The Church has always been committed to the vulnerable, but it was at a time of national crisis that its long term and hyperlocal work really showed- since working more closely with local authorities and new parts of the community, the misconceptions around Church-based social action are being revealed. The true value of Church action in the UK, which the stats already point to, is more of a felt reality in our communities. Where previously the Church wasn’t clearly seen as a force for good by non-Christians, God’s people have brought love, hope and help to an isolated, fearful and needy society.
The Church has a long history of social action. As Christians, we are motivated by the love of God to love and serve those around us, especially in times of trouble. From the early church to the present day, Christians have sought to be known as Jesus’ followers “by their love” (John 13:35).
The value of the Church in society is massive. Recent reports estimate that Churches’ total contribution in the UK is at least £12.4 billion each year. We know that beyond those immense numbers are individual people, and real lives transformed. More than 10 million people in England said that they or their family accessed community-based services provided by the church (not including acts of worship) in 2013. This figure has probably increased significantly in recent years.
There were misconceptions around Church-based social action, with local authorities most concerned that churches would only provide services to fellow believers, or as a means to evangelise. We know that the call of Jesus is one of self-sacrifice and neighbour love. More and more of these misconceptions have been corrected, with less anxiety and more eagerness to partner with churches being reported by local authorities.
The desire for more collaboration with churches is partly due to how the church rose to the challenges presented by Covid-19. 90% of the churches in our network provided some sort of care to the vulnerable, and we know that the church provided at least 5 million meals every month during lockdown to families in need. In a time with fewer resources, the church has done more, directly meeting emergency needs in the areas of food poverty, shielding and self-isolation, mental health and wellbeing and many more.
There is a new opportunity to seize this moment. At YourNeighbour, we have seen how church-based social action has the potential to transform our society. Local churches are embedded, invested, and know their community’s needs, and we want to equip them to continue to love their neighbour practically. As we look to the future with a vaccine on the horizon and the long-term economic effects of the pandemic looming, communities will need their churches even more urgently. As well as meeting practical needs, churches draw people into a community, belonging and dignity by demonstrating the love of Jesus to those in need.