GRA:CE 2020 – Known by our love

As we move towards the conclusion of our GRA:CE project we will be sharing some highlights with you.

Written by: CUF on May 04, 2020. Category: GR:ACE

In John 13:35, Jesus makes the link between social action and discipleship clear when he says that, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” You might also recognise the line of the hymn about how, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Our capacity to demonstrate love to those around us is therefore important not only for our own discipleship but also for how others acknowledge and are drawn to the Christian faith.

One of the early findings of the GRA:CE research, exploring the relationship between church growth, social action and discipleship is that churches grow when they are known as places which do good. People’s first encounter with the church is often as a result of its social action and they are often attracted to the church by its practical demonstrations of love and service to others.

Throughout the research, we have heard stories of people coming to church initially because they were interested in volunteering, then discovering and joining the community of faith as a result. In other words, people both give and receive within the church community, but the giving can sometimes come first.

One case study parish is involved in supporting refugees and asylum seekers, not only in their community but also though coordinate aid trips to Calais. In doing so, the church has become well known locally as a collection point and attracted local media attention for its work. People who first heard about the church through this have joined the congregation and come to faith.

One person who had not previously been part of a church told us this:

When I heard about the refugee work, I just thought, ‘this is a church that’s actually living out the gospel and I have to go and see what’s happening’. So I did and I never left.”

Several other participants who had recently joined the church from little or no church background spoke about how they had been drawn to the church – or to this church in particular – because of hearing about the good work it was doing. Many of those without any experience of church or Christianity still understood the centrality of loving our neighbours to the Christian faith and were interested by a community they perceived as putting that into practice.

While these individuals are clearly intrigued by the idea of faith to a degree, they are not necessarily people who would have responded to an invitation to a worship event or course as their first interaction with the church. Instead, they are inherently attracted by the goodness of the church’s practical faith in the community who might not otherwise have come.

Perhaps the relationship between the three aspects of growth, action and discipleship stems as much from the church’s reputation for action as it does from the action itself – the church being ‘known’ for what it does. This is not to say we do, or should do, social action primarily to gain media attention or public interest. However, the reality that they will know us by our love, as John 13:35 reminds us, is important in the growth of the church and of individual faith.

The GRA:CE Project, May 2020