Wednesday, February 18, 2009

You Go Where the Customers Are

My friend The Internet Monk is asking why aren't we doing inner city church planting?

It's a good, challenging question with multiple answers, most uncomfortable.

His post came a week after I read this story about the decline of churches in rural areas. Rather, it's about the exodus of pastors from rural areas.
Why are the pastors disappearing? Mainline churches (as well as some Evangelical) prefer their ministers seminary trained. But the starting salary for debt-burdened seminary grads now runs to $35,000 a year. That can break a poor and aging congregation, says Elizabeth Rickert Dowdy, pastor of the Tar Wallet Baptist Church in Cumberland, Va., who recently helped disband her other church: "When you have a congregation that's historically been able to survive at 20 members and loses 12, they close." And for the first time in American history, the majority of seminarians don't come from rural areas. Shannon Jung, a rural-church expert in Kansas City, Mo., says of young pastors, "A town without a Starbucks scares them." Wolpert recalls a professor's warning to a promising seminarian to shun a rural call: "Don't go. You're too creative for that."

The guy who said "You're too creative for that" needs to repent.

It's a disgusting sentiment. But it does not surprise me. He might as well have said "You're too good for them."

I came across this news story and the iMonk's post in a time when I'm also wondering why nobody is planting in the Northeast.
Of course I don't literally mean "nobody." I actually know a few guys who are planting churches in New England. And a few heading out to pastor in the Southwest. Post-Christendom and pre-Christendom, respectively, perhaps.

Thank God for the Mark Driscolls and the Tim Kellers and the Mark Devers and the John Pipers, all doing gospel-centered ministry in Christian-thin areas.

But God bless the guys whose names you don't know. The ones plugging away faithfully in gospel-centered ministry in little country churches, inner city strip malls, in homes and apartments and coffee shops and taverns in places where you can't spit and hit a Christian.

This past week while I was out writing at the cafe in the Frist Center, I overheard a white, tattooed punk rocker dude talking predestination with a large black woman. This is Nashville. Today I wrote from a coffee shop in a "hip" area of Nashville and the two guys next to me were talking about Abraham and Sarah. In a brief text message exchange with Canadian Bill Kinnon I said, "Man, this place is so Christian thick. I bet this never happens up there." He confirmed it did not.

And this is why the young pastors are planting churches (and launching satellite video venues) in the Bible Belt. Because this is where the customers are. It's a lot easier to sell "become a better Christian" to a suburban soccer dad who's already reading self-help books than it is to love people who want nothing to do with you.


Randi Jo :) said...

Very interesting! Seems true... maybe God is building His army from the bottom up :) in so many more ways than one.....

another interesting trend to think about though is that their is a HUGE demand/need for churches in areas like where we live in North Carolina --- because though we are Bible Belt... our once 'country' farm town all of a sudden has turned into Yankee paradise :) With the cost of living going up so much up there - they are migrating south... the baby boomers headed down.... and also so many are migrating out of cities --- therefore moving into northern rural/suburban areas - and those people don't like it - so they are moving south to get some land and space! I know that situation is true for where I grew up in New Jersey. all the NYC people moving west and getting out of the city... so all the west NJ are moving south! :)

We have so many northerners moving into our town here in NC every day and for the first time ever neighborhoods are going up in NC where you won't see another church (or 10) in the stretch of 10 or even 20 miles on our road.

normally here you can stand in a church building parking lot and spit and hit 5 other churches.

but things they are a changing! :)

have an awesome day! :)

Raindream said...

There's a new church plant going in my city, maybe not the inner city part, but close to it.

Jen said...

About the northeast, I know a bit. Went up there to parachurch plant, so to speak (with Young Life). The history of YL in New England is spotty - it was sort of booming in the 70s, then died out for the most part in the 80s. Then in the 90s, there was a resurgence (when I was up there) and decline in the early 00s (when I had to leave) and I think it has stabilized some at this point.

There are some good pockets of solid Christians in the northeast that will support new ministry. Fund raising is a huge challenge - it's the one region that is the stingiest in giving in the US. Ultimately, funding (or the lack of it) was the reason I had to leave.

What was the most interesting was the response from adults (parents of the kids to whom we ministered) - the folks who were not believers often became believers. They were starving for the Gospel. I can think of at least 2 sets of parents who came to Christ and are now on staff with YL as a result - they are ministering to their communities.

Why churches don't plant up there is a good question. The harvest is ready, imho.

Anonymous said...

You should check out - they are doing some good stuff in the Northeast.


Anonymous said...

How come nobody wants to plant churches in Utah? This state is in dire need of gospel centered teaching.

Jared said...

Anon, that's a great question.

You'd think some enterprising souls would make it out that way. It can't be b/c they're scared of Mormons. I imagine the culture there is a lot like the Bible Belt, only probably nicer!

Anonymous said...

The Mormon's are pretty nice, but it is really hard to have conversations with them because they believe that they are Christians too. The inner city churches in my local area (Ogden, Utah) are leaving at an amazing rate, and to my knowledge there are only 3 churches in the entire state that are "reformed". Thank God for podcasts like John Piper, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, etc.

Jared said...

they believe that they are Christians too

That's why Utah needs gospel-centered churches, I suppose.

It sounds like the Bible Belt, honestly. Down here it's like trying to sell something to people who think they've already got it. Ed Stetzer says it's like trying to treat people who are inoculated against the real thing with a synthetic version.

And the pastors/churches are no help, because they're just as oblivious to their gospel deficiencies.

Jen and Jim: Thanks for the links, tips, info.

Jared said...

Randi too; sorry, didn't mean to leave you out! :-)

Randi Jo :) said...

no problem! :)

Wanted: Radical Christians said...

I found this through an Internet Monk repost. It is troubling to see this happening. I recently reviewed Nick Spencer's "Parochial Vision" on the need for a minster church model. Sadly, existing churches that could benefit from becoming part of such a model are often too resistant to change... 1) Change of sharing a pastor and 2) change of having to move from survival mode to missional mode. But financially when a pastor's salary and benefits take up most of the budget, spreading the budget over a larger area and activating local leaders is essential to move into mission from decline.

Thanks for this post.