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How to Choose where to Plant

June 18, 2012

It was the most encouraging story yet.

My wife and I were just beginning to figure out where we were going to plant.  I had been hired by a church in Kentucky as their “resident church planter”.  When we came to the agreement that I’d be there a year and then go plant they asked, “Do you have a specific place you feel led to plant?”  I said “no” and they responded, “We’d prefer you to plant somewhere in the northeast: Washington D.C. or up.”

That was a pretty big area with lots of major metropolitan cities, so it was a bit overwhelming.  To help get some direction I was calling other church planters to ask how they decided to plant where they were.  The planter in Maine was the most inspiring.

He and his wife and done something similar a few years before, so they took an exploratory trip to Maine to see if they should plant there.  When their plane landed they rented a car and stopped at a gas station for directions.  While the husband was picking up some ho-hos, the wife went to the cashier and before she could say anything the cashier blurted out, “I just wish God would put a good church here, because I want one and if there was one that taught the Bible I’d go there in a heartbeat.”  The wife immediately explained why they were there, and by the time the husband got to the counter with his soda and ho-ho’s, his wife and the cashier were in tears, praying together and hugging.  The wife turned to her husband and said, “This is where we’re moving!”

When I heard that I thought, “Sweet!  We’ll visit some cities.  At the right moment the clouds will part, sunbeams will shine down, and God will audibly announce in a voice sounding like James Earl Jones, “This is where thou shalt plant.”

Okay, I wasn’t expecting that, but I was still expecting a great “God story”.  I remember the first place we visited was a suburb on the north side of Baltimore and, remembering the guy from Maine, I approached another customer at Chipotle to ask: Do you know of any good churches around here?

You know what happened?  The guy’s eyes got wide and he said, “No, but I’m not really a church person and I’ve been looking for one—do you know where I could go?”

Not really.

In reality, he looked at me like I had broken out of the insane asylum and was going to infect him with a disease if he talked to me for another 3 seconds, and without making eye contact he said, “uhhhh, noooo,” as he turned and walked away.

Ouch.

My wife and I ended up visiting numerous neighborhoods in 5 of the largest cities in America, and neither James Earl Jones nor God ever did part the clouds and speak to us.

So we asked, “What’s the wise thing to do?”  For us it was actually phrased like this: “Where do we want to move?”  If we worked for GE and they were relocating us, where would we go?  If the church failed and we were stuck living somewhere, where would we want ‘somewhere’ to be?  When we want to take a break from church stuff, what city would we want to be in to have a good time?

(Actually, we first asked: what area needs a new church the most?  But we quickly threw out that question, because every area we looked at needed a new church!)

But when we narrowed the search down to 2 places we took a look at demographics and showed them to some church plant experts, and they recommended one over the other, simply because they said it would have more people in our life stage, whom we would better reach.  And that’s the really under-spiritual story of how we ended up planting in suburban Baltimore.

What do you think is the biggest key in figuring out where to plant?

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