Church Planting in the New Frontier

I did not start out intentionally thinking about the “new frontier” in North American missions, but in retrospect I did begin moving in that direction. It happened more out of personal angst and frustration than some proactive search. My previous book, Urban Hinterlands, marked a decisive shift for me. This shift was and is geographic. Not necessarily away from the city, but questioning why we tend to plant churches in North America mostly in attractive cities and trendy neighborhoods. This tendency explains why for many years we didn’t really plant churches in the urban core of cities—it wasn’t that cool or attractive.

The whole trajectory of Urban Hinterlands was about exploring livability and ultimately what it would mean to plant churches in uncool cites and lackluster neighborhoods. Since then, as I have looked at these kinds of places and communities, it has begun to dawn on me that once again (at least for me) the frontier of North American missions has shifted.

The ongoing saturation of the urban core with new churches reflects a necessary course correction for having overemphasized for decades suburban church planting. But now the pendulum is swinging yet again. It is time to begin addressing what’s next for North American church planting. To me, that new frontier is not only those uncool and undesirable cities and neighborhoods, but also those smaller communities located in the in-between places of our major metro areas. As well, recent economic changes mean that many communities that were traditionally dependent upon resource extraction (e.g., logging, mining, fishing, etc.) are now seeking to reinvent themselves to attract and retain not only tourism dollars, but also their share of the elusive and migratory creative class. You see, this conversation about creative-class theory is not only reshaping the urban context, but has far-reaching ramifications and applications for small communities across the continent as well. Towns and small cities that we had once written off are on the rise.

The new frontier in North American missions continues to shift. From suburban to urban, and now from urban to first-ring lower income suburbs which are increasingly comprised of minorities, as well as smaller cities and towns.