Can I Plant A Church In A Deprived Area Even If I Don’t Come From That Background?

Originally posted on 10 January 2013

One of the questions I am routinely asked by (mainly) middle class, educated people who are interested in this type of work is: “Can I do it even though I don’t have the life experience or the cultural background?” My answer is (almost always) a resounding, “Yes!” We don’t disqualify people from planting in a particular context because they weren’t born in it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had a modern missionary movement because everybody would have stayed at home or only reached out to people like themselves!

We have to realise that Scotland is as unreached as darkest Africa hundreds of years ago... #plant Click To TweetIn fact, we have to get to grips with, swallow our pride (and misconceptions) and realise that Scotland is as unreached as darkest Africa hundreds of years ago. The schemes even more so as church after church has either shut down, relocated or they have been left with socially aware but theologically liberal clergy doing lots of good deeds but managing a dying institution. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that many churches in housing schemes are burying far more than they’re baptising and have been doing so for many a decade. Because of this there simply isn’t a generation of culturally indigenous church leaders coming through. However much we may want to see local leadership, it just is not there! It has to be generated. It has to be developed and it has to be trained. All of which is going to take us a long time. When I first came to Niddrie they hadn’t seen a local convert in 10 years or more. All the younger believers had been shipped in from the mother church in the city centre as they sought to ‘revitalise” it and, in fact, there wasn’t a local believer in the building under 60 years of age. It was desperate!

A little over 5 years later things are markedly different. We are, at last, beginning to see some momentum. But, how have we done it? In order to answer that we need to understand the following missiological categories.

At Niddrie I categorise people in the following way (for the purposes of this paper, not in reality you understand).

  1. Cultural Outsiders. In other words, those who do not come from a housing scheme and/or council estate background.
  2. Culturally Indigenous. Those of us who did grow up in, and understand, housing scheme and/or council estate culture, yet are not indigenous to the one in which we are serving.
  3. Fully Indigenous. Those who have been saved from their own housing scheme and/or council estate and are now engaged in reaching it with the gospel.

When I first came to Niddrie there was myself and a single mother who we employed to work in our community cafe. Both of us were “culturally indigenous.” Then there was my wife who was a complete “cultural outsider.” There were no local converts. So we had to import our leaders and our pool came from “cultural outsiders”. We needed them to generate initial momentum. To that end we employed a Youth Worker and an Assistant Pastor. I spent the early years training and developing them in terms of outreach, discipleship and training. We then began an “internship” training programme. Again, with very few converts we had to initially import from without the culture. 5 years later we are now seeing the fruits of our long term objectives beginning to bud.

Currently, on our Apprenticeship programme we have two fully indigenous women both actively engaged in teaching and discipling within the community. We have a Brasilian who has been resident in Niddrie now for over 4 years. In our entry level intensive discipleship programme we have 4 men, all of whom are “cultural insiders”. They are being taught to not only receive but to serve the community and we are hoping they will progress into full time apprentices over the next 12-24 months. All are (or will be) meeting with, studying with, praying with people from around the scheme from all sorts of cultural backgrounds. This is healthy and it has taken time to develop. My team is purposefully “broad” as we seek to try to (1) reflect the cultural makeup of those around us and (2) build an effective model for training future leaders.

The point is that even though we may be years away from producing elders and church leaders, we could not have made the strides we have without the initial (and ongoing) help and sacrifice of “cultural outsiders”. Those people prepared to admit their frailties and lack of insight but open enough to sacrificially move into our scheme and rally around our long term vision of producing indigenous leaders who will go on to train indigenous leaders and pastor and plant churches all over Scotland (and further afield!).

Please pray for the work of 20schemes and for young men and women from all over the globe who would be willing to come and join us in our vision to not only reach the lost in our schemes but disciple and train them to become the future leaders and gospel preachers in Scotland’s needy housing schemes.

Posted by Mez McConnell

Mez McConnell, is the Senior Pastor of Niddrie Community Church (Edinburgh, Scotland) and the founder and Ministry Director of 20schemes. He has been involved in full time pastoral ministry, both church planting and revitalisation since 1999.

  1. Appreciate the article. I planted a church in an area that I knew nothing about six years ago. I moved to Arkansas initially to finish some schooling and in the process God led me to this neighborhood. Six years later we have planted two churches, started a non profit and are currently beginning work in a similar community. I found that you have to identify with the community and show that you are there with them for the long haul. We have people that live in the community who moved in, people in the community that work with us and serve right alongside us. It has been a beautiful work of God. I think all categories are necessary as God expands his work!

    Thank you for the article!


    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond Phillip. May God bless you in what you are doing out there in the states. Keep in touch. I would love to keep up with your work. Your website looks great!


  2. I have the same sentiment as Phillip, great article that encourages people from the outside that they have just as important role in laying a foundation, making disciples and seeing healthy churches started. I am a missionary in the states with an organization called World Impact that is committed to facilitating church-planting movements by evangelizing, equipping and empowering the unchurched urban poor. We use the same language as you have here but called different here is a diagram that we use….…again thanks for advancing the kingdom of God.


    1. Thanks Sean
      I had a look at the diagram but I am not understanding it. Can you help me out because I am always seriously interested in picking up new ideas and thoughts concerning our kind of ministry.


      1. Yea of course, so in America WASP(White Anglo Saxon Protestant) is the dominant culture it is not the majority culture any more but it influences everyone who lives here. The large grey circle labelled as C3 fits under this category. Basically just as you have used the terms Cultural Outsiders,Culturally Indigenous, Fully Indigenous, there are three categories, C1, C2, C3. I will just use the African American as a cultural example, the C3 African-American lives works and is educated in the WASP world, on the diagram they are surrounded on three sides by the dominant culture. The C2 is bi cultural (Paul was C2, Jew by family, Greek by town, spoke Hebrew and Greek, circumcised Jew and a Roman citizen). The C1 lives works and is educated in the minority culture. Your 3 distinctions seem to be for people who have already been saved but I think these cultural indicators have more relevance to people outside of the faith. I minister to mostly people in the C1 category and early in World Impacts ministry they made the mistake of saying these C1 believers needed to go to a C2 church to grow or maybe they wanted to grow and so we encouraged them to go to a C3 seminary and in either of these cases it forces that new believer to choose their culture or faith, not to say going to a C2 church or a C3 seminary is a bad thing maybe just a difficult thing. This was long and maybe complicated sorry if it was I love what you are doing and like you said am always interested in building with people with similar passions.


        1. Sean
          Thanks. That makes sense. We are definitely on the same page. A few CP friends and I who come from housing schemes are currently thinking these issues through as we work out how to train and develop future indigenous leaders whilst operating in a largely middle class Christian cultural context (churches, books and institutions). Very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to respond.


  3. Hiya Mez, Thanks for taking the time to lay out clear vision for reGospeling, or freshly Gospeling, areas like the one that i’ve moved to. Thank you for taking the time to publicly validate the middle class fellas (like me) who are having a go. Thank you for reminding us of where we want to get to. Amen and Amen


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *