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Why Plant Churches in the South?

As someone who speaks and writes quite often about church planting, there are a few specific questions I’m asked more frequently. One that always seems to arise is “Why plant churches in the South?” It’s a good question.

First, let me say that if you are not sure where to plant a church, I’d encourage you to consider international planting first. In other words, think about planting a church in the 10/40 window. If God does not want you there, think about planting in one of the megacities in North America. If not there, what about reaching the lost in rural (and unchurched) Maine or Montana (or lost of other similar areas)? If still not there, then at that point– maybe– you should consider the South.

Mossy Barn
Photo by Ian Sane.

It’s not that I don’t love the South– I just don’t think that everyone needs to plant there, and a disproportionate number of people say that God has called them to the South, forcing me to choose between the idea that God is not good at math or that church planters are going where there are already a lot of believers.

So, why plant churches in the South? And, obviously, why am I not taking my own advice?

Well, the short (and probably snarky) answer is simply “Why not?” But that obviously doesn’t begin to cover the multiple intricacies of the question. So let me attempt to cover a few of those.

First, on a personal note, what I described above is what I did. First, we considered planting internationally, but the Lord did not call us there (though we are involved and seek to send others). So, we went to a city (Buffalo). Then later we went to Erie, PA. Then, my life got a little crazy and I started being a seminary professor, researcher, whatever. So, now, I am planting a church in the South because that is where I live, I love my neighbors, they need Jesus, and I am a pastor. So, we planted Grace Church.

But, I also encourage others to plant churches in the South– and I’d like lots more (as long as you go through the process I mentioned above!). The fact is, God is calling many people to plant churches in the South. Here’s why:

1. There are still lost people in the South. Yes, we have more churches per capita in the southern states than in other regions of the country. And yes, the South is known as the Bible Belt. But that doesn’t mean everyone understands the gospel here or knows Christ as their savior. I assure you, that is not the case. The church our team planted here in the Nashville area is located in Hendersonville. That city alone has 61,000 residents in the area. But only 13,000 attend a Christian church on a given Sunday (which, by the way, does not mean we are 80% unchurched; it means that, on a given Sunday, about 20% of people go to church). However, if more than half of the people in my community are not in a church, I think there is plenty of room to plant another one. There are some other great churches in Hendersonville, but 48,000 people are still out there on a given Sunday– that’s just in my area! So the harvest is still white– in Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, Baton Rouge, Little Rock, Louisville, and everywhere in between.

2. It’s easier to birth a baby than to raise the (unwilling) dead. I’m a strong believer in church revitalization, so don’t take my comments out of context. I think (and could be wrong) that I have done more research on church revitalization and written more books on the subject than any active researcher in North America. Every denomination needs both a planting and a revitalization strategy. But many times the churches who need revitalization don’t want it. They want their community to change while they remain the same. But the community is always changing. New church plants are needed to match the changing landscape and composition of every neighborhood, whether that is in Augusta, Maine or Augusta, Georgia. So, we need to birth new babies if dying churches don’t want to be revitalized, and we need to help revitalize the churches that are willing..

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