Update: See this new post by Bill Streger, who clarifies what he meant to say and apologizes for any misunderstanding he caused.

Bill Streger, an Acts29 pastor:

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.

HT: @Phil_Johnson_

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32 thoughts on “Uncool People Need Jesus, Too”

  1. Me thinks Tim Keller might be to blame? ;)

  2. al bennington says:

    yeah i saw this on mccoy’s blog and went to the link. this could be one of the most patronizing, rhetorical power plays i’ve seen in a long time. The obvious reason acts 29 applicants sound the same is because THEY ARE ATTRACTED TO THE VISION PROMOTED BY ACTS 29 AND ALL OF ITS PROMINENT LEADERS (forgive the caps lock, i don’t know how to get italics in the comment box). Is it really that amazing to Bill? Does he realize that his “discerning observation” could actually be a critique of his own movement? I am thrilled that there are alot of pastors wanting to reach this “segment.”
    May it be that God is raising up young pastor to reach what is the next generation of un-churched young people(not just “a small segment of the population that happens to look very much like they do)? Aren’t we told that it’s strategic to reach groups that we are culturally similar to? I don’t know of anything that could be more discouraging to say to a young pastor who has responded to the vision of acts 29 than what i read on bill’s blog. read the whole post to see what I mean. I received what keller said alot better when he said that going to pastor a smaller rural church was good experience, but bill’s post seems to me like a cheap shot.
    Jonathan McIntosh says it better on bill’s blog as a comment on the original post.

    1. Dale says:

      I don’t think it was a cheapshot, al….I think his post was more of a “food for thought” type thing. Just something to think about and consider. That’s the thing about the internet, a lot of what you read on blogs are just random thoughts that have occurred to the blogger and not meant as a carefully crafted manifesto of church planting.

      I would take it that way and file it away for later reflection……..

  3. Hey, I’m a part of a new church in rural Alabama. Hehe! I mean, seriously, who wants to come and plant a church in the Bible belt? As one of the beloved folks here has said, “The Bible belt holds up Satan’s britches.” <—That's good Southern humor there, brethren.

  4. chris says:

    The elect will receive Jesus, regardless of the wisdom of the master-planners. 1 Thess. 1:4-5

    1. Some of the elect will receive Jesus because of the faithful witness of “master-planners.”

      1. chris says:

        Brad,
        No doubt, but so much time is spent on demographics and presentation that — in the long run— does not matter.

        I was a punk rocker in the 80’s. I heard the gospel from a friend who went to New Tribes Bible Institute, one of the most uncool places on earth. I was discipled by men who wore wranglers and plaid shirts, who knew nothing of punk rock or “culture”. I didn’t care. Jesus saved me, regardless of myself or any cultural considerations. The hounds of heaven were pursuing me, and had it had nothing to do with any man’s demographic plans. They just spoke the Word, God opened my eyes. Love does not care about who it reaches.

        LC,
        Do you mean the missionary to India?

  5. looselycult says:

    The elect will receive Jesus, regardless of the wisdom of the master-planners. 1 Thess. 1:4-5

    Ahh the echos of William Carey’s home church still alive and well today.

    1. chris says:

      LC,
      If you mean a hyper-calvinist, anti-missionary notion, well being against marketing and hyper-contextualization is not anti-missionary, just anti-what-I-just said. Acts 29 has a bent that will eventually need straightening.

      c

  6. john sullivan says:

    actually, the Calvary Chapel movement is mostly blue collar (or at least a much greater mix) and fills a massive role in this area. i have a ton of good friends in those churches.
    blue collar people, i think, are skeptical of the ‘educated’ types, and thus pastors with no or little seminary training are often more trusted (and for little formal training, CC guys tend to know their bibles and study theology pretty decently).
    a guy like Tim Keller/john piper doesnt get as much of an ear usually, but for some reason, guys like swindoll, macarthur, james macdonald, joe focht, greg laurie do.

    1. chris says:

      CC kicks out any one who confesses to be reformed. This might be why they pay little to no attention to the guys you mentioned, ie Keller, Piper, etc.

  7. Most church planters who go out to the lowest people are on the foreign mission field. But there are a few here in the states. Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle is one.

    But I do notice the trend to plant churches in more affluent areas. Arguably, they tend to be stabler. Churches planted in less affluent areas don’t garner much attention and typically lack the resources to appear as anything more than insignificant and unprofessional. So even if you find a well-balanced pastor there, you’ll not hear much from him. He’s working a FT job elsewhere and can’t afford any other staff.

    1. Paul White says:

      I went to a “inner city” church, The Brooklyn Tabernacle, and It was the worst experience of my life, with the exception of meeting my wife there. The Pastor was tyrannical and oppressive,it was all a front, he lived in a mansion in a prominent section in queens while the elderly and poor contributed to his little kingdom. Also, there was no financial transparency or board to provide accountability. Anyway, don’t overly romanticize these so called working class churches, most times its a convienient demographic for a predator pastor to target so they can become millionaires

      1. Chadwick Lambert says:

        Really?? Wow? Such a horrible experience at the Brooklyn Tabernacle? I’m shocked. We have had a great relationship with them almost since the inception of our church plant ten years ago. They have been the most gracious, loving group of people we’ve ever met. When other churches in our area, where God had blessed with some growth, shut their doors to us – the Brooklyn Tabernacle was always there to help and encourage whenever we called… sending people to speak and minister and train when we were a small, fledgling work. I’ve never experienced anything but pure love and openness from a group that focuses so intentionally on the least of these. I hope you have your facts straight before you so openly degrade a ministry (especially where God is so richly blessing).

  8. James Walker says:

    The answer is easy Bill.

    Acts29 evangelistic strategy (as presented in San Diego last summer) was to focus on urban college cities where they feel American culture could be changed.

    The strategy is that the “down stream” culture (as rural America was referred to in the A29 bootcamp) will change if the “up stream folks” change culture. Hence, Acts29 WILL NOT be planting churches in rural america with, as you say, “uncool people” as their focus.

    I understand but disagree with the network wanting to get the “biggest bang for the buck” by focusing on influential demographic areas over focusing on “50-something administrative assistants” with no voice.

    I myself, am a rejected-Acts29, “down-stream”, uncool-people pastor in a small agricultural community. Be encouraged because rural pastors are out there planting, but be informed that Acts29 just doesn’t want to network with them.

    1. Josh McPherson says:

      James,

      I don’t think sweeping statements are helpful or responsible. “Informing” people that A29 doesn’t want to network with planters who are “down-stream” culturally seems to fit into that category.

      I’m a “down-stream” church planter, in a rural, hick, blue-collar city where most have never heard of Twitter and only about 25 of our 200 people ever check our church blog. We’re hick, straight up.

      And I’m also an A29’r. And I happen to be in re:train right now, in Scott Thomas’s cohort (president of A29), AND I COULD NOT FEEL MORE SUPPORT. So I’m telling you you’re wrong. Your assertions are simply not true.

      Yes, A29 wants to be strategic in reaching the culture for Christ. So was Paul. If that’s the charge, then yes, they’re guilty. But to say they have no interest in rural church-planters? Wow.

      Then answer me this: why did A29 give me a full scholarship to re:train? Why has Scott Thomas offered to DRIVE OVER TO MY CHURCH AND PREACH ANY TIME I WANTED (in between meeting with Piper and Mohler and Keller)? Why has he answered every email I’ve ever sent him with helpful council and biblical resources? Why has he laid hands on me and in tears prayed for my wife’s difficult pregnancy?

      Because, Scott Thomas, and A29, want to love and support and raise up men who are “Gospel-Centered” and “In their cities, for their cities” no matter what the size or where they are on the map. If those tag-lines become punch-lines to criticize, then so be it. It’s an honor to run with men who have such vision.

      Forgive me if I sound a little hot, it’s just frustrating to sit and watch godly men with gospel-vision giving their lives for the glory of Christ and His Church get pot-shotted from the cheap seats.

      1. Lou G says:

        Josh: James was speaking of his own experience, and while he may have toned it down, you just bashed him and came off way, way more defensive and harsh. James, a rural church planter like yourself, is clearly not sending “pot-shots from the cheap seats.”

  9. Chris Wiles says:

    “Becoming all things to all men” has in many ways become cliche. But like all cliches, the issue is that the statement is not inaccurate as much as it is inadequate in describing our current situation. Given the sheer cultural diversity within America, becoming “all things” is sociologically unfeasible. The brute reality is that church demographics will reflect that of the pastor. Young church planters will tend to (though not by necessity, mind you) plant young churches.

    A greater question, then, is whether there might be ways of supporting those who *are* actively involved in ministries outside this immediate demographic circle, ministries that might be better equipped to deal with the sociological issues associated with a particular demographic. This means less “lone-rangering” (if that’s a verb) and a greater need to connect across demographic and socioeconomic lines so that while individual churches may only reach a particular group, the universal Church has influence over a broad range of people.

  10. Joseph says:

    I pray for Acts 29 and other small church planters in general and all good Christians want to see all church plants succeed. But Acts 29 is not the church and it is a network designed to focus on a specific demographic group. Nothing wrong with that. In fact it has been a HUGELY neglected group of persons for decades in the United States. The truth is that in one more decade, the majority of Americans will live in 9 cities. In Canada right now that number is far greater. American Christians prefer to live in their nice bubbles and avoid diversity (Wheaton & Grand Rapids being perfect examples), so this new emphesis is just logical in my mind. The agricultural v. urban community tension is not new in modern history but at the end of the day you have to say that all the innovation and most of the resources are better spent in Urban areas than small towns of 300 folk (as much as they need the Gospel).

  11. Peter says:

    Not true! http://www.theoakscommunitychurch.org/ is planted exactly in a declining, blue collar town.

  12. bill streger says:

    I’m planning to write a follow up post to clarify my thought, as I didn’t choose my words as carefully as I should have and there has been some misunderstanding. Watch for that tomorrow morning, and thanks for all of the feedback!

  13. I think Bill is entitled to critique his own movement from within it. After all, he stated he was thinking out loud. His insight is right on the money, but I doubt it takes many ACTS 29 leaders by surprise. Most of their success comes from the fact that clones of a few people have been created in major cities all over America. The problem with cloning is that some crucial element of DNA usually gets lost in the process.

  14. Jared Wilson says:

    I think Acts 29 is the best thing going when it comes to gospel-centered church planting. I am not an A29 guy myself but I love, respect, admire, and appreciate the network A LOT.

    But I am disappointed with the way some are reading Bill’s post. I don’t think they are reading it in the spirit with which it was written.

    I also think that a refusal to be self-critical and self-reflective was one of the signs of the dysfunction and demise of the church growth movement.

  15. In the bible, Paul went straight to the main cities and towns to plant churches. Jesus organised an urban ministry. In big cities you get all kinds of people. Bill probably hasn’t met a pastor who has a bold strategy for the Antarctic either. Doesn’t mean that church planters are against people there becoming churched.

  16. Paul White says:

    I’m born and raised in the South Bronx, and I have to say, Tim Keller is a good example to other White folks who are representative of the upper classes. I say that because I know that he partners with a few local churches that are lead by people who are indigeneous to those communities. Most White educated types are extremely paternalistic and are always in power play mode, Keller seems to be genuine in that he takes a very Christological approach to providing resources to Church communities that have limited resources.

  17. Doug Hibbard says:

    Being the young pastor of an old, partly declined established church in a blue-collar Bible belt town, I’ve actually wondered some of the same things. It seems that not just Acts29 but many others have a tendency, and my own denomination is included with this, to want to bypass these areas and go on.

    The difficulty is that, since redeemed or not, people are still the ones who do the preaching and church planting, there’s a tendency in many of us to exalt our own calling beyond its place. I preach the Gospel in the location that I believe God has called me to do so. It’s no greater or no less of a part of the mission of reaching people for the Lord Jesus Christ than cutting edge church planting in urban areas.

    Doug

  18. Jeff Maskevich says:

    A bunch of blue collared, red necked, white guys with beer bellies. That was my mission field while I church planted. I was motivated and inspired by Driscoll and ACTS 29.

  19. Russ says:

    Interesting topic. I am the pastor of a blue-collared church in a very small town in southern Illinois. I personally LOVE the biblical, Christ-centered emphasis on planting churches. I have an M-Div with an emphasis in church planting. I also love Acts 29. We have much to learn from them.

    However, I do sense a sort of “rebellion” against the established church of small town USA. Yes, there is planning involved and planning is a good thing. Yet there seems to be more than planning going on. There is something deeper than “strategy” at work here. It seems that small town USA is not quite hip enough for some. That is a problem.

    I personally would love to see a greater emphasis on equipping the established church (more than LifeWay). This is not as “cool” as church planting in Miami, but it honors God. We need to make ministry in the established church “cool” again.

    Frankly, I believe some are too scared to dive into the established church environment and deal with its past baggage. In many ways, I could argue that ministry in the established church is riskier and more adventurous than any church plant could ever be. Let’s show some love for the small town church, people! There are disciples to be made.

  20. Bill Streger says:

    I’ve added a follow up post that clarifies what I was actually trying to say. Please go and read: http://billstreger.com/?p=1090

  21. Brian says:

    I think Acts29 and other organizations are doing a great job at planting Christ-centered churches. But living in a small town of 39,500 people in the Bible belt, I think Bill makes a good argument in his original post. Our area was turned down by one great church planting organization specifically because the town wasn’t big enough and they focus their resources on urban areas. I don’t hold anything against them for that, but that was the reason we were given. God is his goodness though has seen fit to provide a great sending church that’s only 3years old itself in another smallish town. So I thank Bill for at least raising the question.

  22. chris says:

    Acts 29 is starting to face the kinds of questions that naturally arise when the planting of churches is lead by an organization that is not the church, essentially. It is a para-church group focused on a particular demographic- and it does not possess the authority of ordained leadership. Submission to the leadership is based on the influence they yield, via mechanisms that are not ecclesiastical- more business model recruiting type of stuff. It is volunteerism, not real authority.

    I am sure that the guys involved have the best of intentions, but they are building a model that will get away from them in the long run. Bill’s initial critique, to which he should have stuck, reveals some of the cracks in the foundations.

    Like Spurgeon’s ministry in London, it will not outlast the personality of the founder.

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Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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