Too much social action?

The Evangelical Alliance recently published the  21st Century Evangelicals survey. This was a great piece of research providing a fabulous snapshot of evangelicalism in the UK. It can be found at For someone who has advocated and worked for effective church community mission there were some really encouraging numbers:

81% volunteer each month.

85% said their church was engaged with their community

81% said their church was working with others in the community

There was also a note of caution. 35% of respondents felt that there had been too much emphasis on social action and another 25% were unsure whether this was the case. A clear majority of evangelicals are worried that social action and involvement has become too important in our life and mission at the expense of other important things.

So, here is my confession. I am part of that group.

We live in a time when it is more acceptable to be involved with social action than proclamation. Our government and local authorities want our service but they are not sure about our faith. Our friends applaud our acts of kindness and volunteering but feel awkward when we explain the reason why.

Yet the problem is that Jesus never asked us to serve the poor. He commanded us to seek the Kingdom. You can serve the poor without seeking the kingdom that is humanitarianism. But Jesus has called us to be more than social workers with a Bible verse. He commanded us to seek a new Kingdom and to enter that Kingdom you need to come to the King.

It is equally true that you cannot seek the Kingdom without serving the poor. What we need to avoid is another swing of the pendulum away from social action and back to proclamation. There are some that want us to choose between social action and evangelism. That is a false choice. We need a wholehearted commitment to both. We follow a different King and seek another Kingdom. We are working for spiritual and material transformation. For the love of people and the glory of the King.


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3 Comments on “Too much social action?
  1. I would not be one of those who feels that ‘social action and involvement has become too important in our life and mission at the expense of other important things’ I am however relieved that social action is now seen as being as important as this survey suggests and as central as my reading of the Gospel places it. I think that the real story behind this report (thanks for alerting us to it) is that of generational difference.

    Those aged 55+ are twice as likely as those below 55 to fall into the group of 60% of respondents who feel there may or has been too much emphasis on social action (the question was hardly positively framed was it!). This might suggest that sharing ones faith is now taking a back seat. However the statistics on evangelism are mostly encouraging with 77% of people aged 16-24 sharing their faith at least once a month. Yet this figure drops to 54% of those aged 55+ (90% of all respondents say that sharing ones faith is vital). This older group are far more likely to read their bibles on a daily basis, so it is not a lack of material but for some reason many of them do not share their faith regularly and feel that the church has stopped emphasising this activity. I am no psychologist but I do think that the real story is here.

    Before we allow any pendulums to swing in any direction, perhaps we could continue to emphasise the need to serve the poor whilst ensuring that those who work within their communities have the confidence to tell their stories when asked (for they will be). We might also like to consider targeting this on the older members of the evangelical community at least in the first instance as their need seems to be greatest.

    Your statement regarding our calling to serve the poor seems to be fully answered in Matthew 25:40 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ I cannot think of any greater calling than that to serve the poor in order that our King is worshipped.