Written four years ago now, this post is by far the most read and commented on piece I have ever written. It was also the most controversial. So much so, that I posted a near-retraction shortly after, which you can (and should) read here. While it may have been an ill-advised rant, I still hold much of the concern that fueled it – there is a generation of young pastors that is flocking to the city to plant churches that will undoubtedly be very cool. What newly-developed suburbs were to church planting in the 1990s, rapidly-gentrifying urban cores are to church planting today. The artists and executives in the cities need the gospel, but so do the suburban soccer moms, blue collar factory workers, and rural farmers.
Also, I am happy to say that I am seeing more and more diversity happening in church planting. I’m grateful for friends like Jared Wilson laboring in rural New England and Justin Hyde pastoring in small town, TX. Acts 29 in particular, and church planting as a whole, seems to be widening its reach. May it continue to be so…
Through my work with the Acts 29 Network, I get the privilege of assessing a number of potential church planters each year. I also get to hear about dozens more from fellow pastors as well. When I guy comes in to get assessed, by the time he gets to the interview stage he’s already submitted a lot of paperwork. Resumes. Plans. Budgets. Demographic Analysis. Dental history. (Ok, just kidding on the last one).
And as I’ve looked at some amazing plans from church planters, I’ve started to notice a trend. They all sound the same.
It seems as the unique vision that God’s given so many church planters is almost identical. Phrases like “gospel-centered”, “missional”, and “cultural renewal” are littered throughout their proposals. It seems that the phrase “In the City. For the City.” or some variation of such has become church planting boilerplate.
Not only is the language the same, but so is the target group. It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.
Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelsitic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.
Why is that? I can’t offer a definitive answer. It could be that God is legitimately calling an entire generation of young pastors to turn their focus to a small segment of the population that happens to look very much like they do.
Or it could be that we’re simply following in the footsteps of the church growth movement that we’ve loved to publically criticize while privately trying to emulate – we’ve just replaced Bill Hybels and Rick Warren with Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll.
Just thinking out loud…