The challenge to evangelism in industrialized society is not primarily how to reach the non-church-going industrial masses, but how to make the Gospel intelligible in a new form of society. The working classes of Great Britain are no better and no worse than any other class. They require our attention, however, because they slip through the network of evangelism more easily than other groups. The children and womenfolk are held at least temporarily by the network of day schools, Sunday schools, local churches, and missions, but to most men the church’s activities are totally irrelevant and “out of date.” This attitude is not limited to the shop floor worker: it was a director of research in a large factory in the Midlands who said, “The Church is at least 500 years behind the times.”

Failure to reach these men at home has forced the church out in the open to meet them on their own ground at work, an action which exposes the church’s weakness both in understanding modern society and also in appreciating the way the truth of the Gospel meets every situation of man.


The gospel of Jesus Christ remains the one hope for all men today; the Word is just as alive and powerful. What then are the characteristics of our society? How does the church stand in relationship to it? As far as England is concerned, the church was dominant in the formation of so much of its cultural pattern. But the church has failed to keep pace with modern technology and the culture it has brought in its train; hence, it is no longer consulted nor has Christian comment its old weight of authority. This problem is aggravated because the church has tried to “keep up to date” by using the techniques of modern society, travel, publicity, radio, and so on, and yet it appears to criticize the foundations of the society which produces them.

Christians today are reaping the fruits of last century’s controversy where “science” was so often branded as anti-Christian. To counteract the “natural” explanation of things through scientific discovery, the Christian tended to identify the working of God with the supernatural. Now that the ordinary man sees that science has explained more and more of life without reference to the supernatural, man seems to have less need of God, feels that God is out-of-date, and seeks to satisfy the divine hunger on the husks of materialism. The shepherd saw the glory of God in a sunset over distant hills. The Christian must now seek to show the workman the glory of God in the nature of the things with which he works—that God is concerned with the ordinary things of his life.

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But so often Christians give the impression that the products of modern society are comparatively useless—even though Christians use them themselves. In our desire to emphasize the Gospel, we stress man’s nature as a sinner and leave the workman with the idea that everything he does is sinful, including his work, and so the greater proportion of his life becomes meaningless. If we meet a man in the context of his work we must be prepared to see the good in him if he is going to see the presence of God in his life.

The form of the Gospel message has for so long been fashioned by intellectuals in order to appeal to the intelligent, that Christians have tended to patronize the nonintellectuals as if they were children. This has led us to equate simplicity with immaturity. We could not have made a bigger mistake about the industrialist. He may not be trained in abstract intellectual forms of thinking, but he is often far more mature than the one who preaches the Gospel. That is why he so often thinks of the Gospel as suitable only “for the kids.”


What is the secret of the worker’s maturity? To discover this we must learn to take more seriously the social pattern of the industrial worker in England.

One factor is the solidarity of the working class. A considerable amount of the Gospel is often interpreted by the working class audience as trying to break down this solidarity. This is not due to the Gospel itself but to the outlook of the preacher. He frames his message to make a personal appeal—that is, an individual appeal—which may be interpreted as inculcating disloyalty to his friends. This need not be so, however, as the very group forces can be used in the service of the Gospel. This is the secret of the revival movements in the long houses in Borneo, in Ruanda-Urundi, and even underlies the way England itself was evangelized. If we take the Old Testament idea of solidarity among the tribes of Israel and the way God dealt with them unto the third and fourth generation, then it is possible to see that this “primitive” loyalty is a sign of God’s purpose, and that we should not disrupt its pattern.

Another factor is that, having come to terms with eternal things, the Christian seems too easily to accept the status quo of temporal things. This is certainly not true! England has the great social reformers of the last century to prove it. But in acclaiming Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, we sometimes forget that they had to fight against the dead weight of Christian opinion, and Shaftesbury, while claiming to be an evangelical, was disowned by them in his struggle. The Christian too easily absorbs a respectable outlook, so that his working class hearers are put off by this respectability. They do not see him as the servant of Christ but often as the agent of the Conservative Party.

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Large sections of the working class population of England have no tradition of church or chapel going, despite the influence of John Wesley. Certainly Methodist class leaders were amongst the first foremen and the Christian conscience stimulated the formation of Trades Unions, but, as E. H. Wickham shows in his Church and People in an Industrial City, the working class could not afford to go to public worship; it cost too much to rent a pew and free seats were scarce.


What are we doing as Christians to meet this need? A great deal of accurate diagnosis of the situation is being made. Far more is being done than is generally realized. The Christian bodies in the industrial field include the following. The Industrial Christian Fellowship pioneered the idea of “industrial mission” early in this century, but the larger denominations have now set up their industrial committees and departments. The Church of England has many industrial advisers who consult with industrialist and trade union leaders and run training courses at colleges like the William Temple College. The Sheffield Industrial Mission is well known for its work in the steel industry, while the Luton Industrial Mission is the centre of Methodist activity. The YMCA specializes in work among apprentices. Everywhere local clergy are making more efforts to reach the factories.

The group which is best known to evangelical Christians is the interdenominational Workers’ Christian Fellowship which has over 250 groups in various parts of the country. In recent years, Christian Teamwork has used the expert knowledge of industrialists and trade unionists to meet particular problems thrown up by Christians in industry and so prepare the way for evangelism. The best-known example of their work is that in the Midlands for the Owen Organization.

Evangelistic crusades, even when they are held in the factory (a practice of questionable advantage) make very little real impact. More than the sudden evangelistic campaign it requires the dedicated evangelistic drive of the patient Christian who by his example is able to convince his fellow workmen that Christ is relevant to their work as well as to their souls.

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Industrial society will not respond to the Gospel unless the Christians engaged in the work are well equipped in their knowledge both of the Scriptures and of understanding of industrial life. As well as a deep personal faith, they will need a clear understanding of the doctrine of God the Creator, as well as of Christ the Redeemer, together with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Church. They need to have a deep love for man and a real appreciation of his social problems. Such knowledge is gained only by hard thinking and laborious experience. So shattering is this experience that some Christians have lost their incentive to evangelize in their desire to meet the more apparent needs of those among whom they work.

This has caused most evangelicals to be critical of Christians who approach the problem from the social aspect; while in turn, those who approach it from the social aspect are generally highly critical of “pietistic groups” concerned only with evangelical experience.

More and more, management and trades union leaders are ready to co-operate. But they are quick to detect hypocrisy and refuse to be drawn into sectarian struggles. With humility and prayer, we Christians must be ready to learn from each other so that even if we don’t agree we can at least appreciate what each one of us is doing. Only in this way will Christ be honored and his Gospel proclaimed with power.

Preacher In The Red


The police officer stopped my car, and told me I was exceeding the speed limit. I explained that I was a minister, and that I was about to be late to an important session of a church conference. After a brief lecture, he released me without a fine, but entered a record of the incident on my driver’s license, and then he signed it—“Officer Lord.”—The Rev. H. DONALD MIZELLE, Minister, Howe Memorial Methodist Church, Crescent City, Florida

Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.

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