces, ‘Christianity as default is gone’.6 But these interfaith connections can be as powerful as they are rare. For instance, Barna’s data shows public perceptions of individual Christians tend to be more favourable than perceptions of the UK Church at-large. Maybe, as the saying goes, it’s hard to hate up-close. Individual churchgoers have organic opportunities to influence how others view the faith through direct, daily interactions that may elude church leaders or congregations as a whole. Active Christians who are committed to social justice and mission activities not only help improve the lives of others, but could help improve the reputation of the Church.


Between Generations

The proportion of Christians is decreasing not only generally, but by generation— meaning, the UK Church is an aging community, and young Christians and church leaders have fewer peers in the faith.

As a result, this study finds that some of the central differences across each sample seem to be correlated with generational divides. A UK adult’s age might colour their opinion of Christian institutions—after all, one in five individuals between ages 18 and 34 doesn’t even know how to describe the Church. A leader’s age is linked with the strategies and activities that drive churches; for instance, many newer leaders exhibit a heightened urgency around evangelism, outreach and conversion. A churchgoer’s age could inform their decisions to donate or get involved, as seen in older Christians’ greater passion for disaster relief or religious freedom and younger Christians’ greater empathy for political concerns like child rights or the refugee crisis.

Because of these and multiple other dissimilarities among age groups, UK church leaders need to embrace an intentionally multigenerational message. Are strategies for campaigns and partnerships cognisant of both older and younger church members’ interests—where they align, as well as where they deviate? How does a church’s local presence speak to the needs of emerging generations who lack positive paradigms of Christianity? How are younger churchgoers included and raised up to carry on the legacy of the Church—and can elders in the congregation be useful in that mentorship effort? Do programmes and departments promote intergenerational community by partnering people of different ages around common areas of passion, perhaps even ones that bridge other political or cultural divides?


Between Church Leaders and Their Congregants

The active Christians in this study are just that: highly active and invested in their churches. Their responses offer an authentic glimpse of the people who are faithful to their faith community, and thus merit close consideration— especially because, at times, they differ profoundly from those of church leaders.

For example, active Christians indicate that they still see discipleship as a primary function of the Church—which is encouraging for church leaders, who typically see mission through the lens of discipleship, but may also worry their spiritual instruction is less relevant in an increasingly irreligious era. At the same time, active Christians are also far more likely than their leaders to prioritise aiding people in need, as well as supporting global poverty alleviation or participating in advocacy. The desire for this ‘both / and’ balance—to be both discipled for spiritual growth and equipped for social action—should guide church leaders discerning how to effectively use their voices and direct attention and resources. There’s a good chance that those attending churches are less likely than those leading churches to draw stark lines between what constitutes ‘social justice’ or ‘mission’.


Between the Church and Charities

Finally, let’s look at the relationship between UK churches and charities. This partnership, which is already a familiar one, could help address the trust deficit facing both the Church and charities, if executed well. This symbiotic exchange helps churches be more effective in accomplishing their expressed social justice goals, while also bolstering organisations that, as church leaders see it, do a greater share of the work than they should have to. Joining forces with a credible organisation allows church leaders to deepen their involvement in demonstrated priorities (like local poverty), as well as expand their focus to issues that may require additional, on-the-ground expertise (like overseas emergencies or refugee assistance). A large majority of UK church leaders sees value in partnering with a charity (usually, a Christian one respected in its sector).

Church leaders should anticipate that these alliances will be wellregarded by those within their churches as well: Active Christians are eager to give to a range of social justice causes and are enthusiastic about financially supporting both their churches and charities. Calling public attention to close collaboration with authorities in the field also couldn’t hurt a church’s credibility in the eyes of the general population, who need some convincing that backing church-led campaigns will be worth their while.


There might be many incentives and positive outcomes for the UK church that takes social justice seriously. But, ultimately, there is scriptural precedent for its engagement as well. As Dr. Paula Gooder mentions in her interview on page 21, the most important question to ask is, ‘Why do Christians do what they do’? Whatever a church’s path forward, it should be paved in prayer—an activity that Christians consider to be crucial in participating in global mission.

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Partners for the Future

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Appendix A - Data Tables

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