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Gospel Growth in America’s Most Secular Place

“It looks like Berlin after World War II.”

It was 2001, and we were taking our prospective church-planting team through some of the cities of the Merrimack Valley of New England. After a full day of touring, one friend made the comparison to postwar Germany––abandoned factories, dilapidated buildings, homeless people, trash in the streets.

But we also saw potential, much beauty and goodness, and a place God loved and wanted to bless through his people. We saw a place we called home.

The Growth

We planted King of Grace Church in 2002. Since then our city—Haverhill, Massachusetts—has experienced much positive urban renewal. It is looking better physically, with a thriving downtown and progress on many fronts. Our region is also looking better spiritually, with hundreds of healthy church plants and a growing Christian population. In a way, it has been a picture of gospel renewal.

New England is experiencing a spiritual renewal appropriately termed a ‘quiet revival.’

When we planted in 2002, we didn’t know of many other church plants. And we found few churches that explicitly valued gospel-centered life and mission.

Today, many towns and cities of New England have one or more gospel-loving churches. Most sections of Boston are within walking distance of a church that proclaims Christ and models missional, gospel community. Although still quite secularized, New England is experiencing a spiritual renewal appropriately termed a “quiet revival.”

The Need

Our work, though, is far from over. New England still has the most secular population in the country. We are at the forefront of much post-Christian cultural change. To give every New Englander a chance to meet another Bible-believing Christian in their town, we need another 10,000 churches.

This number hits home again and again as I minister in my native New England. Growing up in metro Boston, I never heard a clear gospel presentation and knew no Bible-believing Christians. I just knew that “born-again Christians” sounded wicked weird.

To give every New Englander a chance to meet another Bible-believing Christian in their town, we need another 10,000 churches.

I came to faith in 1982 after hearing the gospel––I think for the first time––on television. I believed it right there in front of the TV. But I didn’t know anybody who could show me what it looked like to follow Jesus.

I continue to encounter so many people who don’t have knowledge of the gospel. I recently performed a funeral for my friend’s sister. It was heart-wrenching to hear her son try to say goodbye without real hope for the future. He likely has no exposure to a close friend or workmate who could love him, share Jesus, and show him what it looks like to trust and follow Christ.

This situation is multiplied by the millions here. Far too many of our friends, neighbors, family members, and coworkers are without Christ. With an evangelical population density comparable to an underreached foreign country such as Egypt, most New Englanders are unlikely to have regular contact with a Bible-believing Christian who can show them the way.

TGC’s Work

That’s why The Gospel Coalition New England is working alongside many churches, ministries, and denominations to strengthen and multiply gospel-centered churches. We are only a small part of all God is doing here. But we believe we can help answer the need by strengthening leaders, coordinating resources, and cooperating in church planting and revitalization.

With an evangelical population density comparable to an under-reached foreign country such as Egypt, most New Englanders are unlikely to have regular contact with a Bible-believing Christian who can show them the way.

Our chapter has supported the wonderful efforts of Small Town Summits, as they work on the mission in the many small towns of New England. We’re fostering local cohorts of pastors and leaders who encourage one another and share resources as they co-labor in a challenging harvest field. We’re building a communication network for church-planting and revitalization organizations in order to promote cooperation and maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of establishing gospel-centered churches in New England.

This month we are hosting an online conference aimed at the same mission. “Show Them Jesus” will be held October 16 to 17 and will feature mostly New England-based speakers, including Rebecca McLaughlin, Stephen Witmer, Stephen Um, and Léonce Crump. The teaching and equipping will be focused on being faithful and fruitful in New England.

We trust that as we co-labor alongside many others here in New England, we will continue to see within our lifetime a major shift in a place once known as the “graveyard of pastors.” We already see much change, and we still have a lot to learn and a lot to do. Please consider visiting us at the conference or contacting us via email so we can consider how to best work together for gospel life and mission in New England.

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