Why do we want to start a church in Missoula?
Good question. The real answer is that I believe that God told us to. Now, if you don’t believe that God talks to people today, that answer probably seems strange, if not a copout to you. Let’s deal with that answer later. Instead let’s talk about some practical reasons why we want to start a church in Missoula.
People ask me this question for various reasons. Some people ask, “Aren’t there enough churches in Missoula already?”. Well, that depends on your point of reference. I was down in Warren, Arkansas recently for a business trip and I am always amazed at how many churches there are in every little town that you drive through. They’re nearly all Baptist churches, mind you, but churches nevertheless. It’s like that throughout much of the south. If someone from Arkansas were to visit Missoula they would probably write in their blog how few churches they saw in Missoula. Now, churches in Missoula aren’t as visible as churches in Arkansas. Almost every church building in Arkansas is the stereotypical church with the white steeple on it. They’re easy to see and identify. There seems to be one on every street corner. Church buildings in places like Missoula aren’t as traditional. Instead, churches tend to meet in places like the Children’s Theatre, the movie theater, elementary schools, and such. However, even given the fact that church buildings are not very visible in Missoula, there really aren’t that many churches per capita in Missoula compared to many other parts of the country. In fact, I counted the number of churches that were listed in various directories and there were less than 100, counting all denominations, including catholic and latter day saints. There were less than 70 protestant churches. Now, for a city of 70,000 and a greater area of 100,000, that’s not very many churches.
Even if there were enough churches in Missoula, I don’t believe there are enough churches that are effectively reaching out to today’s generation. Whether you call them missional, emerging, emergent, or just culturally relevant, there is a great need today in most cities for churches that are willing to be creative in how they reach out to their communities. In fact, there is a need for churches who are willing to consider themselves missionaries to their own communities (missional). Too many churches today continue to use the worn out model of throwing a Sunday service in hopes that people will show up. If they show up, let’s give ‘em what they want and then send them home. People, especially Missoulians, are tired of this model. People are looking for something spiritual, not religious. Religion is playing church on Sunday. Spirituality is serving god and people, especially people like orphans and widows. Not only that, but spirituality is not about a bunch of rules. That’s old testament stuff. True Christian spirituality is about faith in Jesus Christ. Genuine faith. The kind of faith that causes life change. We want to start a church that helps people to grow spiritually, not religiously. Jesus actually hated religion. So do I. Too many people have been assaulted by religion. Religious wounds run deep. They don’t go away quickly. They leave big scars. We want to show people that following Christ is different than finding religion. We believe there is still a place for a church like that in Missoula.
Another reason we want to start a church in Missoula is because research has shown that the most effective method of making disciples of Jesus Christ is by planting new churches. New churches in a community are more effective at making disciples than established churches. So, even if there were “enough” churches in Missoula, a new church would still be effective in Missoula. Not only that, but research has shown that new churches stimulate the growth of existing churches. So, no need to be afraid that we’re going to come in and steal the sheep. Sure, some people are going to bail out of existing churches and come to ours. Hopefully they’re doing it for the right reasons. Many are probably not. You probably didn’t want or need those people anyway. Now we’ll have to deal with them. The truth is, we are targeting the unchurched population, not those who already have a church home.
Let’s get back to the “God told me to” question. Let’s face it, if I didn’t believe that God was calling us to go and start a church in Missoula, I wouldn’t do it. I mean, why would I risk everything that I’ve accomplished in my career so that I can take a 75% salary cut as a pastor? In the natural, it’s an absurdity. I have a great paying job, just finished my PhD, and am working on a number of publications in my field. In addition, I have a beautiful home that we just built 3 years ago in a wonderful neighborhood. We have great friends in Lewiston, and moving to Missoula would put us another 3 hrs away from our families. Sounds like a great idea, huh?
The bottom line is that Andrea and I feel called to start a church in Missoula. We literally believe that starting churches is one of the primary reasons God put us on this earth. When you get something like this deep down in your gut, it’s hard to make it go away. I tried to for a brief time about 8 yrs ago, but I was only able to keep it stuffed down for a little while. It’s like trying to hide a pregnancy. Eventually everyone’s going to find out.