4th May 2017

Underpinning our approach to Health & Wellbeing outreach, in all its forms, is a mission statement adopted by some Scottish Mission Churches………………….

"We are Christians with a mission to share this faith by constantly seeking to serve the needs of our community"

The Scottish Mission has endorsed the view that there should be a joint approach to the delivery of Health and Community Services. This will involve Claudette Comerasamy Health Ministries Sponsor, and I, working closely together so that we maximise the use of resources, avoid conflicts of interests and duplication of effort.

As others see us?

Rabbie Burns, the famous Scottish poet, put it well. When he said, “O, wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us, An' foolish notion”

So how does our target audience view us – and how should that influence our response? Who are these people who think they can provide services that have been the prerogative of our precious and respected NHS and Local Authorities? In the Scottish context – and I suspect in some other parts of the UK - few people will have heard of Seventh-day Adventists. Therefore, it’s important that the public, key stakeholders, influencers and key decision-makers are reassured and aware of the Church’s historic and global commitment to Health Improvement.

The Church’s official statistics can support presentations and press releases when communicating with the public, key stakeholders and decision-makers. For example, did you know that, in 2014* the Church had;

A membership of 18.4m in 216 of 237 UN recognised countries 

Churches 78,810

Universities & Colleges 114

Schools 7,579 Students/Pupils 1.8m

Hospitals & Sanatoriums 173

Nursing/Retirement Homes 126

Clinics & Dispensaries 294

Orphanages/Children’s Homes 34

Aircraft & Medical Launches 7

Outpatient visits 18.05m

Health Food Industries 21

* Official General Conference Global Statistics

Our audience

It’s important to put our outreach strategy into perspective because this greatly influences our approach. Scotland’s population is 5.3m. Scottish Mission membership is 650. That is a ratio of one church member to 8,000 people. A 2016 Scottish Social Attitudes survey showed that 52% of people say they are not religious. A former BUC President’s essay highlighted the fact that the Church’s ethnicity is the direct reverse of the UK’s population and that this therefore impacts on the Church’s evangelism strategy.

In Scotland, most membership growth is from immigration, and from countries where Christianity is a given and more conservative.As a consequence, resisting the urge to adopt a conventional method of evangelism to a largely secular society can prove challenging. For the unchurched, “The Message” is a foreign language and akin to feeding a three-course meal to an infant.  Instead, Health and Social Services are a relational, contagious Christianity experience. We make the contact and sow the seeds – the Holy Spirit does the rest.

An open door

The long called for merger of Heath and Social Service in Scotland offers membership of their local Strategic Planning Groups to service users and community representatives. This is a golden opportunity for church members to influence the delivery of health improvement programmes.  Chief Medical Officer health and lifestyle advice increasingly reflects those of our Church. This should facilitate and encourage acceptance of our outreach initiatives because financial constraints are now increasingly forcing public services to depend on the Third Sector for the provision of services.

Community Empowerment legislation now enables community groups, with a sound business plan, to obtain asset transfers of public property and to provide former public services. Community groups may now bid for Health & Social Care contracts, as part of authorities’ commissioning process. This could be an important income generation opportunity for the Church to supplement and develop its community services.

But all this comes with a health warning. Existing and proposed Central Government legislation places the Church increasingly at odds with public opinion. Two street preachers were recently charged with a criminal offence for quoting from the Bible and a shopping mall manager closed one of our Health Expos down because one member ignored advice not to promote religious material. Some local authorities now prohibit the public distribution of leaflets unless they are requested. We must therefore be careful not to irreparably damage the Church’s image and reputation in our response to such situations.

Health Expos

Health Expos are now becoming the most favoured method of outreach and reflect Ellen White’s assertion that Health Ministry is “the right arm of the Gospel. The UK and the devolved governments’ health improvement policies and advice now harmonises more closely with those of the Adventist Church. It follows that NHS Health and Social Care authorities will expect some best practice consistency, and a professional approach, in the delivery of health promotion initiatives.

“Fail to plan? Then plan to fail”… is a well known business saying that is particularly relevant in the Church setting. Organising events can be fraught with difficulties. The best venues with maximum footfall are in great demand and usually booked months in advance. Some local authorities require an application up to 12 weeks in advance of an event. A date specific £5m public liability insurance from Adventist Risk Management can sometimes take a while to organise. Temporary structures, layouts and power supplies will all form part of the submitted risk assessment and Health & Safety legislation can make this a demanding part of the planning and approval process.

Measuring success

The Scottish Mission has purchased and is currently using US software for its Health Expos. It is said “Britain and the United States are countries divided by a common language”. We could add to that “And a National Health Service free at the point of access”.   And this is apparent in the terminology used in the Health Questionnaire. For example, alcohol use refers to servings and not units as promoted in the UK. The further interest section needs amending to reflect those offered by the BUC Discovery Centre. Therefore we are hoping to agree a common version for use throughout the UK. This would facilitate inter-church cooperation but, much more importantly create a meaningful data base that could also be shared with Health and Social Care Partnerships and, contribute to overall planning and service delivery.

Another business trueism is, “If it’s not measured, it’s not managed”. A Scottish Health Expo last year attracted nearly 200 participants. The responses to the questionnaire were analysed and the non-personal data shared with the local Health & Social Care Partnership Health Improvement Manager. We did this to determine what contribution our outreach could make to the wider programme of health improvement. It was concluded that, whilst the event made a useful contribution to health improvement, the questionnaire was largely subjective and did not therefore produce reliable measurements of community health. Nonetheless, there were 140 requests for further information that were referred to the Adventist Discovery Centre. We would therefore regard this as a success in that the contacts made and their follow-up is now in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

Lessons learnt

So what have we learnt in Scotland from our outreach experience? Firstly, that there is a need for a bespoke UK strategic policy for health promotion outreach. That despite the disproportionately high percentage of health and social care professionals in our membership, there is a need to build the capacity of our members so that they can contribute more effectively to outreach activities. To assist this process, we have produced guidance notes for those churches planning to organise Health Expos. There are considerable potential mutual benefits from working in partnership and, in today’s climate, we should not seek to operate in isolation. That also applies to inter-Adventist church cooperation. This will maximise the use of scarce resources and avoid duplication of effort. And finally, plan well in advance. Ideally, major outreach events should be in the district annual/quarterly calendar before inserting internal church events and the preaching plan. Which brings me to the commercial……

We are currently working with West of Scotland University on plans for a Health & Wellbeing conference this August that will build on our collective experience. The venue is just ten-minutes away from Glasgow’s International Airport and we hope it will encourage those taking a break in Scotland to join us for this significant event. Naturally, it will be a “must attend” for the Mission’s Health and Community Service leaders.

[John Wilby]


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WD25 9JZ
Tel: 01923 672251
Email: info@adventist.uk