Duncan Woods is the Senior Minister of Trinity Church Sunderland. Duncan trained in theological and pastoral studies at Oak Hill College in London. Prior to this he worked as a teacher, studied at Moore Theological College in Sydney and was the Twenties worker at Christchurch Durham. Duncan is married to Laura and they have four lively boys, Elliot, Theo, Dominic and Simeon.
A while back we did some number crunching for the gospel needs of Sunderland and its surrounding area. Sunderland has a population of around 280,000 people. If just 1% of the population were in evangelical churches of 80-100 people there would need to be around 30 gospel churches. If only we had that many! And that is just 1% of the population.
Of course, the needs are great everywhere and we should shy away from an attitude that asserts a tougher gig is more akin to faithfulness. Nevertheless, the bare facts suggest that much of the north of England is poorly served when it comes to faithful evangelical churches trying hard to connect with the culture around them. Of course, the north of England is not monochrome but there is more than a grain of truth in the point that evangelical influence in the UK tends to match the places of influence – which tend to be down south.
the north of England is poorly served when it comes to faithful evangelical churches trying hard to connect with the culture around them
The great encouragement is that as the world sees the opportunity to regenerate a northern powerhouse we can be sure the Lord is ahead of the world! Speaking on behalf of just the north east there are small but exciting developments (which are more than matched in Yorkshire and the north west). In the last few years there have been half a dozen or so churches planted or revitalized in a range of places from a housing estate in Middlesbrough to leafy parts of Newcastle. It is nothing spectacular –small churches mostly with fewer than 40 people but each share a desire to disciple men, women and children for Christ. There are more and more examples of churches appointing new staff, taking on ministry trainees and working in gospel partnership to plant new churches and revitalise others. Of course, the greatest encouragements are the individuals whose lives have been changed: the teenage girl who came to faith on a summer camp, the wife who is trusting the Lord through a painful marriage, the immigrant who has turned to Christ as everything else has been stripped away, the elderly man who has been shown love through gospel community he has never experienced before. Put simply, without the Lord’s work to establish these ministries people remain untouched by the gospel.
The challenge is not gospel opportunity! That is everywhere and we are finding people increasingly spiritually hungry. The challenge is that demand is outstripping supply. We simply don’t have enough well trained people or enough money to train them.
The challenge is not gospel opportunity! That is everywhere and we are finding people increasingly spiritually hungry. The challenge is that demand is outstripping supply. We simply don’t have enough well trained people or enough money to train them. This is not a plug for cash – there are a number of extremely generous external givers – it is just the reality that northern churches tend to be smaller, have fewer high earners and are simply less well connected than elsewhere.
I write this as a southerner who moved north a dozen or so years ago. I never thought I would end up in a city I knew only from Match of the Day and thought was somewhere near Scotland (Edinburgh is still 2.5 hours further north by car, with the wild beauty of Northumberland in between, just so you know…). There is a good deal of myth making about it being “grim up north” – the tougher gig. The reality is that ministry is about people and obvious as it is to say, people are people wherever we are. Wonderfully, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the same gospel wherever we are.
It may be you are reading this just starting out in ministry or wondering where to serve long-term. Maybe if you are from the south you should consider the north of England and if you are from the north consider staying. Please commit to pray regularly for the Lord to send more resources and workers to this part of his harvest field. If only there were enough for 1%… there is much to be done!