Church-Planting In Nashville as Seen By a Yankee

Primary Audience – Those Interested in Church-Planting

Last week I saw a tweet about a meet-up of Nashville church planters. My reaction was, “What?? There is more than one person planting a church in Nashville??” Then I proceeded to tweet about that. The first tweet was more of an appeal to consider planting in places like New Jersey and the Northeast. The following tweets became sarcastic and speculated the real reason Regis was leaving was to church plant in Nashville.

I received a few tweets and dm’s. One mentioned that it’s surprisingly hard to find a church in Nashville. Another said that it was extremely easy. Another said I was a jerk (it may be true). And another (a Nashville church planter) offered to help me understand his context better by sending me links and dm’s. There was a Christian rebuke in all that too to which I sincerely apologized and thought that, “Indeed my sarcastic tweets are not helpful”.

So here’s a bit of what I was/am thinking. First my context – I’m a youth pastor in New Jersey and have been serving in ministry for 11 years. Born in Jersey, raised in PA, went to college in the South, married a beautiful girl from FL who taught me some southern expressions and how to correctly pronounce the term “reck’n”. I’ve only served in two churches, one in a Philly suburb and this one in North Jersey. If you know anything about North Jersey, we don’t consider ourselves part of New Jersey. This is somewhat similar to the superiority complex that Texas feels in relation to the rest of the country. Being just outside of Manhattan, we feel a sophistication that Central Jersey could never understand. Further, we are working on sending South Jersey (“They’re about as useful as a back pocket on a shirt”) to Delaware and that campaign is called “Building Jersey by Subtracting”.

Now for something deeper – The church landscape here in Jersey is a tough one. There are a fair amount of churches, but many of them are under 100 people and many are hanging on by a string. Regularly, church buildings are begin turned to Mosques and gyms. I wish I had the time to weed through all the stats regarding “churched” and “unchurched”, the number of churches, etc. but I’ll leave that up to you but as subjective as it sounds, here’s what I am seeing.

It is a bit strange that we have so few large churches because of our high population percentage but there are only two evangelical churches in my area that boasts an attendance of over 1000 people and I think one of them is exaggerating (despite my friend’s flawed counting, they are a fantastic ministry). As an evangelical surveying the scene here, you will notice a high number of Catholic churches, synagogues, atheists and a high percentage of successful/intelligent people who see no real need for God though they are “spiritual” and think church, if not taken too seriously is a good thing.

Regarding church planting here, “It’s runs like a herd of turtles”. I literally know of two church plants in my area – The Plant in Allendale and All Souls Church in Nanuet, NY. Yes, All Souls is in New York but we are really close to the border here and technically, the closest plant in my area. One day, I thought I met another church planter, but it turned out it was just a unicorn. Among many cultural reasons, the high cost of living makes it difficult for young couples to either move in or build roots here which also eliminates a lot of the workforce of a church plant. Further, as everyone knows, church planting is extremely expensive though there is an enormous amount of wealth here (“so rich, that guy buys a new boat every time one gets wet”. How am I doing on these Southerisms? They are painful to write but I’m willing to speak the language if it helps :)

A personal annoyance is that it seems the talent called to plant in this area heads over to NYC. There are exceptions, like Liquid Church, in Morristown, NJ (a campus in New Brunswick and another one coming in Montclair) but it’s hard to figure out if they are a viable model or as I mentioned, an exception.

I’ve been to Nashville, it’s a beautiful town. It not only has a church on every corner but a big church on ever corner. I picture families of 6 pulling up in their suburbans and upon entering they complain that it’s Michael W. Smith’s turn to lead worship instead of Amy Grant’s. I suspect that the need for church planting in Nashville is a result of the over-churched culture that Nashville has created. And I reck’n everyone walks in with the current issue of Relevant Magazine (which I love too) and does devotions with Stuff Christians Like and Jesus Needs New PR.

I picture houses with three car garages being sold for less than $200,000. I bet when you buy a house there, the former owners leave up the mailbox with a cross on it and the sign above the door that says, “As for Me and My House, We Will Serve the Lord”. Cars are sold with the ichthus already in place and the only thing that you get on your windshield wiper when parking downtown is a tract that reminds you that “Jesus Loves You” and a note that thanks you for using the free parking.

To my church planting Nashville friends, I say a few things – “Don’t pee on my leg and call it rain”. Please consider the perceived disparity between our respective contexts. Obviously plant where the Lord is calling you so do not let the stereotypes created by the Yankees to dissuade you. However, consider perhaps the Lord is using people like me to speak to you. Second, consider sending people to other parts of the country like the North East and the North West, places that we should start considering similarly to as we see foreign missions fields. Third, consider leaving your church plant and coming here. Not just Jersey, but suburban Philadelphia and the New England States are desperate for strong churches.

Church planters by their nature love a challenge so I tell you as one of our northeastern saints put it, “If you can plant your church here, you can plant anywhere, it’s up to you, Nashville, Nashville.” :)

Feel free to comment, disagree, or correct my Southernisms.


  1. Amen and Amen,

    You are a much nicer and generally speaking a better human being than me, thank you for sharing your opinion in a completely non-offensive way as not to incite the brothers from the south. I made this mistake last week and am afraid I may continue to do so in the future.

  2. As someone who reads your blog but remains outside the twitter-sphere, I’m glad you expressed your thoughts here. Northern/southern cultural differences are pretty nuts, especially regarding Christianity. I too poke fun at the South (but I also have a roommate from Georgia who has taught me the finer points of Southern-ness, including the use of “y’all,” which I’ve embraced).

    Quick question: can you refer me to any stats or articles about the “church landscape” or churches being converted to mosques? I’d be interested.

  3. Tim,

    Great post. I really enjoyed it. However, I must say, as much as Florida is in the South, I don’t hear too many Southerisms from there. I’m just saying.

    I agree 100% on your post. The four corners of the country are all extremely spiritually depraved. Most rely on intellectual knowledge and as we see in current culture, most people believe intellect and religion are polar opposites.

    I am also extremely glad you mentioned the Northwest. I think you did, if you didn’t I read it like you did, so either way, good job! Anyway, people always think about New York and New England; Florida and California when they think about secular areas. The Northwest is one of the hardest parts of the country to reach. So kudos for bringing it up.

    Always a pleasure brother. Keep it real!

  4. And you have stated why we need more church planters in Nashville (as well as anywhere else there are people). That is to say, that while there may be churches on every corner its just veneer much like, I suspect, the Catholic church in the NE.

  5. @Mark – lol. Good luck with your northern charm out in Minnesota.

    @Chris – I am not sure there is a stat for the number of churches being converted to mosques. Among more controversial assumptions, there’s a practical appeal for that given that the both buildings are designed for public worship.

    Here’s what a site called Rise of Islam site says:
    According to this research, America now has about 1,209 mosques, most of which were constructed very recently. Thirty percent of these mosques were built in the 1990s, and 32% were built in the 1980s. Other statistics show that in 1994, the total number of mosques in America was 962; in 2000, there was a 25% increase in this number.

    Elsewhere in the post, it estimates that there are about 6 million Muslims in the US. That sounds a bit high. A wikipedia post suggests that the stat is hard to pinpoint since US Census does not account for religious affiliation.
    Here’s there chart.
    American Religious Identification Survey 1.3 million (2008)[59]
    Pew Research Center 2.5 million (2009)[2]
    Encyclopædia Britannica 4.7 million (2004)[60][dead link]
    U.S. News & World Report 5 million+ (2008)[61]
    Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) 7 million (2010)

    Regarding the general landscape of the church, there is this Wikipedia overview

    If you want to beat me to it, the sites that I will look at later to get more of an answer would be Barna Research Group, Pew Forum, and will look through Dave Kinnaman’s UnChrisitan book, and Ed Stetzer’s blog.

    I confess stats only serve as a starting point backdrop for me, I find them easily manipulated generally, helpful at best, maddening at worst.

    Lastly, don’t ever come back to our church and say y’all. It’s “you’s”, “yuze”, “yuhs guys” or “yo”. You have been warned :)

  6. Jim, next time you see my wife, ask her how she used to pronounce the simple devise used to prevent us from getting wet in the rain.

    That whole “Florida is not really South thing” was lie invented to sell more condos to the “northern folk”. It was further used by northerners now stuck in FL as a mutated form of the Stockholm Syndrome to convince family members to join them in FL. Addicted to the sunshine and the low real estate, they couldn’t handle being alone with the Southerners.

    I am proud of you and me because we have done our parts in marrying Southern women :)

  7. Debispragetti says:

    As your former secretary I would like to challenge you to correct your punctuation by putting your periods INSIDE the quotation marks. Thanks.

    That said, Florida has three parts, South Georgia – which is very southern. Mid-Florida – which is full of Yankees, Rednecks and Disney characters. And Miami – AKA North Cuba. Being raised a southern girl and knowing your wife, she’s southern enough. (She and I were wise enough to rebel against the south and become yankees.) :)

    I appreciated all of your sarcastic comments about church planting in Nashville, mostly because I’ve made similar jokes about where I went to college – deep in the bible belt. Also, in living in this part of NJ I realize the need for proactive Christians to engage the world around them, not just church planters, but all of us to be proactive. And I also thank you for mentioning the Northwest, but I’ll add California to that as I spent almost 2 weeks there last year and good churches were hard to come by, and where my friend lives there are only like 5 within an hours drive. (and one of those is catholic.)

  8. Well, I’ve actually lived in nashville for a large stretch of my life… so while i understand the stereotypes that you have listed, (some true and some not so true) I would also have to say that i think Nashville is in great need of churches that are more than the ritualistic place to go on sunday.. I found that when i lived in Nashville I saw a great many churches that have done away with the traditions of old, and have accepted a whole new line of thinking.. it was hard to tell if someone was serving the Lord there. Growing up in Boston Ma, it was very cut and dry, you were either a Christian or Catholic, or you weren’t. You could easily tell this by the persons lifestyle, character, morals..etc. In Nashville it wasn’t that easy. You could see the same people at the clubs on saturday and sit next to them on sunday in church. Thats just how it works
    I too am a Youth Pastor, living in New Jersey (south), my wife is from bergen county… and where I can see the desire to see church planting grow here.. and there definitely is the need. But I think that Nashville could use some churches that take away the glitz and glam.. speak the truth of the gospel, and hold its members accountable to it, but thats just my perspective…

  9. Thanks – I thought I did have them inside – I’ll make sure.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the South – you know I consider you an expert in this field.

    My impression of the West Coast is that California is churched, especially in relation to Washington, Oregon, and Utah. Now I know it’s quite a big state and perceptions and realities are always in conflict but I’ll add it to my mental list.

    Can’t agree more about the need for proactive Christians (not just planters) here and everywhere. Thanks for saying that.

  10. Rory, hey pal, I think we follow each other on Twitter – hope your wife is feeling ok and sorry to hear about your phone (I dropped our church Costco card in the toilet once – never heard the end of it.) Hope your paths cross soon.

    It’s cool that you got to spend time in these parts of the country – Boston-Nashville must have been quite the transition.

    I hear what you are saying regarding the over-churched, ritualistic context of Nashville but I feel that means that we are just saying church plants are needed everywhere, right? Sure I completely agree with that. But where do we need more church plants? I have hard time thinking that it’s places like Nashville, Dallas, Atlanta, etc.

    In some sense, I do feel bad even saying this. Who knows, maybe in the grander scheme, God will raise stronger churches in these Bibletowns to evangelize the rest of the nation and these realizations may not unfold until after my lifetime.

    Certainly the Kingdom is not solved exclusively by church-planting but more by Spirit-led believers taking up their cross each day serving in countless aspects including reforming the current church (my call), the academy, the foreign missions field, and numerous other non-ministry vocations.

    But my point is simply, if you are serious about church-planting in more unchurched pockets of the country, consider places like the Northeast.

  11. Building Jersey by Subtracting would make an awesome tee shirt.

    My parents attend a very large church in Idaho (Real Life Ministries), and they are shifting toward planting semi-autonomous campuses (not church franchising or satellite churches). The Southern Baptists are also planting throughout Idaho and moving into the Northwest, so there is some time, effort, and money going toward the Northwest.

    I think that this is more of a Bible Belt problem and not a “Christian” problem per se. The Bible Belt, with its desire to claim culture and artifacts as Christian (movies, music, art, politics, etc.) cannot operate in post-Christian areas. The methodology doesn’t computer.

    There are some that do get it though, and are planting in the South in areas that are not part of pretty little Christendom, like amongst poor neighborhoods. Troy Bronsink in Atlanta (Neighbors Abbey) and Sojourn Community Church in Louisville come to mind, and there are tons more out there.

  12. Hey bro, thanks for chiming in.

    Glad to hear about the inniatives your parents’ church is taking to reach out in the northwest. And I know you are not implying this, but I am not against mega-churches, I’m against fat, lazy ones and skinny, lazy ones.

    I like what you said about the Bible-belt problem – the methodology does not work in today’s post-Christian era. An offline conversation I am having with a Nashville church planter is saying similar things. There is a post-Christian population that is not able to connect with the old paradigm of church.

    Completely agree that there are many churches in the South doing great things and you list brilliant examples. Looking forward to the day when they are more the standard than the exception. Further, I await where we in the northeast can say/feel similar with integrity.

  13. I think the Church in the northeast will have to learn how to fund raise with more grassroots emphasis if church planting is going to succeed using the missional model. It’s just too expensive to live around here, even in the “poor” communities. Housing is expensive even in places like Paterson, relative to other parts of the country.

  14. Versie C Taylor says:

    Indeed there are differences in northern/southern Christianity but you’re missing the point. I has everything to do with what they have in common. A successful friend of mine, Brandy Shiloh, started building a ministry in her hometown because she wants to give back to the community that raised her and helped her throughout her life.

  15. @Thomas, “fundraise with more grassroots emphasis” – We should talk about this the next time we have lunch. I wonder if it’s similar to a church model I submitted for a class in seminary (everyone fundraised).

  16. @Versie,
    I checked out Brandy’s site; though I’m not sure we are talking about the same thing, glad to see that she’s giving back and serving the Kingdom. Thanks for reading.

  17. Sry found this site late so thread maybe already dead but….
    As a transplanted NJ’er 25 yrs ago (or is it “ite”) but a born and bred northeasterner, I can understand what you are saying both about the need for churches to be planted in this highly populated area and the differences as many models dont work as well in the Northeast as they do in South, Ca or Pacific NW.

    After 24 yrs in a medium sized (but large for NJ at 1800) church, there was a change in leadership and a focus on planting. I joined the church plant and am now on staff. Though we are only <18mos old, we are already planning our first plant for Fall 2012 as we are committed to multiplying and the multi site offers the best opportunity for us. The difficulty is finding and grooming what we need for planters and campus pastors as other than a couple, multi site is new to this area.

    One step at a time but we are committed to this, so lets see what God provides!
    FYI, as a central NJ voter, i agree with the south deportation but we see the NYC suburb of North Jersey and NY-lite… all the stress attitude and traffic without the culture or transportation ;-)

  18. Having planted churches in California and India, I now live in Nashville and would consider this place one of the most challenging for a church planter. Please do not make assumptions about a place. There have been over 100 people per day moving to Nashville for the last 5 years. That is 365*100*5 or over 182,000 people in a town of 500,000. (40% growth) … this is a positive for a church planter, right? Well, when you consider all the church BUILDINGS here, you might think it is a place full of christians. But they are sparsely attended with people who are primarily inwardly focused and steeped in church culture. They are, for the most part, not welcoming congregations. They are rigid and in decline. And they are not as interested in evangelism as you would hope. This is compounded by the culture of everyone “acting like” they go to “this church or that”… and an expectation that everyone is a christian, despite perhaps not having a relationship with Jesus. It is a place that is beyond challenging. Pastors are building caretakers responsible to their committees of deacons and elders. They do not want change, and the people who move here, if they visit a church, encounter people who don’t know how to welcome newcomers. And the CERTAINLY don’t understand Relevant magazine. So the true seeker very often encounters an experience that turns them away from church. Please pray for the evangelism of Nashville.

Speak Your Mind