Although I’ve benefited tremendously from much of what our generation’s well-known pastors and church planters have published, a caveat looms over every word of theirs I read: “Yeah, but their context is nothing like mine.”
Boston, Massachusetts, is my home, and has been since Larry Legend was working his magic on the parquet floor. It’s an absurdly expensive, rabidly liberal, post-Christian city where the gospel is increasingly met with disinterest or disdain. Rapid, Instagramable church growth doesn’t happen here. You’ll find no churches the size of a Walmart, or Christian radio stations, or Bible verses evangelizing from the bottom of fast-food cups. Nobody tithes or even knows what that means. Inviting my Bostonian neighbors to church is like inviting a Mormon to a strip club. No one here knows the first thing about the Bible, or cares to know. I was sharing a meal once with some folks in our neighborhood and said, “You know how Peter denied Jesus three times?” Everyone stared blankly back at me as if I had asked them to explain calculus.
What little the people here do know about church is not good. Many were raised Roman Catholic, coming of age in a city rocked by one of the ugliest scandals the church has ever known, the words “priest” and “pedophile” now permanently wed in their minds. Some grew up attending the heresy-ridden mainline corpses that pass for churches in our neighborhoods; their last rays of the gospel light were snuffed out decades ago. Others have been bamboozled by prosperity gospel hucksters, or browbeaten by better-than-thou fundamentalists, or beaten down by church politics. The sad result is that to an entire generation of Bostonians, an invite to church sounds as appealing as a root canal without Novocain.
We’ve spent more than a decade planting the gospel here and have baptized around fifty people. I remember hearing one mega-pastor recount how his church had rented a professional baseball stadium to host its Easter service and thinking, “That’s funny, because we’ve been at this just as long, and I bet you could fit our whole church in the dugout.”
I’ve written this book for those working in contexts like ours. For folks whose city resembles Rome more than Dallas, Ephesus more than Escondido. For the pastor who has to grind—hard—for every dollar, every connection, every conversion. For those of us who feel like losers half the time, and lunatics the other half, because our progress is always thirteen steps forward and a baker’s dozen back.
For those who are not totally sure that church can still be something life-giving, viable, beautiful.
Here’s what I’ve written to tell you:
You can do this.
By God’s grace, you can build a strong church in a post-Christian context.
I know, because I’ve lived it.
Christianity Today’s metrics might tell you that nothing special has happened through the planting of our church, but they’d be lying through their teeth. Although we might not fill a stadium, I’ve watched Jesus—through the humble efforts of a relentless, motley crew of men and women—build a gospel-believing, truth-loving, life-sharing, hospitality-showing, culture-crossing, church-planting church that people love being a part of.
If you want to lead or be a part of a church like this but aren’t sure it can happen, this book is for you.