Bearwood is a fascinating place. It used to be at the hub of the West Midlands bus network and to some extent still is psychologically. It’s right at the centre of the West Midlands conurbation, it’s a meeting point for class, severe deprivation & relative prosperity, ethnicity and culture.
If we draw the boundaries narrowly to within a short walk of the chapel, we have a community that is mixed but probably leaning towards “comfortably off” and “white.” If we draw the boundaries a little wider, then we have within 20 minutes walk of our building, a working class council estate and a multi-ethnic neighbourhood with increasing evidence of social and economic need.
When we think beyond our immediate community, we start to look into the Black Country and
1. There are large and significant areas with minimal (if any) meaningful Gospel witness
2. Even greater evidence of social and economic need.
How we draw the boundaries matters in terms of our Gospel responsibility. We consistently talk about “Bearwood and Beyond” to capture that sense of ever widening circles of responsibility. It means that as we think about our Gospel witness then the importance of church planting and partnering to support church revitalisation come firmly onto our radar.
It is because we think in terms of “Bearwood and Beyond” that we talk in terms of ActBC. This means that in terms of our vision and decision making we are thinking about the wider picture. We could sit back and think purely about the local need. We could sit back and say that we are comfortable sustaining a small to medium sized However, we have chosen to look not at our comfort but at the need of the mission field.
This means that our recent staffing decisions have been made with the wider need in mind. We are aiming to employ communities and families worker this year and an additional pastoral worker in due course. These appointments are not just about sustaining or even growing Bearwood Chapel but to enable us to be a resource to the wider area. Our aim is to have a team that can support that wider vision and help with church planting and revitalisation in the Black Country and West Birmingham.
However, my primary aim here is to highlight another way in which churches can be involved in supporting urban mission and getting through the impasse. I suspect that there will be other churches like ours that find themselves at the bridging point. It may mean that you need to widen your horizons a little but as you do, you may begin to see areas which need someone to take Gospel responsibility for. This may not mean that you expect the people from there to come to you, they may be outside of your church’s catchment area but maybe you could see the area as part of your priority mission and think about how you staff and structure not just for reaching your own immediate neighbourhood but for supporting mission into other needy neighbourhoods too.
Dare I also say that if we can begin to think like this with minimal resources that there will be churches in those bridging areas who enjoy greater prosperity and more resources. If we can give this a go, then how much more can you do?