To the Ends of the Earth: The UK Christianity Explored ministries

As part of our To the Ends of the Earth campaign we have been sharing stories of how God is working through our ministry all over the world.

December is the last month of the campaign, and we've turned our attention closer to home to talk about what it's like being a Christian in the United Kingdom, and how Christianity Explored Ministries is helping Brits to love, live and tell the gospel.

We spoke to CEM Chief Executive Ian Roberts for his take.

Ian, this month it's your turn in the hot seat. Firstly, lots of people will have heard your name or read your messages in our email newsletters. Can you tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you do?

I have been Chief Executive at Christianity Explored Ministries since 2011, where I head up our team of 10 UK staff members as well as overseeing the wider, global work of the ministry. Having trained in accountancy I spent 10 years with an American multinational, before studying at theological college and working for All Soul's Langham Place as their Director of Administration.

Ian Roberts

I live in Croydon and have just completed a five-year term on the Leadership Team at Purley Baptist Church. I’m married to Rachel. We have four children and now two young grandchildren.

I'm still turning out for my local cricket club and am a Crystal Palace season ticket holder along with my three daughters. Sadly for them, like me, they caught the bug when they were young!

You came to faith at university in the 1980s. How do you think attitudes to Christianity have changed since then?

I had no Church background myself. But I still had a lot of peers who were connected to Church, even if they hadn't owned faith for themselves. Now you don’t often get that. If people go to church, it’s because they genuinely believe it.

On the one hand, that's a good thing because there are less nominal Christians. But it also means that young people who haven't grown up in the church have no meaningful contact with the Christian faith.

People are also becoming increasingly individualistic and are used to sharing their opinions online, and that tends to polarise people and create echo chambers.

So it’s now highly unlikely people are just going to pitch up in church. These days individual Christians have to play a bigger role in explaining the gospel to their friends and introducing them to the Bible in a one-to-one setting.

What would you say are some of the challenges facing Christians in the UK?

Of course I don't speak for everyone but the UK is an affluent country and in general Christians are comfortable and have it easy compared to many other places.

I travel a lot for work and at the end of last year I visited several places where Christians face extreme persecution. You can’t sit on the fence in those countries. However, in the UK it’s tempting for Christians to have one foot in the Church and the other in the world.

It's challenging in other ways, too. Without wanting to sound arrogant, I know that as a Christian I have the answers to all the most important questions in the world - the problem is that nobody seems to be asking those questions! People simply aren't interested in Jesus.

Talking Jesus produced some stats about attitudes to Christianity in the UK in 2015.

Their research found that most adult non-Christians (67%) in England know a practising Christian. And they don’t just know us; they seem to like us too, with non-Christians more likely to describe us positively than negatively.

However, of non-Christians who had talked to their Christian friend about their faith, only one in five (19%) said that they would be open to knowing more about Jesus.

The research shows how secular we are as a country. We know evangelism is tough, and we should be prepared for people not being interested when we tell them about Jesus.

Oh dear. Is it all doom and gloom?

No! There are lots of reasons for hope. We must always remember it’s God who opens spiritually blind eyes. He is for us, and the Holy Spirit is with us, so we can be confident of his guidance in our relationships and conversations with the people around us.

Rico often says that if we know Jesus, we are the most important person on our street, and that is absolutely true and should fill us with hope and optimism.

Churches all over the UK find people are still interested in coming along to explore the Christian faith - Hamilton Road Baptist Church in Northern Ireland saw 15 people regularly coming to their course, and they held a lunch for everyone at the end of the series.

There’s a lot of despair and confusion at the moment in the UK, particularly in the midst of political upheaval (elections, Brexit, fears about climate change).

CS Lewis famously said: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

The gospel makes sense of everything around us and that is a wonderful truth we can offer in the midst of the instability created by these uncertain times. We can pray that would lead people to find peace and stability in Jesus and that Christians would be holding out this hope to the people they know.

Another opportunity is that we have become much more multicultural. People are coming to the UK from countries where they didn't have access to the gospel and in general are much more open to talking about faith.

In my cricket club, for example, the people who seem most interested in what I believe are those who have non-Christian cultural backgrounds.

How can CEM resources help Christians in the UK?

As I mentioned before, it's becoming harder to bring people to church and so Christians are having to bring the Bible to their friends more than ever before.

Our materials - Christianity Explored, Discipleship Explored and Life Explored - were all developed to equip ordinary Christians to share the gospel in their contexts, with the hope they would be used flexibly.

Students run Life Explored in a coffee shop in Leeds

We are more about the content than the method, and so the courses all work for one-to-ones or the internet (the online version of Christianity Explored, produced in partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has already been used by over 1,000 people this year).

I have personally used our materials with several people one-to-one and they work really well with or without the films.

We have discovered that our courses not only evangelise but train people in evangelism. As each one includes in-depth Bible studies, people learn how to read the Bible for themselves, as well as thinking about how to share the Bible with their friends.

At Purley, for example, we ran Christianity Explored on Sunday mornings before we ran it as an outreach course - it was incredible as it gave people confidence in the material and got them thinking who they could share it with.

What are your hopes for the future of the ministry?

Our aim is to serve the local church, being creative in how we present things because we want to engage people using high-quality resources in a way they will understand. This means we are always refreshing our courses or coming up with new ideas.

My hope is that in the near future, we will be in a position to launch a new three-week course. There has been demand for a shorter course in the UK for a while, but we wanted it to add something different to our existing courses so that it would complement them. So Hope Explored is being trialled at the moment and we'd like to launch that quite soon.

We are also looking forward to reshaping Life Explored to make it even better, and producing the next edition of Christianity Explored for a new generation. On top of this, we hope to revisit the youth version of the course and make the prison version accessible to a wider audience.

Christianity Explored is being used all over the world - these women came to faith using the Arabic translation

We are now in 127 countries so we have become an international organisation and we want to be able to serve the worldwide church too. I would like all the new films to be done in a way that a local speaker could be substituted in where that is important. We also need something that will work without the films for countries where there isn't easy access to the internet.

The gospel is the gospel, that's why our stuff is of use everywhere - but we hope to work with passionate, like-minded partners in other countries to make the courses even more useful in their contexts. We'd love to see the materials used more widely in countries where we already have a presence.

How can our international friends pray for Christians in the UK?

Pray we would be more prayerful. We are in a spiritual battle and as westerners our natural attitude is ‘what can we do?’ when we really need to be on our knees before God.

Pray for a deep conviction we will know that the biggest problem in Britain is sin, and not social issues.

Pray we would be able to reach out to those who have come to us from other countries who are now in a position to hear the gospel. The harvest is all around us - pray that we would simply be effective witnesses.

This year there is a unique opportunity to help support our work in the UK and overseas.

With To the Ends of the Earth, every pound donated as a new or increased regular (eg monthly) gift will be matched by some generous friends and given to our international work.

Help us to help people love, live and tell the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

Every £1 you donate enables one person to hear the gospel through our ministry.

  • £10 per month - the total matched amount of £150 (including Gift Aid) helps train 15 pastors to share the gospel in East Africa.
  • £20 per month - the total matched amount of £300 (including Gift Aid) provides eight East Asian churches with local language resources.
  • £50 per month - the total matched amount of £750 (including Gift Aid) could sponsor 15 rural Albanian churches to run Christianity Explored.
  • £100 per month - the total matched amount of £1,500 (including Gift Aid) helps us provide start-up funds for new translations.
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