The following post is an excerpt from our church planting email list from September 2019. To sign up for our email list for updates and prayer requests, see the bottom of this post.
Does Church Planting Work in New England?
As we are in the beginning stages of planting a church some questions that many of us will be asking ourselves are, “Is this worth the effort?” and “Does church planting even work in New England?” The second question comes because we know what it’s like to live in New England. It seems like there is sparse interest from our neighbors in God and having the label “evangelical christian” will not win you many friends here.
So when we hear stories of successful church plants elsewhere we struggle to believe the same could realistically happen here. Perhaps we write them off as a southern state phenomena, taking place in cities where all the church planter has to do is take an ad out in a local paper, post a few flyers, and 100 people show up on the first Sunday.
It is true that New England has a unique culture in the USA and that it has a lower christian population than most regions of the country. This presents different challenges to church planters here than the challenges they may face in other parts of the country, but it doesn’t make it impossible, just different. In fact, church planting may be more successful in New England than you realize.
Taking a long view
As I meet more and more church planters in the area I hope to be able to share stories with you of how God has been at work through each of their plants, but today I want to take a birds eye view. Individual stories can be written off as a flash in the pan, but what about 50 years worth of stories
In 1969 the city of Boston had 300 churches. In the decades that followed 23% of mainline protestant churches closed along with a number of Catholic churches, yet by 1993 there were 459 churches in Boston. This dramatic increase was due to a steady stream of church plants, first in the 60s at a rate of 3 per year, then the 70s at 4 per year, and the 80s at 6 per year. This was a period of steady multiplication of churches while the number of people living in the city had stayed largely the same.
Since 1993 church planting has continued in Boston at a steady rate, 7 per year in the 90s and 6 per year in the 2000s. By 2010 there were 575 churches in Boston and a rate of 6 plants per year has continued in the city since then.
This type of church multiplication is a work of God that we should celebrate! For some reason this story is little known and has received the name The Quiet Revival. If you would like to read more about the Quiet Revival I recommend this great article from the Emmanuel Gospel Center in Lynn.
The Quiet Pattern
How God is at work in Boston reminds me of the pattern of the kingdom in Matthew 13:21-32
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man planted in his field. Although it is the smallest of all seeds, yet it grows into the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
A mustard seed starts off small and unimpressive but when planted it grows. Now this growth doesn’t seem very impressive if you stand next to the plant for a day and watch it. The plant’s changing impact on its environment will be imperceptible. But over time, taking the long view, this plant matures and grows to a considerable height.
God’s work in Boston when viewed in a snapshot may not seem that impressive, but when viewed over 50 years it can be seen for the miracle that it is. His kingdom is growing like he said it would. Not in dramatic leaps with fast growing mega churches, but in sustained multiplying progress over five decades of new diverse expressions of witness to God.
A Multiplying Movement
So the long run facts say church planting is possible in New England, not just in one off ways but in a multiplying movement sort of way!
Let’s pray that God’s kingdom will multiply in Essex county like it has in the city of Boston. Our beginnings may be humble like a mustard seed, but we’re in this for the long run. Who knows how God might multiply his church on the North Shore through the small seed that is planted from NSCBC!
Give thanks to God for how he has been at work in Boston over the last 50 years in a sustained way
Pray that God will help us understand the particular challenges of planting in New England
Ask God to lead us to good partners in New England who can share with us what they have learned from planting in this area
Pray for the formation of a resident search team and that it would be given godly wisdom
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