A new housing development in Oughtibridge has helped to present a gospel opportunity for the parish, with the offer of a warm welcome the key focus of a recent campaign.
The new housing, built up over the last 18 months, has produced a new estate of 370 houses – which could increase the local population by 1,000 once the building works have been completed.
With the village of Oughtibridge consisting of 3,500 people and the wider parish at over 6,000, the new builds have resulted in a significant increase in numbers in the parish.
With this in mind, the team at Oughtibridge Parish Church have produced welcome bags to deliver to each household, made up of a welcome booklet, a pack of biscuits, tea bags, scented candles and money off vouchers for local businesses.
The booklet includes a map of where the church is and highlights what church events are going on.
Vicar Chris Tufnell says the church felt a responsibility to offer people a place to come and worship:
“It’s important that people know we’re here for them. One of our ambitions as a church is to be a church that is at the heart of the community. I want people to have church quickly on the radar when they ask where community is happening locally.
“We go out in pairs and knock on doors to deliver them. We’ve found Sunday
afternoons to be a good time, as during the week more people tend to be working from home but are understandably busy. We welcome people to the area, tell them who we are and just see where the conversation goes.”
The team have delivered to nearly every single house that has become occupied, and have been blessed with some households joining the church family each week.
Others have joined local groups held during the week in church, with Chris hopeful this can help to create pathways to explore faith further in the local community.
“We’ve got this network of different ministries going on where we can help to join the dots and signpost people to the next step along the path. And it has been really good. I think it’s been really good for the people who’ve been delivering the welcome bags to be bold in their faith.
“We sometimes get this narrative, that is being really helpfully quashed by people like Dr Rachel Jordan-Wolf (executive director of HOPE Together), that people aren’t receptive to talking about faith. The ‘Talking Jesus Survey’, the results of which were published in 2022, shows people are more willing to talk about faith than we think.
“We can get this idea in our news feed and on social media that people are really antagonistic towards Christians, but that’s not what we’re finding here. We’ve had some fantastic conversations with people. Of all the houses that we have visited, there has been one person who said, ‘no, no, no, we’re not religious here’ and closed the door.
“Everyone else was at least polite and civil, and most people were really grateful for the welcome. So I think it’s been really good for those who have been delivering to feel encouraged in what they do, and I think people are far more receptive to our message than we sometimes think.”