‘I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers…and many persecutions…I am prepared to give my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name.’ (Patrick Confession) We still need ‘Patricks’ to come to Ireland!
Patrick did preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and saw thousands converted including the sons and daughters of Irish Kings! Churches were established, ministers trained and missionaries were sent to those who had not yet heard the gospel.
Today however we have a very different picture. Church planting is ‘a long and difficult process’ but without the immediate fruit. To plant a church in Ireland ‘You need a person who is willing to preach the gospel to a people not willing to hear. You need a person who is willing to persevere when their preaching is not being heard. You need a person willing to be patient with others, just as God was patient with us.’
The Republic of Ireland has an Evangelical population of about 0.5%, one of the lowest in the whole of Europe! While the Reformation took hold of Europe in the 1500’s, Ireland remained largely untouched. With five hundred years of British Rule to follow any gospel proclamation was too bound up with their imperialist masters that it was rejected before it could take root. Throughout, the Established church maintained authority and influence over the people. But that has now changed: ‘Ireland is rapidly becoming more liberal and tolerant. The power and influence of the church has eroded’. The most recent Census (2016) reports that those identifying as ‘No Religion’ has risen by 73.6% over the last five years. On the other hand the fastest growing religions are Orthodox, Hindu and Muslim, while more mainline Christian denominations (Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Apostolic/Pentecostal) all show a decline.
‘I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers…and many persecutions…I am prepared to give my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name.’
Gospel work in this rapidly changing culture is tough but we do see signs of change. Today there are over 240 Evangelical churches with an average attendance of about 80 people, scattered throughout the Republic of Ireland, most with indigenous leadership. However with 72 towns with a population of 5000 or more, or 31 towns with a population of 10,000 or above with no Gospel Witness or Church there is a long way to go!
In one of those towns, following a number of years of Door to Door work, a concerted effort was made to see a church planted in 2008. Far from walking in with a ready made congregation with a purpose built centre, it took the hard slog of one family to move into the area and slowly build contacts: ‘…experience seems to suggest it takes a long time before the ‘natives’ notice these strange new Christians, acknowledge and accept them, and wonder and ask about their faith. Never mind come to faith!’
Organise the worlds best speaker, put on the latest evangelistic course and they won’t come but sit down for a drink, make yourself vulnerable and you will have their ear.
Relationships are essential and they only form after years of building trust by living your lives within the community. Organise the worlds best speaker, put on the latest evangelistic course and they won’t come but sit down for a drink, make yourself vulnerable and you will have their ear. It takes time and the Irish have lots of it! As one church planter reflected we need ‘Someone with a long term approach to building trust. Encouraging the few believers who are part of the church plant team and to build relationships in the area’. Nine years on and that small town is beginning to see the fruit of gospel ministry. People are being reached and one or two are showing genuine interest.
Would you consider joining with a Church planting team? Will you come and invest your life in this needy land? You will be more than welcome!