What is Reformission Wales?
Reformission Wales is an initiative of the Associating Evangelical Churches of Wales (AECW). It was launched at the AECW Annual Assembly in May 2012. It seeks to address the desperate spiritual situation in Wales through both church planting and church strengthening.
Denominational decline in Wales
The decline of the major denominations in Wales has been catastrophic. The Presbyterian Church of Wales is an example. At its height it was the biggest denomination in Wales with 1,400 churches and 1,000 ministers. Today there are 600 churches, many with small elderly congregations, and just over 40 ministers. Other denominations have seen similar declines.
A new generation of ministers
AECW has 57 member churches with a total membership of just over 3,000. The churches are served by 53 full-time ministers. More than 30 of these ministers have been called in the past eight years. God is raising up a new generation of pastors amongst us. The challenges they and the churches face are significantly different from those faced by the previous generation.
Small and faithful congregations
Many of the churches in AECW are small. Sixteen of the churches have less than 25 members (five in North Wales and 11 in South Wales). Eighteen have a membership of 25-50 (four in North Wales and 14 in South Wales). Six churches have more than 100 members (one in North Wales and five in South Wales). Twenty-five AECW churches are in South Wales Valley communities. They have 800 members and support 21 ministers.
Many AECW congregations are comprised mainly of older Christians. The members of these churches are very committed to the work of the gospel and are faithful in their support of gospel work. This is seen in the fact that the 11 smallest churches in AECW, with a total membership of 279 (9% of the total AECW membership), support 10 ministers (19% of all AECW ministers). Obviously these smaller churches face real challenges for their future life and witness.
Reformission Wales is committed to helping and strengthening smaller churches. Our American friends call it Church Revitalisation which implies that smaller churches lack life whereas larger churches have it in abundance. This is not necessarily true. What smaller churches need is prayerful fellowship expressed in encouragement and resources, both human and financial.
Peter Milsom has invited all AECW churches to complete a short survey which will indicate those churches which are in need of help and those which are in a position to offer help. He will then begin visiting churches which have invited him to come to discuss with the minister and church officers the challenges and opportunities they are facing.
It is a strategic priority in our gospel witness to Wales that we ensure that smaller churches continue and are encouraged and helped in their witness to the communities they serve. Our concern is not exclusively for AECW churches but also for other small gospel churches.
There are significant communities in large cities and towns, and in rural areas, which do not have a gospel church. We are taking initiatives with a view to establishing functioning fellowships and churches in some of these. In the past 10 years it has been encouraging to see The Bay Church established in Cardiff. The prayerful and financial support of Christians and AECW churches played an important part in establishing this new church.
We are asking each of the 11 AECW Clusters to seek to begin a new work in their region within the next five years. The church in Gwersyllt has already begun outreach into the Cefn Mawr community, which is between Wrexham and Llangollen. In early July some of the first converts were baptised. The church has identified a man within their fellowship who will be able to spearhead this work. Regular news of this new work will be communicated to AECW churches.
Supporting pioneer workers
Reformission Wales will be implementing similar principles for the support of pioneer workers which are used by missionary societies for the support of their missionaries. This personalised support will be directed through the local church which is providing oversight and pastoral care to the pioneer workers and new churches. News and information about pioneer ministries will be made known to AECW churches and Christians who will be encouraged to pray for these ministries and to support them through regular financial gifts. The potential for financial support within AECW is significant. If each member of an AECW church gave £5 per month under gift aid this would raise £225,000 per year for the support of pioneer ministry in Wales.
Understanding the times and communicating the vision
We are living in a changing world. We need to think through the implications of this for our gospel witness. How can we better communicate the gospel to those around us? Ian Parry is focusing on this dimension of Reformission Wales. He is offering to run the ‘Reason for God’ outreach in AECW churches which seeks to build confidence in engaging with our secularised and pluralistic society. It takes the form of a series of informal sessions held over a number of weeks in a non-religious venue. Each session addresses a key objection to Christianity that is common in our culture. It consists of a 20 minute talk, a coffee break, and then Q&A with a panel of local Christians.
The Itinerant Preachers Network
Ian is also beginning to establish The Itinerant Preachers Network which is for itinerant preachers in our churches who want help with their ministries. It seeks to provide a network for fellowship, training and help with strategic thinking for men in our churches who regularly preach in local churches. The first meeting has been held in Swansea and others are being planned in other parts of Wales.
We encourage you to catch the vision of Reformission Wales and to get involved practically through prayer and practical support.
Peter Milsom is the chairman of AECW.
For more information and up-to-date news visit www.reformissionwales.com .