A Church on Every Corner?
Church planting in the South is a loaded statement. There are a lot of assumptions people make and therefore a lot of questions asked about church planting in the South. A question that comes up frequently is why are you planting in a place that has a “church on every corner”? Why don’t you go somewhere that needs churches? Like I said, there are a lot of assumptions made because the truth is, we need more churches even in the South. Some questions I like to follow that particular question up with are the following: Did you know that about 3,700 churches in the US close every year? Did you know we (the Church) are only planting about 4,000 churches in the US every year? That leaves us with only adding about 300 churches a year and this doesn’t even come close to keeping up with population growth. I also share that even though I’m in a place where there is a “church on every corner” there are still well over 80,000 people in my area alone that do not belong to a church. I also ask if they know that new church plants are usually more effective at reaching the lost. There may be a “church on every corner” but that doesn’t mean that those far from God or the marginalized are being reached. God loves them just the same, and therefore, we should care about whether every person has the opportunity to belong to a local church family. We need more churches in the South where there’s a “church on every corner”.
If you do “attend church” in the South and you look around the building, you probably will see people just like you- same economical class, same social class and the same skin color. I’m not saying every church in the South is this way, but I would say that it probably still is the majority. Planting a church that looked more like Revelation 7:9 was important to my husband and me. Our area is a very diverse area. However, most (not all) of the churches in our area are still very segregated. Heaven isn’t going to be segregated and we believe that we can bring Heaven here by walking alongside of each other–together hand in hand. Is it hard sometimes? Yes. Are there misunderstandings sometimes? Yes. Do we always understand each other or the why behind what we do? No. However, being a part of other cultures and having conversations, sometimes hard conversations, has helped me grow SO much in my faith. I have been extended so much grace in times of misunderstandings and mistakes. I have been able to be a small part of the embodiment of the gospel because of the relationships with people who are not like me. I read the Bible through a different lens because of the conversations I’ve had. Scripture was written to and by a minority group of people and trying to understand what it is like to be a minority group has made me understand Scripture differently. This has long been a “blind spot” in the South, but I’m excited that I see some hope and progress being made on this front. The progress is SO MUCH SLOWER than what I would like for it to be; however, the future that I can see arising on this front overwhelms me with joy. The Church should be place where racial and class reconciliation happens even if it’s not happening anywhere else in the community. The Church should be leading the way.
One other challenge in the South is southern culture is “churchy”. People wake up on Sunday morning, go the church, and then head out to eat lunch. It’s the thing families do. It’s part of the routine. I’m so afraid for the most part the people sitting in the pews in churches in the South don’t have a relationship with the living God. We need new churches in the South to change up things in such a way that it is all about the relationship with Christ and not about the thing we do.
You may ask, well are there any benefits to planting in the South? I would say yes. People for the most part are cordial and polite. You can walk up to a stranger and they’ll most likely at least listen to you because they’ve been taught to not be “rude” and have southern hospitality. I’ve had so many conversations with complete strangers standing in their front yards and then get invited back for coffee, tea, or a meal at the end of the conversation. Not only have I had full on conversations, even gospel conversations, in front yards, I’ve had people go in and get me a bottle of water because it’s hot in order for us to finish the conversation. Because of that southern hospitality I believe I’ve been in homes that I may not have been invited into in other parts of the country. Regardless of their social or economic status, they will offer what they have even if it means them going without. Good ol’ southern hospitality opens up doors that otherwise might be shut.
The bottom line is we desperately need churches planted in the South because there are people without Christ. We need churches that purposefully call out and step into the “blind spot” of the South. We need churches to lead the way in reconciliation and to embody the gospel. We need churches to break the mold of the normal southern church. We need churches to take people up on their southern hospitality and have Jesus conversations with them. We need churches planted in the South.
Dawn and her husband Matt planted Journey Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky in the fall of 2017. She enjoys working behind the scenes and in the details. In her role with Stadia, she provides support to the team leading projects in our U.S. church planting. Dawn and Matt have been married since 2002 and have 4 beautiful girls.