We've been back in Wales three years this month and it was a bumpy landing.
The motive was right, to slow life down a bit, to get Reuben connected with my wider family, to enjoy the outdoors, to try and relax. This was off the back of miscarriages and burnout, so from that perspective it wasn't a bad decision.
Since we've been back and working through the issues a move like this brings, I've prayed for three years now as to whether we have a purpose here. I'd guess there has been about 1,000 hours of prayer gone into that question.
As I've prayed, what keeps coming back to me is a question. How do you reach all the people outside the Churches in the Neath Valley ?
If ever there was a focussed question, that is it. With my good friend Gareth Killa, we started to do some research,
There are 55,709 people living between Lonlas, Briton Ferry, Rhigos, the whole length of the valley. This is council ward information, so you culd probably add another 1,000 to that.
Google suggests there are 30 Churches, where in fact there's over 130 Churches, many don't have a website, many have just a handful of people attending them.
There's 233 Streets, 23,500 ish houses, 218 miles of road. We have yet to look at hot topics, depervation, health issues, crime levels etc. We are now in the history phase, of what brought Neath into being and how it's evolved into what it is today. We know it was the second biggest Roman garrison town at one point. We know that Tin mining and coal exports were huge at the height of the industrial revolution in Neath. We know that Alfred Russell Wallace, who's office was in Neath, had a big influence on Charles Darwin. We also know that the Welsh Rugby Union was inagurated at the Castle Hotel in the town. No doubt many more facts will appear in time.
So back to the question. How do we reach all the people outside the Churches in the Neath Valley ?
Let's face some facts :-
+ Most people don't think about Church or Jesus.
+ A Church building is where a person might attend a wedding or funeral.
+ Sunday is the biggest social shopping day of the week.
+ Society perceives Christians as being bias, opinionated, unhelpful.
+ The Church is not united to seek to win the lost of the area together.
+ There is no plan in place to put the Church in a better light, show it's services, create regular opportunity to connect with those outside it's walls.
In the Neath Valley, there are roughly 54,000 (excluding the 1,500 people who attend the 130 Churches), who don't go to Church.
So that led me to some questions.
1) What would happen if we created a Neath Valley Churches directory and posted it through every home in the valley ?
2) What if we created a means of connecting with the whole valley one a quarter for three years (12 connections) ?
3) What if The Church provided services to directly meet the needs of the people ?
4) What if The Church championed an annual event the whole community could participate in ?
5) What if three of those 12 connections was an Alpha invite or a Back to Church Sunday or a Big Banquet, which simply invited people to attend ?
6) What if a Neath Valley Churches website was put together, so people could search for traditional, contemporary, those Churches with a creche, those offering CAP courses or who run a food bank ?
7) What if a Neath wide Facebook group was developed for Christians to give away items they no longer needed to those who don't attend Church ?
There's a lot there and these are ideas after 1,000 hours of prayer.
I'm mindful of the fact I've only talked this through with a handful of people, my next step is to finish the next phase of research and start to meet with Church leaders to get their take and understand what they are already doing in the community.
If we did all of this and worked together to reach 54,000 Non Christians in the Valley, I wonder what the Christian Landscape would look like in Neath in five years time ?