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.