David Ash
Book Review - Unreached


By Tim Chester
'Think of the thriving evangelical churches in your area, and the chances are they will be in the 'nice' areas of town and their leaders will be middle class.

I once attended a lecture at which the speaker showed a map of my city, Sheffield. The council wards were coloured different shades, according to a series of social indicators: educational achievement, household income, benefit recipients, social housing, criminal activity, and so on. Slide after slide showed that the east side of the city was the needy, socially deprived half, compared to the more prosperous west. Where are the churches? Counting all the various tribes of evangelicalism, the large churches are on the west side. The working-class and deprived areas of our cities are not being reached with the gospel. There are many exciting exceptions, but the pattern is clear. According to Mez McConnell from Niddrie Community Church in Edinburgh, of the fifty worst housing schemes in Scotland, half have no church, and most of the others only have a dying church. Very few have an evangelical witness. This book is about reaching those unreached areas.

The Industrial Revolution saw increased social stratification. It was during this time that middle-class and working-class identities began to emerge. And in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, evangelicalism appealed disproportionately to skilled artisans, according to historian David Bebbington. Skilled artisans made up 23% of the population, but 59% of evangelical Nonconformists fell into this category. Both unskilled labourers and the middle classes were under-represented in Nonconformist ranks. Methodists made a greater impact on labourers, but the proportion of Methodists who were labourers (16%) was still just below the proportion in society as a whole (17%). By the mid-1800s, perhaps half the UK population attended church. But contemporaries remarked that the labouring population was largely absent. Many congregations in mining areas were predominantly working class, but the majority of the working classes were not worshippers. In the late nineteenth century, the trend towards class-specific suburbs accelerated, and church attendance varied accordingly. Middle-class Ealing had 47% attendance, while working-class Fulham had 12%. Religious practice was becoming more directly associated with class. This was accentuated by the upward mobility of churchgoers. By the 1930s, almost half of Methodist members were in non-manual occupations, and by the 1970s it was three-quarters.

So why have we evangelicals been so ineffectual at reaching the urban poor, despite our origins?

About the Author
Dr Tim Chester is a pastor of Grace Church in Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, UK () and a tutor with the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy. He blogs at He has previously been Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK and a adjunct lecturer in both Reformed spirituality and missiology. He is married with two daughters.

What Others Have Said
Stephen Gaukroger, Director of Clarion Trust International and former President of the Bapsits Union
Tim Chester has done the chruch in the UK a great service. This is a thoughtful analysis at its best, supplemented by some excellen practical suggestions and ideas for reaching a part of the British community that is seriously under-represented in the life of the national church. Tim's passion is to make sure that the under-represented are not the unreached!

Frog Orr-Ewing, Rector of Latimer Minster and Chaplain and Missioner to the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics
This book is the fruit of passionate engagement of local churches with struggling neighbourhoods across the UK. It offers flashes of penetrating insight and perception into the challenges and opportunities of ministry in our more deprived areas.

Joel Virgo, Church Elder, Church of Christ the King, Brighton
Tim Chester has worked hard to show how the raw, uncut gospel must be applied in the 'unreached' people groups of once 'Christian' nations. He writes from both ministry experience and a passion for the gospel. He is also wised-up about the missional challenges before us, bringing valuable practical insight and needed advice for the reader.

I wish I had read "Unreached" before I began working on a church restoration project in a predominantly white, working class, area in South Bristol. It has taken me six years to learn many of the lessons spelt out in this excellent book. Both evangelistically and pastorally, this would have given insight into how to apply the gospel to people who for three generations have had almost nothing to with Jesus, his church or the Bible.

This book is a gold mine of useful information for anyone attempting to understand, and then grow, evangelical churches on working class and deprived estates. It is based on Tim Chester's sociological research and the hands-on experience of the Reaching the Unreached working group, which includes Chester and sixteen others. Chester includes their multiple voices, which gives a variety of perspectives, but without the book losing its one great mission imperative. As such, it is an important book because very little has been written on this topic since Roy Joslin's "Urban Harvest" in 1982 and because across the UK evangelicalism is so comparatively weak among the urban poor.

"Unreached" covers six major themes, one per chapter. The first two concern contextualisation and understanding working class culture. The third is on key gospel themes for working class and deprived areas. Personally I found this chapter refreshing. Who doesn't need daily reminding of the wonderful father-heart of God for his children, his sovereignty over all things including gut-wrenching disasters, and his amazing grace which brings peace and hope in the messiness of all our lives? The final three chapters give practical guidance as to how to do evangelism, discipleship, and teach the Bible in a non-book culture. The conclusion of the book was profoundly moving and it prompted me to pray for the contributors, many of whom have laboured long and hard without seeing much fruit, but all for the glory of Jesus.

Chester sees this book as a provocative conversation starter rather than the final word on growing churches among working class people. Hopefully this book will be more than that. Hopefully it will inspire many church leaders and Christians to reach the unreached estates across the UK where, for generations, people have gone to Hell unaware of the good news about Jesus.

This review was first published in February 2013's edition of Evangelicals Now

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