What does the church in Ireland need most today?


Rick HillSecretary, Council for Mission in Ireland – PCI

Deep down I knew his answer was factually true and biblically faithful, yet something in me was secretly disappointed by it. I had finished preaching in a church in Ireland’s South-East and was enjoying the conversations after the gathering. A mix of ages were present as believers from a diversity of backgrounds had worshipped together as one. An overflow area had been developed in recent years to deal with the additional number of people attending, which led to my question to an Elder of the church:

“What do you put this new growth down to?”

In truth my question was a veiled way of discovering the secret sauce. What had been the key programme? What new innovation had they adopted? What methods could I pick up and encourage churches elsewhere to adopt? His answer?

“Anything good you see here is the result of a deep commitment to prayer over many years”, he responded.

Perhaps my initial disappointment in his response was because I hadn’t discovered a programme, innovation or method to share with others. And yet deep within me, my spirit bubbled with joy at how God had been at work in this church. Here were a people committed to seeking him with all their heart.

This simple yet challenging comment was in stark contrast to another conversation I had that same month with a staff member of a large church planting movement wanting to develop their footprint in Ireland. Over lunch he produced their church planting manual that stretched to 100 pages in length, keen to recruit our church plants to their cause. As I scanned the chapter headings, I felt a mix of confusion and bewilderment. I noted a chapter on Marketing but none on Mission; many pages given to Launch Sunday and seemingly few on leading spiritually.

What does the church in Ireland need most today? I am convinced it isn’t innovative marketing or better methods, but devotion and a deeper sense of dependency. We don’t need more manuals but are in desperate need of a fresh move of God.

It is evident that the church in Ireland no longer holds the position of cultural power or numerical strength which it once had. A deeply religious legacy has been overtaken by an energetic quest to be freed from the shackles of the past. Spiritual rituals have become cultural markers for many and church leaders are often viewed through a lens of suspicion. Christianity has been pushed to the margins.

As I engage with congregations across this island, I am acutely aware of our lack of strength. Whether it be a church plant that is growing yet fragile or historic congregations dealing with decline, all understand that we no longer operate from a place of cultural authority or position of strength. But rather than grieving what we have lost or fighting for the culture to reflect our values, perhaps our new reality might actually lead us to adopt a more conducive posture to enable the work of God – dependency.

The bible regularly reveals that the people God chooses to use to advance his purposes are not strong, impressive or powerful, but weak, foolish and inadequate. Whether it was the excuses of Moses, the size of Gideon’s army, the stature of David or the vulnerability of Mary, it is clear that weakness is no barrier for the power of God being displayed. It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s declaration that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9), offering hope that, though we may feel inadequate as individuals or fragility as a church, weakness is no barrier for kingdom growth.

When did we stop believing that the building of the church is in Christ’s hands and not ours? How did the measurement of effectiveness of churches become about seating capacity rather than sending capacity? In what ways have we become more programme-centric than prayer-filled and become caught up in the amount of our activity rather than the extent of our intimacy?

As we face the fresh challenges of sharing the message of Jesus in contemporary Irish society, let’s ensure that our response isn’t one of withdrawal or defeat, but rather faith-filled and forward-looking. And as we do so, rather than ministering out of a spirit of self-sufficiency, we acknowledge our inadequacy as leaders and our weakness as a church.

With aging congregations, statistical decline and church closure all too common it might be easy to assume that the glory days are over for the church in Ireland. However, despite media pronouncements or even the negativity of some saints, I refuse to believe that, because Christianity reveals that the best is yet to come. In the words of pastor and author Jon Tyson: “There is a rumour going around the West that, in spite of the avalanche of change and the often-repeated accusation of irrelevance, a church has actually survived. Yes, she is stained; yes, she is broken; but she is here. Her Lord is at work within her. The bride is becoming beautiful; his presence is becoming tangible; the body is becoming functional. Beauty is rising and resisting the brokenness. He will get the glory. But you and I can be part of the process.”

The invitation from God is to be part of the process of building his kingdom here in Ireland with the promise that the best is yet to come! So, rather than allowing challenges to defeat us or frustrations to overtake us, let’s humbly admit our weakness and boldly ask for a fresh move of God in our generation. Lord, we are dependent on you.

Practice: Take some time to read Acts 2 – the story of the birth of the Church. 

  • Invite the Holy Spirit to highlight a word or a phrase to you – What is God wanting to say to His church in Ireland? 
  • Pray for the church across Ireland – in its many forms and expressions. 
  • Pray for Unity 
  • Pray for an outpouring of God’s power and presence. 

Back to all