Wednesday, March 9, 2011

10 Reasons New England Suffers For Mission

New England recently surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least churched, least religious section of the United States. There is a great move happening here, and many pioneering pastors and planters are getting excited about what God is already doing, but the need is still great and lacks for much exposure. As more church organizations launch more church planting initiatives, as churches earmark more and more money for church planting, and as networks announce more and more church plants, it appears that the vast majority of those called to plant churches are called to do so in places other than the neediest mission field. Now, every city needs gospel-centered churches, so I am grateful for those launching gospel-centered, missional works in the Bible Belt, the Midwest, and elsewhere. But the imbalance is not a little concerning.

To be honest, I don't know exactly why more church planters aren't coming to New England. But I can make some guesses, any of which, or several of which, may be accurate. In no particular order:

1. God's not calling people to New England.
Could this be it? Could the bottom line be that the vast majority of men called to plant churches in the States just aren't being called to New England?

2. Nobody knows about the need.
It could be that people are just unaware of the need. New England is outside their frame of reference or they do not think of it as a needy area. Lyandon Warren, an NAMB planter from the South, said he was at a seminary chapel service when the speaker just point-blank asked, "What's keeping you from planting a church in New England?" Warren hadn't ever thought of it that way, and he decided nothing was keeping him. He's now a few years deep into revitalizing a once-dead church in rural Pawlet, Vermont, and working at a dairy farm on the side. He's a guy who wouldn't have thought to come here until somebody put the thought in his head.

3. It is not as sexy as Africa.
Let's face it -- if we're talking about mission fields, New England, especially rural New England, has no prestige. In many cases, a missionary would get a whole lot more pats on the back for going to Africa or India than he would if he said he was going to New Hampshire. I've had several people want to know "Why Vermont?!!" that I know would not need explanation if I had gone to Sri Lanka. Vermont just ain't sexy. And some planters want to go places that "make sense." Or where there's a Starbucks.

4. The going is too hard.
Economically, philosophically, culturally -- New England is hard soil.

5. Planters are interested but their support systems are not.
Perhaps many men are very interested in going on mission to New England, but they can't sell a core on it, can't sell a sending church on it, can't sell a funding source on it. People may be really motivated to financially support a new church plant in Mobile, Alabama or among the urban poor of Detroit, Michigan, but it's hard to get excited about pouring money into New England. Maybe there are more willing planters than we realize, but they are having trouble getting resourced.

6. The work is too pioneering.
The field in New England is a little different from other, more densely churched areas. Church planting is never simple, but it's less simple in New England: guys can't just open up shop in a school auditorium, send some postcards out, get a rockin' band, and have a growing church in a few months. The culture isn't exactly amenable to that. There are variables here one might be able to anticipate in Nashville, Tennessee. But this is far from Tennessee. If you really want to be forced to think outside the typical church planter box, plant in New England. Maybe not so many do because it involves having to relearn lots of things; there's not as much precedent for it, or frameworks/formulas as for planting elsewhere.

7. It is too hard to attract local teams.
A dearth of indigenous support could be a real problem. New Englanders don't know much about church planting. It may be very difficult to recruit Christians from the area to join in such work because they are typically suspicious of anything "new," and for many New England churchfolk the notion of "church planting" isn't something they've ever heard of before. Their church was planted 200 years ago. Or it split from one that was.

8. It's lonely.
New England is not as big as the South, but the distance between missional believers and gospel-centered churches is greater. It is very easy to feel alone. Not many conferences come here; there aren't many local networks holding meetings within driving distance. If it weren't for social media, many gospel-centered pastors in New England might lack for any likeminded confidantes. This sort of "pioneer isolation" is not appealing to many church planters, who tend to be more extroverted types anyway.

9. A lack of Christians in the area leads to a lack of Christians interested in the area.

People want to go places they have knowledge about. Related to #2, it could be that because there aren't many Christians in New England, there simply aren't many Christians interested in New England. Planters tend to like to plant where they have previous connections. They want to go someplace they "know," even if they've never lived there per se.

10. We are disobedient or apathetic.
Finally, it may be that God simply isn't calling as many to New England, but it may also be that nobody's listening. Or they are, but just not obeying. I don't want to be that cynical about the situation, but contrasting the level of need with the direction of existing passion, it can get hard not to be. It's possible that people see the need and God is calling, but they simply don't want to come.


Josh said...

Been seeing the same trend and been bothered by it like you. #8 has definitely been difficult. And that's after serving on a church in NE for 3 years prior to planting. One other part of the equation is how some of your points affect the planter's spouse. If it's lonely for the planter, it's probably even more lonely for the wife.

Jared said...

Josh, that's a great point.

Jared said...

I think all of the above are true, to varying degrees. And I think these statements apply particularly here in northern New England - I'm seeing more movement down in Mass. Boston is a lot sexier than small-town NH. I heard Angel Silva say once not to come here unless you're willing to die in obscurity.

Part of the struggle is that there's not a lot of church planting infrastructure. I think if we want so see God move in the massive way needed we need to devote ourselves to developing an ecosystem where planters and their churches can grow.

Jared said...

Good word, Jared.

Ed. note: Please note that I am not talking to myself. The above Jared's comment is from a different Jared. :-)

Graham Buck said...

I think too there has been such a history of folks coming from the south, burdened by the need, with visions of single-handedly lighting a 3rd Great Awakening. When, after five to seven years, they come to grips with the difficulty of ministry in this region they close shop and head home.

The string of like stories only does more damage to the soil of people's hearts. Church planters need to come here and make it home first before it is a ministry job. If you're church fails you and you don't feel the need to stay simply because it's not home here, then you were destined to fail from the start.

What do you think about that?

Jared said...

Yes, I think the hardness needs to be emphasized so we get the right kinds of planters. We need to stress the longview, the importance of plodding, not sprinting.

I do think, though, that holding out the constant hope of revival and the energetic spirit of many church planter "types", if properly maintained in the Spirit not the flesh, is something New England needs more of. It is hard work not self-generating a false liveliness, but I know that as I'm committing to retire here, my people need to see excitement in order to be convinced the work of God is exciting.

Jason said...

Great stuff, Jared. Your third point flashed me back to a time I was part of a ministry that was putting together a mission trip for people involved with the group. We had a huge meeting in a conference room with doughnuts and a whiteboard. On the board was written the names of ideas that people came up with for the mission trip.

South Africa.

So I spoke up and said "South Central Los Angeles." You would have think I'd just broken wind in front of the Pope. They put it on the board but people were already grumbling. More international locations went up.

"Rural West Virginia," I said.

More dirty looks and grumbling.

Finally they voted for the "first round" of locations. You could vote for as many as you wanted in the first round and any one with less than 5 would be eliminated.

Only two were eliminated. They each had one vote.

LA and West Virginia.

It disgusted me so much because I knew at that moment it was more about the PR component than it was about helping people.

Jen said...

I and a team went up to New England with Young Life in the mid-90s. All that you say is valid about what made it hard. The financials were another factor for our staff - they just weren't able to maintain the fundraising necessary to continue doing ministry in the region. The first of us left after 5-6 years, the next layer of folks left within 7-8 years. I think there are only 2 of that original team who remained, besides the natives who were there before we arrived. And those 2 married natives and have stuck.

There were other factors to the leaving, but that was a huge one. And I will say this - we were all grieved when we left.

Cliff Graham said...

All good and true, but I would submit that Utah is equally ignored. Christians might be apathetic about NE, but they hate Mormons outright. Which is sad.

Gabe said...

New Plan, RE: #9

Get church planters to read through the entire Stephen King catalogue. That would be why I would LOVE to plant up there. If I were, ya know, a planter.

Jared said...

Cliff, I hear you. I've tried (meagerly) to raise awareness of Utah's need previously:

I should do a better job of that. I know it's a needy area.

Gabe: King maybe. Updike definitely. ;-)

Gabe said...

Jared, don't spoil my fantasy world. I full intend to have to fend off demon clowns when I plant in Derry, ME.

Cliff Graham said...

Thanks Jared, we actually have something incredible happening. Alpine Church in Utah is exploding with the gospel message, uniting with other churches. I'll email you about it.

Steve said...

I would also add, living in Boston, that the problem is also the groups currently working in NE. MANY church planting groups, that I shall not name, seem to focus on A. cities only and B. only taking church planters from their very limited inner ring.

They often seek out 27 year-old seminary grads and overlook more mature candidates because the 27 year-old is 'hipper' or whatever.

Jared said...

Um, Gabe, you do know that Derry is made up by King, yes? Ditto Castle Rock. ;-)

Gabe said...

What?! Next you'll be telling me everyone up there isn't folksy and/or evil and always uses 'Ayuh' as their affirmation of choice.

jdelricci said...

Very interesting and thought provoking article and discussion here. I am a lifelong Rhode Islander who got involved with a brand new church plant in 1975. We are now a church of around 1000 members and in the process of helping to start two brand new works this year. I believe God is calling people EVERYWHERE including places like NE but human nature is to be wary of places harder to reach people. And even if some respond to the call they find it difficult to raise support and interest from groups that look upon certain areas of the country as spirtual graveyards. God is doing some amazing things in NE and yes, there is a certain mindset that is not easy to break through. But it's an exciting place to minister because even though people know "about" Jesus they are so steeped in tradition and un-Biblical thought that it is very similiar to Paul's assesment of Athens and his declaration rings true here..."You are very religious....but I declare to you HIM Whom you worship in ignorance." Jesus is "unknown" but there are ministries up here that are declaring HIM...and many are saying YES!

zach hoag said...

Jared, don't you think this all assumes that the solution is for non-New Englanders to come here and plant? I think it's just the opposite - empower and release local followers of Jesus to make disciples that make disciples. (Everyone's welcome, of course. But transplanting is not the answer.)

Ian Ashby said...

Thanks Jared, as someone who moved to New Hampshire from London eight years ago to lead a church plant, I can concur that I think your observations are true. It has been hard work at times. Whether you are from the South, Midwest, or London, it is still working into a different culture. But there are a lot of encouraging signs and much anticipation for what God is doing here. I am working with a network of churches planting in New England, we have made a start, but there is much to be done. Pray to the Lord of the harvest - "More workers please Lord!"

Bill LaMorey said...

Fantastic post! I planted a church in CT about 5 & 1/2 years ago. God has blessed, but by no means has it been easy!

I don't want to "spam" your blog, but I recently wrote a post on managing expectations that some other NE planters might find helpful:

I do believe God is up to big things up here. The ground is hard, but I sense God moving. I believe that those that take a risk by working this mission field will experience some BIG things...though not necessarily quickly.

Jared said...

Yes, my language skews "come here" to people outside, but mainly b/c people inside don't seem to have either the interest, ability, or even frame of reference to do it themselves. Present company excluded, of course.

But in general, you are right: What we need -- and what I'm not arguing against -- is an indigenous movement. And I do think church planting is the shape this movement should take, b/c God's plan for the spread of the gospel is the church on mission. And I know you agree with that.

Our church is in planning stages for planting in downtown Rutland.
But I still want to use whatever platform I have to call missionaries from outside in. We could use all the help we can get, yes?

Caleb said...

I think this is great stuff. The same could be said about England too I suppose. I've heard missionary reports of 8-10 years and only seeing 1 or 2 people come to Jesus and having a church membership of 25 people or less. Whereas my church in SC is 3 years old and has a congregation of about 300. Tough stuff to grasp

Phil, MDiv '86 said...

I was involved in church planting in New England 1986-1992. Although the Lord used the experience to draw a family of four and a few other individuals to Himself, I found the general population to be closed to the gospel. My wife & I worked in a "Boston bedroom community". Many area residents were doctors, lawyers and educators in many of Boston's fine universities. Most were educated beyond their ability to exercise faith, relying instead on their education and sense of self-worth. They refused to accept the reality that they are lost without Christ.

Anonymous said...

I am from New England and put a few of my thoughts down. I always thought it was weird when I went down south for college and everyone talked about God like it was no big deal. I thought I would scribble a few of my observations on my blog in response:

zach hoag said...

@Jared, yes we do need help, but this is not the first time in Vt's history (for example) that church planters have moved in. In BTV in particular, there has been a fairly consistent stream of planters for 20+ years. Most of those plants have become marginalized or, worse, have failed entirely.

So transplanted planting can be counter productive if in fact it leads to more marginalized churches and failures. If a pastor moves in, the key is what happens next - namely, does he begin laying the groundwork for an indigenous missional movement, or does he mainly try to throw up a sign and hold an event.

Agreed, entirely, that the church is the mission of God, par excellence.

Ed said...

I'm glad you put Number Ten as the last reason, because by the time I was done reading the list, I wanted to cry, Waaaaa! Come on, folks, man up! New England is not in the 10/40 window. There is no persecution here; no one is dying for their faith. There are wonderful Christians and great churches here. True, there's not many churches that number in the tens of thousands on Sunday mornings for worship attendance. But, so what? It is time we stopped crying about what's wrong and started thanking God for what is good and right: strong pastoral relationships (at least here on Cape Cod), a deep missional commitment to the Gospel, thousands of new churches planted over the last forty years in the six state region.
I grew up in Rhode Island, and I can tell you that RI has a completely different spiritual atmosphere today than it did when I was younger -- and that goes for the rest of the region. True, this ain't California (Zippy the Chimp could plant a church there), but God is working a great work in New England. Let's acknowledge that.
Maybe God is about to confound the wise... once again.

Jared said...

I hear you, Zach. Good cautions.

Baby and bathwater, and all that.

In #'s 4 and 6 I am noting the unique needs of ministry in this context. I think your "hanging out a sign and holding an event" is in view with my $6.

Obviously I am not calling for lousy church planting. :-)

And let's remember that newcomers don't have the monopoly on doing church lousily.

Jared said...

Oops. Not my six dollars. My #6.

Jared said...

I wanted to cry, Waaaaa! Come on, folks, man up! . . . God is working a great work in New England. Let's acknowledge that.

Ed, I acknowledged that in the second sentence of my post. Did you miss that?

Respectfully, if you think this post is whining, you are wrong. Just trying to be a squeaky wheel about the great opportunity in this wonderful place.

Anonymous said...

I would like to make an appeal that just as great a need in New England today is for men to fill pulpits in pastorless churches. There is a huge number of pastorless churches in New England. I wont re-hash what you all said about how hard it is, but some of you men out there ought to pray about taking a pastorless church. I have knowledge of several in New England right now, today. Now the Lord may be directing a man to plant, but please consider filling a pulpit. I'm aware of pastorless churches in NH, Maine, and MASS right now. There are pros and cons to planting as opposed to taking a church. But at least by taking a church, you usually have another family or two right away, and in some cases 50-100 folks, a meeting place, Sunday school and nursery workers, maybe even some support to help. What we need is men to commit their life to what they believe God is calling them to today, and not waver in 2, 5, or 10 years when the going gets tough. We dont need todays church planters to abandon a work so we have more pastorless churches in 10 years. Yes its hard, but be sure of your calling men, dont be moved by someones suggestion, or some FEELING, the calling of God ought to be confirmed in his word, and counsel with your Pastor, and other ordained men. I could go on and on about this one, but please pray about filling a pulpit in New England. The wolves come in and the sheep begin to scatter as soon as a man leaves the pulpit.

Jared said...

To repeat: My post is not call to lousy church planting or faddish church planters. I respectfully request that it be read in the spirit with which it is written, and perhaps a little charity could be afforded in assuming I am not stumping for the influx of quick-burn-out zealots to New England.

Secondly, Anonymous you raise a valid concern about a good need.
My church currently has 3 capable preachers we supply for empty pulpits and we have been sending them out to 4 different churches in the last several months. Any given week, we have 2-3 men from our church preaching the gospel in other churches that do not have pastors.

One thing we are concerned about, however, is that many of these churches either a) don't know how to attract/hire a good evangelical pastor who believes the Bible, or b) aren't economically able to hire anybody.
We are about to begin trying to figure out how to help one local church work toward revitalization.

That second point there relates to my point in the post about economics. There are a lot of pulpit-less churches in New England, but many of these cannot afford to hire full time, and in some cases part-time, pastors. And the unfortunate thing is that it is hard to attract a pastor to a church to work for free or part-time in such difficult soil (and sometimes in such difficult churches).

I get at least one email a week from somebody with a resume wanting to know about getting a pastoral position up here. My knowledge of pastorless churches is admittedly limited, but the ones I know about couldn't afford to hire somebody or I wouldn't wish on anybody who didn't know how to revitalize a gospel-less church or didn't mind fighting through a toxic one.

I wish there were a good, reliable venue for strong, evangelical churches in New England with job openings to "advertise." I found my church on or something like that, btw.

Kerbi said...

Reading this hits the nail right on the head. My husband and I recently, due to jobs, moved to the southern Maryland/DC area. Talk about lacking in community and biblical churches, we have found an Acts 29 church plant in Arlington, VA and we have to drive an hour to get to it and with gas prices rising it's making it even more difficult. I sometimes wonder if God sent us this direction to help pioneer the movement but we are just two sinners that don't know the first thing about any of that. God did put it on my heart that maybe, just maybe we could help in some way in the southern maryland region. Who knows. If that is what God is doing I definitely would respond to the call as far as women's ministry. This area is very lonely and dark. We miss the south, mainly because of the church community we had at The Village Flower Mound. I sure hope that more people will head on up this way to plant some good biblical churches.

kateg said...

Wow. I'm from Mass...I would say I never really heard why Jesus lived and died during all my years growing up, going to catholic school. I always assumed NE was gospel ignorant (like I was), not gospel hardened. I'll have to think about that. I mourn for my family mired in that darkness, though where I live now, in Wyo, is certainly a hard place as well. Thank you for your work in a difficult area.

Jesse & Amy Davies said...


Excellent post, thank you!

I would love to get in contact with you because I am heading up a team that is looking to do a church plant in Dover, NH within the next year. I am from the Lakes Region in NH and have been doing various international missions work with YWAM, since 2007 and have felt the urge to return to the motherland. Our plan is to return to Dover this summer and take things from there. We have a strong support system in place there and are hopeful that something will happen with all these hopes and dreams of ours.

Our desire if solely to follow the call of God and make disciples through Evangelism, Mercy Ministry and Training, with an emphasis on the college age demographic. I have seen the lack of the Gospel firsthand and have spent countless hours praying to the Lord for strength to share the Truth there. It is time for Dover to become our home once again and do whatever the Lord requires of us.

After reading through your blog I was hoping that you would consider dialoguing with me over e-mail, or even skype. My intention is to network with likeminded visionaries in the area of New England and learn as much as I can in the coming months and decades to come. This area is not for the faint of heart and I intend on linking with exceptional people like yourself so to maximize grow in my personal discipleship and the effectiveness I can have in others lives.

Needless to say, I am incredibly hungry for discipleship and truth from those who are willing to be useful!

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your response!
-Jesse D.

Kris said...

Have you thought about ways to rejuvenate people's interest in the Christian churches that they may have been born into but have since stopped attending? I went on a mission trip with my Baptist church one time to Mexico, and they didn't tell us what type of work we were doing until we got there was handing out Gospel of John pamphlets door to door with info about the local Baptist church. The majority of Mexican citizens at least "claim" Catholicism. I know the "C" word is taboo to most Protestant Christians, but hear me out ( as I am currently a Protestant myself). What if we had gone there to explain the gospel so they understand their current church? What if we raised interest in personal relationships with Christ, regardless of the legitimately Christian church they go to? That's what it's all about, right? I think people are more receptive when you are trying to ignite their latent furvor, than convert them to another Christian denomination. That being said, New England has more non-practicing Catholics than probably anywhere else in the states. I would suggest something to get the kids (and adults) interested in expanding the relationship with Christ that they have been lacking by uniting them with their home churches through reviva type functions. Community outreach is always another good way. There is a Catholic group that has traveling groups of ppl in their young 20's that travel across the country leading youth camps and preaching the Gospel. they are called Focus. There are others as well.

Just a thought...

Josh said...

Love your heart for New England! I will say that we are seeing God do great things through many churches in NE! I planted next level church almost 3 years ago with 12 people and a little money from the ARC (affiliation of related churches) and have seen God do awesome things! To give God glory for what he is doing we now have 3 locations in two states and a fully operational coffee house open all week long for the community. (Kaleo coffee) we have also seen great leaders come long side NLC and really invest into NE! We have also seen amazing unity, we started a church planting leadership network called activate and have over 20 churches and 80 people at the first one and 30 churches signed up for the next one next week. We have seen great men of God doing huge things around the country offer to come and mentor pastor Craig Groeschel opened our last meeting via video. I hate the feeling I have writing all of this because the thought of coming across prideful makes me sick to my stomach but I stumbled on this blog tonight and felt a little defeated after reading at... Not so much by the post but after reading the comments. NLC isn't the only church moving the ball down field in NE! Jesus is doing some huge things! We have a vision to have 20 locations by 2020 and fully believe that will happen! I am the least likely to be pastoring a church, I'm nothing but in under 3 years we have had over 400 salvations and grown to (I hate saying numbers) a lot of people! The idea that Gods spirit is divided by state lines is stupid! The idea that church plants can't make it in NE is crazy! The idea that it's to hard to see a move of God isn't true! He is the God of the inpossible! If u read this blog and feel like you are defeated and that churches can't grow in encouraged they do!!!!! I started NLC at 27 years old with only a dream to see the least churches area of our country bring honor back to Gods church! I had a dream and a few finished online bible courses and just a short time later we are preparing to launch our 4th location and leaders from around the country are calling NE to see what the heck God is up to!!!!!! This isn't about NLC! This isn't about me!!! I'm nothing and NLC is only one of the great churches in NE doing great things! I'm only writing to say stop acting like Jesus has left NE and that it's so hard to plant or pastor a church in NE!!! Instead dare to believe in the impossible take your eyes off of past failure and stats and remember that your God isn't defined by people saying NE is the least churched area of our country, he's not defined by what can't happen he is a sun stand still God and he WILL AND DOES BLOW UP HIS CHURCH IN NE!!! I pray that we as leaders in NE change our posture maybe that would atract more church planter and I'm hoping I encouraged someone! K it's late I'm on my iPhone and can't be responsible for bad spelling I have fat fingers :) let us know if we can serve any of you! Let's change this region for Christ!

TwoDudes said...

Josh from NLC, it is exciting to hear what God is doing in your church(es) I have been in NE for 4 years. I am a lay person and God has moved me around the world via my company for good purposes in the kingdom. I love this role in the kingdom of God. As for NE, I completely agree with your statements. We have been part of a growing church and have been to others that equally as alive. We know that God is moving in NE. The two observations I have is that church planters coming to the area need to ensure that New Englanders minister to New Englanders. It is a process that will take awhile. The people up here are fantastic but seem to require a deeper connection to make commitments (any commitments). In the south, we tend to move more quickly on emotion. The second thing is that the gospel is the gospel. It is unchanging. The method of church though can vary. In southern MA I have come across so many people that are comfortable with the visuals of the traditional church but not satisfied with the lack of relationship. Yet, they are equally uncomfortable with the completely casual auditorium feel in many evangelical churches and the like. The bottom line is that we cannot simply replicate what works in other places to reach New England. We need to make sure that the church is here for the community more than the community is here for the church - therefore the style needs to adapt.

Terry said...

This is good stuff! Born and raised here in MA and having pastored in NJ, I find myself once again drawn back to MA. It is almost an obsessed addiction to live here. Sort of a love/hate relationship. The key for anyone pastoring or considering pastoring/church planting in this area is to have a sense of wanting to be settled and a willingness to stay for the long haul. I have seen too many guys come and go and they leave behind a disaster trail of broken community and people who once were given a vision to see the gospel go forth and they end up floundering from church to church. Then the next guy comes in and offers the same vision of planting a gospel-centered church and the cycle just keeps occurring. Now, there is no doubt a great many fellowships that are plugging away and they continue to turn over the soil and push forward but they seem to be few and far between. I live right outside of Worcester, MA with a population of 180,000+. I can count about 50 churches, with attendance of about 50-75 that seem to re-cycle tradition and they have no understanding of why they are not growing.

Anonymous said, "I would like to make an appeal that just as great a need in New England today is for men to fill pulpits in pastorless churches"

Anyway, I wanted to see if Anonymous (above) would e-mail me so I might talk with you some more about these pastorless churches. Here is my e-mail: terry at renewfm dot org.

Chip M Anderson said...

My facebook page posted a link from my GCTS link...and found your blog on New England...very good. Also, love your Gospel Driven Church emphasis...I have done a little work on that idea...infact I posted a while ago a short exegetical paper on Col 3:16 and titled it The Gospel Driven Church...heres the link if your interested...

My blog isn't as neatly framed as yours, but you should check it out... Been doing a little writing myself on Evangelism and Social Action (two articles in the Africanus Journal from GCTS) and hopefully it will be a book sometime before my 18 yr old daughter has grandkids...peace, chip

Troy A said...

What can I say, but a loud AMEN! I'm glad you articulated this summary and I'm glad Gospel Coalition posted it.

I am a new church planter in the South Shore suburbs of Boston with the Christ the King PCA.

Thanks Jared.

Michael said...

I am not a church planter, but I have pastored a church here in Connecticut for 21 years after serving 8 years in the Midwest. Perhaps a worldly view of success (i.e., success equals numbers) also discourages people from coming to New England. Maybe some of us think, "Why work so hard to win a few souls when you can grow a mega church in few years somewhere else?" On the other hand, it seems easier to be a superficial disciple in places where it is culturally accepted to go to church. I consider myself blessed to serve Christ here. It hasn't been easy, but the need is so great, and God's grace is sufficient.

C. Holland said...

All 10 points, and most all the comments, are describing my mission field in Western Europe! Loneliness, the hard soil, even the string of failed plants and planters leaving--it's all here, too, just with a different accent.

To the commenter that said it must be harder on the wives: it is, and their extreme isolation is one of the compounding factors in missionary families leaving.

To the commenter who said the difficulty and hardness must be emphasised to those contemplating ministry in NE: it's emphasised over and over to prospective missionaries coming here, and if it doesn't scare them off, the reaction we get is, "Well, I believe that OTHERS have failed, but I'M different, I won't fail!" And they're the ones who abandon things within 2 months of landing, leaving the rest of us to clean up their mess.

After 4 years in the mission field, I've noticed another issue: Christians (both national and stateside) who actively discourage long-term, especially lifelong, service here. Parents, well-meaning friends, even US churches have aggressively tried to encourage us to leave--and we weren't expressing remorse about being here. When you get comments like, "You've done your time; now you can get a paid job in a real ministry," it's obvious what people really think we're here for.

Planters/missionaries in hard areas need encouragement to go on, not enticement to leave, especially when the enticement is for selfish reasons.

Ransom said...

Anyone know of churches in NE looking for a pastor? I'm praying about going that way and was wondering about the possibility of a re-plant v. a brand new plant.

My email is if you know of any.

Chris Goeppner said...

Great post Jared. Thanks for utilizing your platform and spreading the word about this amazing untapped region. Look forward to connecting again soon!

Mike McGarry said...

I found this link on GCTS' Facebook page and, as a pastor committed to my local New Englan, I was intrigued. As a college student I was totally sold on the need for church planting and had many conversations with people about potentially starting a church plant in Salem within a few years after graduation. I went from college to seminary (all in MA) and have now been serving as a youth pastor in a fairly traditional church in Mass for six years. I grew up here and even as a high school kid I remember driving around the local towns scratching my head over the plethora of churches, and yet realizing that the Bible and the Gospel really had no place in them (I was a weird high schooler).

From where I sit today, I am committed as ever to seeing the Church in New England revitalized and renewed, but I no longer am sold on church planting. Us New Englanders are skeptical of things that are new and unproven. But what really shifted my thinking was a deep and abiding love for the Church and a desire to see the Gospel restored to local churches where there is no Gospel (and are therefore not really "churches" at all). I believe this is even more difficult work than church planting, because you'd need to endure much opposition and do a whole lot of teaching/catechesis with great humility and thoughtfulness.

So I wonder not why people don't plant more churches here (you can stand in the center of almost any town here and see two or three churches!), but why Gospel-centered ministers don't work to renew churches that have gone astray.

Jared said...

Mike, I don't believe it's an either/or scenario but more of a both/and.

Bob Thune has done a good job of explaining the primacy of new church planting in this message at last year's Lead conference in New England, however:

jeanne said...

jared i just read this blog on churches in NE, recently I've felt led to be praying for revival in NE. In another year my children will be graduating and I have desired to be more involved to see people saved and thriving in a Christ centered church.
A New Englnder all my lifein the past, I have felt the pains of isolation, especially in the area of evangilism and corporate intercession.
I have been encouraged by this blog to pray with much more understanding. I always wondered why not much seem to shift when I've dedicated pray for NE, now i see things ARE happening.
Please let me know of any prayer groups or strategic things people are praying for since i will be traveling NE soon regularly and am making it my mission to be praying.
God Bless NE!

jon said...

I am aware that this post is old by internet standards, but in reading it i've felt convicted to say that i've experienced my central and most life-changing discipleship within New England throughout the last 5 years.

I cringe a little at the thought of a sudden inundation of church-planters from the Mid-West or the South (I myself grew up there - so please, no offense intended). I agree deeply with #6 - but I don't think that is something that stops planters. The majority of churches or ministries I experienced here were those who came in looking to form a church, but were either too prideful or too set in their ways to engage productively with the culture here.

Even the language calling NE "hard" or "poor" soil hints at this culture gap. Is the soil poor for growth? Or are you trying to use a hammer where a spade is required? I've seen men and women in ministry come in with their hatchet and their machete to "brave" the untamed, heathen region, and then wonder why they are met with stony silence or unresponsive relationships.

Maybe God is aware that enough damage has been done by people who don't have the humility to minister from a place of questions, submission, and friendship.

As I said, I grew up in the South. I would say that, having experienced the "soil" in both places, I prefer New England. There is a realism, a sense of questioning, an intellectual engagement here that beats out the religious shallowness and dense taking-for-granted of God that I saw growing up, that made me doubt the reality of God in the first place. Where have I seen more depth of faith, more of an outpouring of lived faith? New England.

Maybe it's good, as you mentioned, Jared, that there are new movements in the Bible Belt: it would be nice to not have to cringe at the thought of my newest Christian friends here meeting some of my Christian friends in the Bible Belt. There is a difference of spiritual humility that astonishes me at times.

Jeff said...

I have had lots of conversation with my pastor regarding church planting and many of the concerns he has expressed show up here. Part of the gift mix for church planters is being entrepreneurial and running your church like a business. The wiggle room you may have in another region of the country is simply not found here. Churches live and die on the ability of the pastoral staff to manage the church and bring in a consistent membership roll. The cost of living, health insurance, and rising transportation costs have made it difficult for established churches to even consider plant daughter churches. What pastor who had an established church would want to send out some of their gifted leaders with a low probability that the daughter church and perhaps the mother church would survive? On a positive note, we have noticed that "friendship evangelism" is being blessed by the Lord and many people who are brought to the Lord through the church come on the arm of a friend.

Jeff said...

One other aspect of church planting that could use some discussion/clarification is that planting a church does not necessarily result in growth by conversion. Are there any models of churches in New England where the majority of numerical growth comes from conversion verses transfer growth from other churches or people moving into the area and finding a church like the one they came from? Again, I think it's the relationships, rather than programed events that spur conversion. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

There are people called to New England. We are here. I am a pastor without a church and it is difficult to find a church to pastor. New England is a tough ministry.

Rational νεόφυτος said...

You missed a massive one: it's terribly expensive to live up there, unless you're a 2-income, 2-kid, 1-vasectomy family making a sizable chunk of cash.

Pastor Joe Grabowski said...

Pastor of a small but passionate fellowship in northern New Hampshire here!

I loved your blog post, and I say "bring it on!" Come sow, come water -- it is God who will grow it -- but the laborers are few.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see that people think so highly of New England. Here's an idea. Maybe religion and churches aren't what's needed in New England. Maybe we had enough of Puritanism and other religious movements because they never do anything but leech and prey on the general public. Why go to church when God/Spirit/Nature is all around us? I'm going to have to pull out the Martin Luther card and say that you don't need anyone to interpret the bible for you. And absolutely nobody should be afraid to walk alone in the world and struggle a little. Church and organized religion is nothing more than an accepted cult.