Who Moved the Frontier?


The older I get the more I see the cyclical nature of culture. One could say that trends are more slow-moving changes while fads are quick bursts of change only to rapidly disappear as fast as they came into being. We think of fashion styles or musical genres and then after a while everything is a "fusion" ... like a Korean taco food truck. Sometimes we get lost attempting to keep up and of course some trends and fads are more regional than others.

And then there's church planting.

This goes beyond the obvious changes .... like "remember when church planting conferences 'proudly served Starbucks' coffee and soul patches were the facial hair of choice?" Or "remember when church planting conference platforms were filled with speakers from suburban churches?" My how times have changed. From soul patches to beards that make Chewbacca jealous and now these same conferences are filled with hipster church planters from the urban core.

While we can have fun and laugh out loud at these changes, the point of this is exactly that .... change.

The frontier of church planting has dramatically shifted over this past decade. Even today over coffee with a local church planter who grew up here he lamented and said, "every two days another church planter moves into the urban core of Portland to plant a church." From the suburbs of yesterday where everyone wanted to be the next Bill Hybels or Rick Warren to now the urban core of today. However, taking even a longer look at history reveals one constant ... change.

The frontier of church planting has always been in transition.

For every church planter moving to Portland to plant there are 5-10-20 existing churches that have been around for 50-80-120 years. Translation? One person's frontier was yesteryear's churched culture. The suburbs now get a bad rap. It's easy to poke fun at them because they rarely punch back. The lily-white suburbs of yesterday are today's geographic locales for the fastest growing poverty and primary landing place for minorities. Even in its population growth the suburbs are growing faster because of minorities moving in more so than whites.

What was "safe," middle class, and more homogenous is rapidly becoming less so. People may say things like "crime is down in urban Portland." But what they really mean is that it has shifted ... away towards the eastern suburb of Gresham. The point in all of this is not only the changing nature of the city ... and by city we need to think of the central city and the suburbs, but the changing frontier of church planting as well.

With all of the current focus on the urban core it is leaving many suburban communities and even more so rural communities on the losing end of church planting.