Northern Ireland is different. We’re separated from the rest of Great Britain by the Irish sea and we have the only land border with Europe. We have a ‘troubled’ history, but then it is the most beautiful part of this United Kingdom!
Surveys and polling suggest that almost a third of people here attend church regularly. The numbers from the churches themselves suggest a lower figure, but still indicate that a quarter of the population are churchgoers. Nominalism and cultural Christianity are in decline, but there’s still a group of churchgoers who don’t have a living relationship with Jesus. So statistically nearly everyone in Northern Ireland knows someone who goes to church, and hopefully that churchgoer has a real and vital faith.
The Church in Northern Ireland has shrunk over the last 20 years, but decline seems to be bottoming out and, compared with the rest of the UK, attendance rates are high. That is a great base from which to evangelise and there are significant stories of growth in new and established churches alike.
A minister with two small rural Presbyterian churches has seen at least one person become a Christian each month for the last 40 months. The oldest was a 92-year-old lady weeks before her death.
A new church in a former market town has seen hundreds come to faith on the streets. They have people out in the town centre regularly asking people: “If God could do one miracle in your life, what would it be?” As people respond they ask if they can pray with the person and wait for God to show up.
A city-centre Anglican church has a mix of older traditional parishioners and young professionals and families. They use Alpha, door-to-door and the My Hope DVD from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. This year they have seen at least one person give their life to Jesus each week, and the church is thriving. A rural Baptist church saw three men make a commitment to Jesus during a weekend mission. One was an 82-year-old man, the others much younger and wrestling with significant issues in their lives.
One of the best parts of being a national director for the Alliance is travelling round churches and hearing what God is doing. It is wonderful to hear again and again stories of people coming to faith. Big churches and small churches, established and new congregations. Individuals and groups, young and old. In fact, while the statistics suggest that older men have very little chance of coming to faith, we are seeing the statistics proved wrong.
There are a significant number of Ulster rugby players who are Christians and they are keen to share their faith. In partnership with CVM they have been running events across the country and seeing people respond. The players also serve as role models for many others, inspiring us to be bolder in sharing our faith.
There’s also a real passion to see people across Ireland meet Jesus for the first time. The Spirit isn’t curtailed by national borders and there are new relationships being formed to see the whole island won for Jesus.
Ireland has a history as a missionary nation, from Colombanus to Amy Carmichael. St Patrick is famous the world over as a missionary to and throughout the island. The 1859 Revival is said to have seen more than 100,000 people come to faith in Jesus.
Our prayer is that over the next 100 years, the Irish once again save civilisation – if you know that book – with a new missionary movement; that there is such an outpouring of the Spirit, that it simply can’t be contained in this little island.
To connect with Peter and the team in Northern Ireland, visit the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland web page.