I just read this article on how New England is the least churched area of the country now (at the expense of the also less religious Northwest). Being from New Hampshire myself, I always think it is weird seeing people talk about my home state and region talked of as a missions field. But mission is global, so I shouldn’t feel too weird. Jesus sent his disciples to the ends of the earth – that includes the corners of the United States…yes, even cold places where snow ever falls (aka – the Great Northern Wilderness).
What is also interesting is how there is always guilt about failure in New England. I actually have a friend that came up to Boston to help plant a church. I know many others from the South and other regions that came up to New England to start something up. Problem is – many become self-isolated real fast.
New England is not just one culture – it is a mash-up of many cultures all interacting at a very high intellectual level in some spheres and then in a more folksy hard worker way in others. In order to minister you need to know how the cities developed historically, the hardness of pioneering in the area, the survival and hard nature of the fisherman, and the history of independent thinkers who see themselves as trailblazers.
Things southerners probably don’t like about northerners. (1) Blunt and to the point conversations. Plain speaking is expected up north. Polite people are probably hiding something. (2) Arguments are normal. If you don’t like a good debate that gets the blood boiling you might want to go home. Debate is good conversation and keeps people sharp when they’re cold. (3) History goes way back, families have histories in the communities, and you need to listen to the stories. You will not become part of that history in the first generation. Start a family, start a church, raise up your kids and through your family minister to those in your sphere. You may not be a New Englander, but your kids might be. The best stories of growing churches in New England are started out of prayer groups. A bunch of ladies getting together, praying together, then calling a pastor to lead their growing flock. Make sure that you’re not using a method that doesn’t match how New Englander’s do things. Personal faith is big and the ladies have a lot of power. (4) Friends don’t come easy. I don’t know if it is the weather, or the pioneering distrust of others – but it is work making a friend in the North. You have to be free enough to laugh at yourself if you are mocked when you try to reach out to others – but guaranteed – if you make a friend in New England, you will likely remain friends forever. Why is that? I don’t know – just know that it may take years to build a few good supportive relationships.
Ultimately, the deliberation on why New England is unchurched belongs to the people of New England. There are movements in our area that are strong and vigorous. Having graduated from Gordon Conwell and ministered at Grace Chapel in Lexington, I know that ministry can flourish. The problem is that New Englanders need to own the problem themselves. Call it indigenous missions or whatever you like.
If we see New England church like the Church of Acts, spreading the Gospel again to people who literally have not heard how God loves them – that’s still powerful and that is a lifelong committment, not a 10 year gig.