When it comes to planting churches, I think we romanticize the spiritual condition of our nation.
Do you wonder how many Americans actually believe the Bible is accurate? Do you wonder which cities most need a gospel-preaching church?
Barna Group recently conducted a study based on 42,855 interviews nationwide to determine which cities were the most or least “Bible-minded.” I suggest you read the full report, but here are a few takeaways for soulwinners, pastors, and church planters from this data:
1. We Are in a Unique Generation
Among the least Bible-orientated cities, Providence, Rhode Island, was the lowest. If you remember your American history, the Rhode Island colony was founded as a haven for Baptists. Providence should be the most Bible-orientated city!
As you determine your level of engagement in sharing the gospel, remember—only our generation can reach our generation for Christ. Two hundred years ago, the map above would have looked completely different. But this is not 1813—it is 2013. We must steward the time period in which God has placed us by acknowledging the current need and saturating communities with the gospel.
2. Go Where There Is a Need, Not Where You Feel Comfortable
Included in the bottom ten Bible-minded cities are San Francisco, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Most church planters I know are not eager to move their families into cites known as bastions of sin. This is one reason that I greatly appreciate the ministry of Pastor Dave Teis in Las Vegas as well as other pastors who have been willing to plant churches in such needy cities.
I would not question your definite calling from God to plant a church in Knoxville, Tennessee (the most Bible-minded city, according to this study). But I do sometimes wonder why God seems to call so many people to the areas of the country that are already full of gospel preaching churches, while so few come to the areas that are rife with sin and need. Maybe our calls are colored by our personal desires?
3. We Need to Target Large Cities for New Church Plants
According to this study, twenty of the thirty largest cities in America are in the bottom half of the Bible-minded rankings. The study reports, “Generally speaking, the more densely populated areas tend to be less Bible orientated…Twenty-two [of the] top Bible-minded markets have fewer than one million households.”
Sometimes our young men who come to West Coast Baptist College from small churches or rural communities assume by default that they will serve the Lord in a country church. People in every community need a gospel-preaching church, so again, I’m not questioning that God does call some to pastor in less populated places. On the contrary, I’m thankful for many godly pastors I know who serve faithfully and fruitfully in rural communities.
However, I am questioning the assumption that a man will serve in a rural town. We must seek God’s direction in these matters. And from a strategical viewpoint, we would be wiser to target large cities for new church plants.
4. The Local Church Is the Primary Means to Reach Our Nation with the Gospel
Both Chicago and Colorado Springs are known for having evangelical organizations—largely para-church organizations. Yet both of these cities rank in the bottom half of the study.
I’m thankful for any advance made for the cause of Christ! No doubt some of the ministries in these cities are serving local churches by providing resources, meeting counseling needs, etc.
But we must remember that it is the local church that has been commissioned by Christ to declare the gospel. Furthermore, we must remember that preaching the gospel is to be the core mission of the local church! “Extra-curricular” ministries are fantastic—but not at the expense of soulwinning and discipleship.
5. Come over and Help Us!
I can’t conclude this article without focusing your attention on the West Coast. A self-appointed advocate for the teeming cities in California, I implore you Easterners and Midwesterners to consider our region as you pray about where to plant a church. According to the Barna study, most of the major California cities are in the bottom third of the rankings.
I know there are needy areas all around the country. This particular study pointed out New England and Florida in addition to California. I’m not denying the needs in other places. But sometimes I think you who don’t live in the West forget our need out here!
Within a 350-mile radius of Lancaster, there are well over ten million people (and that’s a conservative estimate)—mostly in cities with few or no gospel preaching churches:
Los Angeles: 3.8 million
San Diego: 1.3 million
San Jose: 1 million
San Francisco: 805,000
Long Beach: 500,000
Las Vegas, Nevada: 500,000
Would you consider the West Coast in your church planting efforts?
Wherever you labor—as a pastor, church planter, or soulwinner—remember, people need the gospel!
A study such as this one should encourage us to redouble our efforts in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. We serve in a needy generation—a post-Christian culture. Ours is the opportunity to bring light to the darkness! May we be faithful stewards of the truth!