149 years ago Josiah Spiers, the father of Scripture Union, found himself on a beach in Llandudno where he began to tell Bible stories to a group of children who happened to be on holiday in North Wales. Teaching simple choruses and building texts in the sand with seaweed and shells, he shared the love of Jesus in a 'public place' and laid the foundations of a century and a half of mission to children and young people who are outside the church.
We live in a nation where, to use Os Guinness's words, religion has been privatised. The effect of this is that all too often our faith is kept to church on Sunday, with our Church leaders inadvertently reinforcing the notion that if anyone wants to meet God, it is best to do so in the church building with the minister present. Of course we don't mean that, but evangelism becomes a recruitment drive. Now don't get me wrong, church should indeed be a glorious foretaste of heaven and the church as community should be a powerful tangible message of God's love, but like a deflating balloon the church today has far fewer 'touch points' with non Church goers than we gave ever had and if we are to reach the unreached we need to get out of our buildings and out into God's world.
This might be in traditional ways: missions, activities in the public place, and the creative use of digital media (a very public place).
But however we do it, it should be done remembering that the majority of children and young people in England and Wales choose not to go to church and not because they reject God but because they see church as irrelevant. They view it as not for the likes of them, boring, intimidating, academic, and judgemental. If we are to achieve any long term impact on a disinterested world we need to remember the wisdom of missionary Vincent Donovan. Donovan once said 'Evangelisation is a process of bringing the Gospel to where people are, not where you would like them to be. When the Gospel reaches a people where they are, their response to the Gospel is the church in a new place.’
Do we believe that? That is what The 95 Campaign is all about!
Seeking to walk in his footsteps and being faithful to our calling, Scripture Union, in this, our 150th year, have launched our 95 Campaign. Named to put to the fore, the 95% children and young people who are not in Church each Sunday.
When the Samaritan woman responded to Jesus in faith and when the man healed of the demonic possession named Legion wanted to follow Jesus, both were sent back to their own communities to be church there.
If all of this sounds rather obvious, that's because it is. Unfortunately it's also rather difficult so we tend to default to our old models which, even if they are demonstrably outdated and unfit for purpose, have the comfort of being familiar!
The 95 Campaign is about admitting our weakness and inviting anyone with a heart for reaching the unreached to get involved.
It is about providing seed funding for new expressions of outreach and mission that take the Gospel to people and places that are currently unreached.
Our 95 Talks invite anyone to get involved with the debate about how we reach the 95, recognising that new approaches are needed in a new era.
Our 150 new missions to mark our 150th anniversary, quite apart from sharing the love of Jesus with those who would never think to darken the doors of a church, are about trying a range of different approaches to mission that we can evaluate and learn from, and then provide useful lessons to others. Linking the micro of specific missional activity, with the macro of how might this be applied nationally is a central feature of the vision. It is also about asking important questions.
Something that rethinks what church may look like for those who are not temperamentally interested in 'church' but whose eyes have opened to the presence of their Lord God in the world of sporting activity.
CT Stubb famously observed 'some wish to stay within the sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell'.
The 95 Campaign is about church not as a lifeboat or an escape from the world but as the resourcing centre for making God's love known throughout the world. It is about mission as Kingdom growth not church growth.
To find out more about The 95 Campaign or to sign up and show your support, visit www.the95.org.uk.
National Director, Scripture Union
It is my absolute privilege to be the National Director for Scripture Union England and Wales. I long to see the whole church make a fresh commitment to the next generation, so that more children, young people and adults come to faith.
This story originally appeared in Christian Today. Visit their website for more Christian news.