On a mission to save Godless Massachusetts
AT QUARTER TO NINE in the morning on Easter Sunday, I drove into the sprawling parking lot of the Revere Showcase Cinema, a megaplex theater across the street from The Squire strip club. I passed an expanse of run down carnival equipment and pulled in alongside the few other cars parked there that early. We weren there to see a movie; we were going to church. I seen the logo for the first time a few days earlier on an advertisement on the back of a MBTA bus.
The man in the T shirt smiled and opened the door, warmly welcoming me and directing me to the next clutch of volunteers, similarly T shirted, who he http://www.officialauthenticbills.com/authentic-ross-cockrell-jersey.html said would continue to point me in the right direction. I walked past an auditorium that would later be showing Spring Breakers and into the theater that had been transformed into a church sanctuary.
As I helped myself to a free cup of coffee, others began to trickle in 80 people in all. Boys and girls in their Easter best climbed over the seats while their parents chatted between bites of pastries. Christian music played over the PA. For a pastor, he looked surprisingly young. He was wearing blue jeans and an untucked plaid shirt. His hair was cropped close, and he had one of those tiny microphones sticking out from behind his ear, like Justin Bieber. He seemed nervous.
you have your Bibles with you he paused and looked up at http://www.officialauthenticbills.com/authentic-preston-brown-jersey.html his youngish congregation your phones, turn to First Corinthians with me. With the TrueVine logo lighting up the big screen behind him, a church was being born.
Maybe you haven noticed, but this sort of thing is happening quite a bit in the Boston area. It called planting, when evangelical Christians plant the seed of a new church in some unlikely place movie theater, YMCA, or a building abandoned by another denomination try to coax it to growth.
of the churches are not the huge white building in the center of town, says David Swaim, pastor of Highrock Church in Arlington. of them are happening where there is a lot of ethnic diversity and in nontraditional church buildings.
Back Ross Cockrell Jersey in 1999, Swaim Highrock Church began as a kind of combined Bible study and dinner party at a home on High Rock Street in Needham. When a pastor from California visited the group and saw how diverse it was, in age and ethnicity, he observed that hardly any other churches in the Boston area met such standards and suggested the members start their own. In 2000, the group asked Swaim, who had been serving at Park Street Church, to help it plant Highrock Church. The members met for a while in Cambridge and then in Somerville before moving to their current home, a former Greek Orthodox church in Arlington.
Highrock, which has an average Sunday attendance of 800, has had a hand in spinning off six additional churches since, and Swaim has become a kind of elder statesman of church planting in this area. Citing a statistic published by the Emmanuel Gospel Center, Swaim says that though the population of Boston has remained relatively constant between 1970 and the early the number of churches of the new ones fit under the broad umbrella of almost doubled. The Emmanuel Gospel Center called this Boston revival, and it still happening.
For a certain kind of missionary, New England is as much the frontier as parts of Asia and South America; despite the growing number of churches, Massachusetts remains among the least religious states in the country. And though others have tried unsuccessfully to start churches here before, these new transplants are taking the time to understand and integrate themselves into their adopted communities. And they seeing success for their efforts.
ONCE UPON A TIME, Boston was a upon a hill. Anyway, that what Governor John Winthrop told future Massachusetts residents sailing here in 1630. Evangelism practically started in this region in the 18th century, with Northampton Jonathan Edwards and his fiery sermons like in the Hands of an Angry God. Yet today only about 11 percent of New Englanders consider themselves evangelical Christians, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That compared with 26 percent nationwide and more than 50 percent in Bible Belt states.
Those numbers are for evangelical Christianity, but the rate of religiosity doesn seem to be much higher regardless of what (if any) faith New Englanders practice. A 2012 Gallup Poll found that the five least religious states in the country, based on the percentage of self identified religious Americans living there, are all in New England. Vermont is the least religious, followed immediately by New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. At number 11, Connecticut might as well be New England shining beacon of faith.
It no wonder church planters are eyeing the region. I spoke with a pastor who is at the center of the push for new Boston area churches Souza, who works for the Southern Baptist Convention North American Mission Board. Five years ago, Souza says, 87 percent of new churches trying to reach wayward New Englanders failed. But thanks to a bold rethinking of their top down strategy, 95 percent of today new churches are succeeding. Souza says, sponsoring denominations are the guys in the field call the shots. Souza began what he calls his denominational basic training in 2004, he was partnered with 15 other pastors who planned to launch new churches in New England. After nine years, his Celebration Church in Saugus is the last one standing.
Today, Souza is the go to guy for potential planters interested in moving to the area. He a formidable presence, native Brazilian whose charisma and enthusiasm for spreading the Gospels fills a room.
On the site you meet people like Virginia native Bland Mason, who leads City on a Hill Church in Brookline. he says in a slickly produced video spot, people in our community groups don know another Christian at work, in their apartment building, or in their community. The first job of these missionaries is to introduce New Englanders to what Christians can look like.
Souza is what church planters call a meaning he a kind of missionary to potential missionaries. He makes frequent trips to universities, churches, and Southern Baptist seminaries to encourage planters to come to New England. On one such trip to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Souza met Brandon Allison, then a seminary student, now lead pastor of Revere TrueVine Church.
Twenty seven year old Brandon and his wife, Miryam, 26, are in some ways a classic West Texas couple. They began dating in high school, attended church, and became committed Christians together. They were married in May 2008, a week after Brandon graduated from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Brandon became a geometry teacher Preston Brown Jersey at Permian High School, the setting for Friday Night Lights.
Brandon planned on becoming a football coach himself, until he felt called to ministry. He resigned his teaching job in 2009 and entered the seminary. The Allisons thought this calling would take them abroad, but then Brandon met Joe Souza at the SBTS Church Planting Emphasis Week. Hearing Souza talk about Boston need for planters term he was unfamiliar with at the time felt planted the idea of planting a church.
Through meeting Souza and another pastor, Curtis Cook, who had started Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge in 2003, Brandon and Miryam began to consider moving east. laid that passion on our hearts and we started praying about it, says Brandon. Boston did have the two qualities that the Allisons were looking for in a mission field: It had to be a place with a large population of college students and other young people, and it had to have a great need for new churches. led us to Joe, Brandon says, these were the exact things he hit on. Allisons were only slightly daunted by what they knew of the high failure rate of new churches in New England. The vast majority, Brandon had heard, went under within the first three years. thought, we willing to sell our possessions and leave our homes when we hear there a 90 percent failure rate? he recalls. But the Allisons say they kept returning to Jesus promise from the Book of Matthew, will build my church. All they had to do was show up.
In March 2011, the couple visited New England for the first time. They spent their days with Souza, mainly touring Revere, Lynn, Quincy, and Swampscott areas, according to the North American Mission Board, because of their relatively sparse population of evangelical churches. In Revere, they don recall seeing a single non Catholic church, and when they drove down by Revere Beach, Brandon began imagining the possibilities for outdoor ministry.
BACK IN TEXAS, Brandon and Miryam spent the next six months raising money by selling most of their belongings, including a number of wedding gifts that had great sentimental value. What they couldn sell, they donated to Goodwill. Then they hitched a 6 by 10 foot U Haul trailer to Brandon truck, said goodbye to their families, and embarked on a six day drive north.
Brandon and Miryam arrived in Revere around midday on August 3, 2012. Like many church planters, they came with a team that they had assembled from similarly mission minded friends. Under the new paradigm, moving with a team is ideal, says Brandon, though not always practical.
The way the TrueVine team came together bears for Brandon the mark of God providence. He and Miryam briefly met another couple, Myke and Britney Wilkerson, when the Wilkersons moved to Forth Worth so Myke could attend seminary. They attended the same church for two weeks before the Allisons left to help plant a church in Arlington, Texas. Months later, the Allisons were praying for a team to join them in their mission when Brandon says he felt God lay and Brit on my heart. He decided to text Myke to ask when he was graduating from the seminary. Myke replied, asking if the Allisons needed a team to join them in Boston. The two couples met at a Starbucks, discussed the plan, and three days later Myke called to say that they were in.
Like any good team of adventurers, each member had a special talent. Myke, a 24 year old with a fauxhawk and a goatee, would be the youth pastor and in charge of the church up tempo contemporary worship music. Britney, 25, planned on helping Miryam with children ministry, though she was three months pregnant with twins when the group left Texas. Rounding out the team was Ross Waddell, a 6 foot 2 outgoing twentysomething who to share Christ with youth, as Brandon puts it. He would serve as church intern, primarily reaching out to college students.
The five of them, and the two on the way, moved into a three bedroom apartment off Route 16 in Revere that they found with the help of a realtor who also happened to attend a Bible church in Salem that supports missionaries. After narrowly avoiding several Craigslist scams, finding someone upstanding showed Miryam that was working through the whole thing. the group receives financial support from the North American Mission Board to cover rent and utilities, Brandon tells me members believe it important to get out into the community and build relationships. They also active on Twitter, posting invitations to BBQ and Bible study night, and re tweeting inspirational quotes, such as do anything without your battle buddy. Ministry is tough, it is even tougher to do alone. (At one point, Brandon says that the culture here is not that different from Texas, and that it not as if Boston is like a foreign country. Miryam responds, pretty close. Even Texans know that Bostonians are crazy about their hometown coffee, so it seemed a natural way to get to know the locals. The same reasoning explains their weekly presence at trivia night at an Uno Chicago Grill in Revere Northgate Shopping Center. was our vision, Brandon says. jobs, get into the culture, understand the people, build relationships, and share Christ with them. Allisons also started a Bible study at their apartment of the eight or so people who attend are Brandon and Myke co workers from Dunkin ( much the entire store, Brandon says with a smile). The challenge now is to get those attendees to bring their friends, and then get those friends to bring their friends. That how you build a church under the new paradigm.