Note: This article was originally posted November 18, 2005.
A hundred years ago, a couple of men in their twenties and a teenage girl, reared on land now called Idaho, became the chief instruments for one of America’s greatest adventures, discovering a Northwest Passage for the President of the United States.
Enjoying adventures myself, I decided this late summer to retrace with my family, as best as I could, the Lewis and Clark trail through Northern Idaho. Our “Corps of Discovery” had better transportation than those in 1805. My Dodge Caravan, packed with five bikes and a toddler carrier, tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear, etc. and etc., sailed on paved roads and bounced to the music of Patch the Pirate. And after reading Bernard DeVoto’s edition of The Journals of Lewis and Clark, I think my family had a much more enjoyable time along the mountainous Lolo Trail than the early explorers in September and October of 1805.
The bond I share today with Lewis and Clark of the past is a passion for the remote frontier. No wonder, I was easy prey for Dr. Wally Higgins, a decade ago, when he invited me to help reach the neglected frontier with the gospel.
If anyone seriously evaluates the spiritual condition of the intermountain West, they would come to this conclusion–frontier it is! David L Rowe, an evangelical professor at Salt Lake Theological Seminary, recently wrote this year, “For many of us who have logged some years in Utah, we didn’t really ‘get it’ at first. What we didn’t get was that this place looks and sounds much the same as any other place in the United States, but it isn’t. Slowly something began to dawn on us: the social ecology; the morals of most of the people around us; the built environment of houses, churches, and city settlements; the political and business climate; and numerous other factors made us aware that this area and its occupants form a distinct and unusual pocket in the country quite unlike any other. So virtually unnoticeable is it that missions scholars and leaders have dubbed this pocket of the American continent ‘The Forgotten Sector,’ because historically it has been the least evangelized and has the least infrastructure of traditional Christianity in the nation. As we outsiders (‘Gentiles,’ in Utah parlance) began to realize, perhaps the words ‘This is the place’ did not mean it is the place for us.”
But it is! Utah needs adventurous, strong, young gospel pioneers, carving out new trails for the glory of God in the vast multitudes of lost communities! We need “Corps of Discovery”. Are there unknowns? Perils? Risks? Battles? Sure. The will of God is always far beyond what you bargain. But where Lewis and Clark’s exploits are temporal, the exploits of godly churchplanters lap onto the shores of eternity in testimony to God’s glory. “The Forgotten Sector” needs young men who know their God, because only “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” (Dan. 11:32).
Every county in Utah has room for a churchplanter. The county where I minister in Idaho could take many more. Yet this is also true for every county in America. Have you heard of even one county in this country that has exceeded its Christian percentage in population from a decade past?
Norm Nicklas writes, “North America is one of the few continents where biblical Christianity is not growing faster than the population. The current population in the USA is about 295,500,000 and growing at a net gain of 1 person every 11 seconds. In 1900 there were 27 churches for every 10,000 people. Today there are only 11 churches for every 10,000 people.” He states, “Every church should plant a church that plants a church.” It is a good prayer request for a local body.
The churchplanter doesn’t have to be a megastar. He shouldn’t be pressured that he is a failure if the numbers in his local congregation are small. Eighty-four is the average attendance for a Sunday morning in Protestant American churches (“Myths About Worshipers and Congregations: Results from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey,” 2002, www.usccongregations.org/myths.htm). Fear of numerical smallness could perhaps make a churchplanter susceptible to the erosive patterns revealed in Southern Baptist statistics. Mark Dever writes, “The typical Southern Baptist church has 233 members and 70 at the Sunday morning worship service.” What a sham. The biblical churchplanter’s joy is “lively stones” not lustrous statistics. And by the way, God can in His magnificent power use 70 “lively stones” to help plant another church.
In conclusion, American Christianity needs the constant, jarring spur to churchplant. And if any of you have a hankering to explore the wild and remote, look me up.
Todd Wood is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He received his B.A. in Missions, M.A. in Theology, and M.Div. from Bob Jones University. But more than anything he hungers for the A.I.G. degree affixed to Apelles (Rom. 16:10).