A little over seven years ago, God moved me, my wife Melissa, my daughter Beth who is 14 years old, and our two cats who are about the same age, from Southern California to Northern Ohio. I was on a staff at a large church at the time and it seemed like God was opening a ministry door for us in a place that I had actually traveled through many times in Ohio. I traveled in my earlier years. It was actually a state I really enjoyed immensely as a tourist, if there are tourists of Ohio. I don't know.
That was something that happened about eight years ago, and a couple things with that. Let me rabbit off a couple things with that. Number one yes, I am a horrible father for moving my daughter across the country at the fragile age of 14 years old. I've got to own that one I don't get to go back and reverse that, it happened, and there's still a lot of forgiveness in the air between me and her that we're working out, okay?
Number two, yes the culture shock moving from Southern California, south of LA, Orange County area was and is a real thing that I completely discounted at the time.
And then three, we didn't actually move to Ohio to plant a church and in fact, if you just heard Joel's session, there was probably three or four moments where I looked over at Big M, my wife Melissa, and I said, "Is he telling our story, or his story?" Because ... and if you talk to Danny Wright who we're gonna talk to in a little bit, it is my story. This whole thing about being on staff at a large church, wanting to plant a church, having them just completely say, "Absolutely not," and then having us completely say, "But that's what we're going to do," and then just having it be this horrendous process that in some ways we're still immersed in that did not go well. But, God in His goodness has blessed it anyway.
As to my third point about how the fact that we didn't go to Ohio to plant a church, God had done something even as we got into ministry in that He'd always placed me in the company of church planters. I don't know why this was, and I don't know why, if some of these guys were just drawn to me because I have a little bit of an entrepreneurial thing going on, you know, I've started things. The comment that I got repeatedly from these dudes, over the ... Being in the company of these guys was, "I think you're going to plant a church someday Ronnie." To which I usually replied, "Never let me hear you utter those words again." Right? I mean, it just was not on my radar whatsoever, and really, I think part of it was I thought these dudes were crazy.
I would look at what they were doing, and what they were endeavoring, and it just felt nuts to me, and it seemed way more nuts than any entrepreneurial thing that I had ever attempted, and what I didn't know at the time, was that God was, really, He was planting a seed in me through these brothers that was going to come to fruition in the not so distant future. Like I said before, as I alluded to, my move to small town Ohio, man, it just initially did not go well. We found ourselves on staff at another large church. So, I'd come from a large church. I'd gotten on staff at another large church, and it just turned out the opposite of what we might call a "fit," right from the very beginning.
And you know, without going into all the gory details, at some point we knew our time was coming to an end, and again, part of me being weary and tired of being harassed by church planters ... Because I moved to Ohio and here I am, just surrounded by church planters. Here I am in Columbus once a month, hanging out at a Gospel Collation Group with other planters and pastors, I don't know. It's just where I find myself in these circles, and church planters can be a little ... They can get into your personal space a little bit. They can kind of harass you, quite a bit. You know, there's something inherent to that personality.
But so at one point, Melissa and I, Big M as we like to call her, we asked God to create a desire in us to plant if that's what He had planned all along. I don't know. When you get that kind of push all the time, at some point, you got to go, "I don't know God, is this like you speaking in, or am I just hearing voices that I wish would shut up?" You know?
So, we started praying about it and after a little while ... again, I'm skipping a lot of details ... the California kids planted a church in Ashland, Ohio, and three years later we ... It was so much fun, we planted another one in a town called Wooster, which should not be pronounced like "Rooster" unless you want to die a death in a small town.
But, like all endeavors, which church planting is a humble endeavor as you guys well know ... Man, we've learned a lot, we're learning more. We're going on five years into this, and I feel like I ... I feel like we're just beginning in some ways. More than anything, what struck me as we were coming from very crowded suburban, chaotic, Southern California, more than anything, was that we realized that what would have been presented to us by being in this town where just opportunities that we could have never anticipated ... because one of the big things is the sexiness of church planting. The hype of church planting over the last 15 years has been huge, you know?
You got TK, you got Keller, you got Acts 29, so you got all this stuff that's happening and so all you ever hear about and all I ever heard about in the churches that we're at, where planters actually left was, "Man, you gotta go urban church planting." So, the big thing is, man, I want to hit the city, you know? That's what we want to do.
I started reading Center Church by Keller, and I mean, God blessed Tim Keller, right? I mean, we love TK. I mean we understand the allure of urban planting, right? We understand there's nothing more sexy than just storming the gates of Manhattan with our Crossway ESV in one hand and our white paper on Social Justice in the other hand, right? There's something about that that appeals to all of us 'cause we're explorers and we're adventurers.
But God did not really drop that in our laps. Here we are in this small town, and we're seeing that there is a lock of something, and I'm not a small town dude. You know what I mean? I'm not a small town guy, but we're seeing that there's something here and then in the surrounding towns that we'd kind of become familiar with. There was something there that was lacking, but we weren't hearing a lot of stuff. Like right now, you got A29 starting to talk about urban planting or small town planting because I've been harassing Dave and Dave for the last three years. Here we are. We got a break out talking about small town planting and Sojourn.
What was interesting was that my heart wasn't really warm for urban planting. My heart wasn't really warmed up for small town planting either, but God was doing a work, led us into planting, and it was actually, believe it or not, it was during that time as I was reading Center Church of all books, it got me thinking about the opportunities that He was applying to downtown urban planting that I think totally applied in this weirdo urban/suburban mix that you get with small town planting.
What I'm going to lay out to you ... This is not exposition. Obviously, this is a little more like what [Brooksy 00:07:23] just did where I'm just gonna speak, and I have 10 things, 10 things that I'm calling 10 Unseen Opportunities that I've just seen over the last few years, and even before, that have been unique to gospel-centered churches being faithfully planted in small towns, and what are some of the advantages of looking at some of these towns that are being abandoned and of which the gospel has just been depleted from? What are some of those opportunities that we can find and we can see, and that God can use to produce some gospel fruit? And again, this is just my town that I'm speaking out of, town of about 25-30,000 people. This is not some collective perspective, necessarily. So, if you guys are from towns or you're looking at towns, you're going to be like, "That's not like my town at all," I'll be like, "Not going to argue," because some of these things are unique.
I do think that these are wide enough to be at least somewhat applicable to anything that you might be thinking in terms of small-town church planting, which I think is really important. Again, what we're seeing, especially with planters, especially over the last 15 years, especially with dudes that are 25 to 35, which may have grown up in small towns, there's always this sort of reactive thing, that they want to get out of the town, right? They want to get into something that has a little more life, that's a little more vibrant. And so, again, the push to cities has been a great thing.
There's no criticism of that, but where does that leave just these hundreds and thousands of small towns that are anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000 people? Where does that leave them when you have a bunch of mainline denominations that litter the town? Every small town has nine or 10 Methodist churches, and no offense to all you brothers that came from Methodist backgrounds, I'm not here to drive on your concrete there with any of that, but what you see is you see a movement had once happened, is largely dead, and there is just sort of this settledness of eternal autumn and death in the air. I'm a little poetic sometimes so you have to bear with me at this.
Speaker 2: [inaudible 00:09:29]
Ronnie: Yeah, there you go.
So, here's 10 Things, and so what I want to do is I want to lay out these 10 Things, and we'll do a little Q & A if you guys have some questions. And then I'm going to bring up Danny Wright, who is a friend who has been a guy that has been involved in a plant for much longer than me, and I want to ... I want to ask him some questions about what it looks like after five years, what it looks like after 15 years, when you faithfully have just been in this scenario and some of the things and some of the wisdom that he has that far exceeds mine. They just asked me to do this instead of Danny because I'm ... I talk louder and I'm a bigger jackass, so ...
Here's the first thing. So if you're thinking about small town church planting, if you're in a city, if you're looking out, if you've decided, "Hey, I just don't want to go to the other side of the city," but I'm seeing, especially in the mid-west these towns that kind of dot the outer perimeter of these big cities that nobody's talking about, maybe they've turned them into bedroom communities for commuters. That's happening as well, but here's 10 Things.
The first one is Gospel Presence. I'm putting that one at the top. Gospel Presence. Small towns ... I just said this a minute ago, but they tend to be ... I've driven through a lot of these towns. I've taken notes in a lot of these towns ... Small towns are littered, they seemed to be littered with mainline denoms. Is anybody a part of the mainline denomination? I'm gonna step on somebody's toes right now, and I just want to ... Okay, great. I can say whatever I want now.
They're litter with mainline denominations many of whom ... and I can attest to this in our town ... have abandoned the Gospel and really have become a shadow of what they used to be. You see this in towns of this size. If you can visit some of these churches, and this is what you'd be greeted by. You'd be greeted by just these scant numbers of, again, kind-hearted people, kind hearted parishioners, who really, at the end of the day, seem to be hanging on by a thread in an old building that really has become a museum of former glories.That's what you seem to see. They're hanging on, there's 25 people there, they got this gorgeous building, and they stacked up so much money in the bank. All they keep doing is dying and diminishing and there's no life left, so there's kind of a sadness to what you see in a lot of these towns.
A gospel-centered church, a Gospel-centered presence has the opportunity to serve as a lighthouse, as a lighthouse in a town of churches that, in a sense, have just drifted out to sea. And so you go into a small town, and a lot of times these ... there's a 140 churches in our town, 140 churches in a town of 25,000 that takes you literally six minutes to drive from one end to the other of the town. 140 churches.
There's some gospel churches. There is, and you don't want to steer that far. I've met up with brothers that are preaching the Gospel. They can do it a little bit different than us. Their jeans aren't going to be as tight, you know? There's all those things in place, right? It's going to be, you know, qualitatively different in some way, quantitatively different in some way, but there are some gospel-preaching churches, but there lacks that vibrancy that we see with the way that we want to express the gospel in our churches, the way that we want to reach into the community, the things that we hear about that circulate ... you know, our structures, and our methods, and our vision for how we think of Sojourn churches.
So, the very first and most important thing, the most opportunity that you have is the chance to be a Gospel Presence [inaudible 00:13:00] shine all the more brighter, right? Because there's not a bunch of lights, you might be one light, and it feels real glowy in the town. That's the first one, is a Gospel Presence.
The second one is Give the Opportunity to Stand Out. You have the opportunity to stand out. Even when small towns ... And I'm going to talk about this next point in a second ... Even when small towns are initiating a revitalization ... and you're seeing this in small towns, where they're trying to initiate some sort of revitalization ... Most don't experience a lot of new things. A small town, one of the characteristics of a small town is you're not seeing a lot of new stuff happen, and again, people that live in small towns, that's one of the reasons why they like being there, is because there's a stability there. There's not a lot of new stuff popping out, much less new churches.
A gospel-centered church, which is what all of us would endeavor to plant, it has the opportunity to pop out a little bit by virtue of, really, just being there, which will naturally, in the town, it will garner a lot of talk, and attention. Again, our church has garnered a lot of talk and attention because we're planting right in the downtown. We're right in the middle of the downtown. It's not because we've done all this marketing. It's really, at the end of the day, just because it happened to be one of the only new church plants to have popped up the last 10 years, and we're still going. There's been a couple that have popped up, kind of failed, and then left town. We, by God's grace, we're still going.
We've garnered a lot of talk and attention by [inaudible 00:14:39] just being there, being faithful, not going anywhere, not seeming hostile, not going in and trying just to eradicate all of their old traditions or try to seem like we're better than the rest of them, even though we probably think we are on our bad days and all those things. What's great about that, and one of the really important pieces of that is that, no marketing required. We don't market. We've never marketed. We just exist, and because people drive down all these streets and there's only so many streets, they see you. We got our sign, they see our sign.
This is one of those things where we've literally had people ... We literally have people come to the church because they, wait for it ... Have seen our sign. When does that ever happen? You know what I mean? I had one guy come in. He'd only saw the sign. He's one of our deacons right now. This was years ago. He said, "Dude, it wasn't just the sign. It was the font you used." I was like, "Oh, my gosh. Where am I right now?" Because we still used [inaudible 00:15:35] hipster fonts and all that kind of stuff.
Something like that, are you [inaudible 00:15:40]? If you're in downtown Manhattan ... That font we used, that's every sign in downtown Manhattan, but in A-Town, Ashland, that's it. It's the only thing that you ese that looks like that, so you have a chance to stand out and popular a little bit. That's not a bad things. We're just being ourselves, a little to the side of what the culture would be, but not in an offensive way. I don't know, can you offend anybody with a font? You probably can. I don't know.
Speaker 2: Sure.
Ronnie: Sure, you can offend any ... You can offend somebody with anything, right?
Speaker 2: Is it Word Art? [inaudible 00:16:10], Word Art?
Ronnie: It's just word. Yeah. It just looks like the Sojourn font.
Oh, brother, you got a phone call here. What are we doing?
Speaker 3: No, it's all good.
Ronnie: You good, man? Should we answer the phone?
Speaker 3: No.
Ronnie: Maybe we should talk about what we're doing right now. Maybe it's your wife. She wants to know what you're doing, we're in the breakout.
That's never happened to me before, I appreciate that, man. It's going to give me a story later on. "So, I'm up here, I'm doing this breakout, right? And this dude has his phone ... " No.
Here's the third thing. We're keeping this loose today, boys and girls. Spaces. Locations, spaces. Lot of small towns have, ours has, has experienced economic downturn, so we had one of those old factory towns, and again, I wasn't there obviously, but 25 years ago, some of these massive factories went out of business. A lot of people, they leave because they lose their jobs, and what this means is that many of those towns, especially ours, have just plentiful opportunities for permanent gathering places.
We moved into our town, there was [inaudible 00:17:09], there was this furniture store called Gilbert's Furniture in the downtown, and behind the store, there was another street, and it was their warehouse. That thing had essentially been sitting empty for eight years, and it's almost next to nothing. I knew the owner because he also owns eight other buildings in the downtown, and, "Hey, what are you doing with this building?" There had been some things that had moved in and out. There'd been this little organic market that had been there for six months. They moved out.
We were just able to move right in, and again, it's because of some of the economic downturns that have created those opportunities, and not only that, but something unique about small towns is, and especially our town, is the city just welcomed us in. There's not that hostility. The city welcomed us in with open arms. We work with the downtown. There's a downtown organization that's been formed. They really like us, believe it or not. They were thrilled to see us take this old warehouse and just [inaudible 00:18:11] some of the revitalization, some of the fixing up, and some of the regular maintenance and upkeep that we do on it now, and again, it's cheap. You're just not looking at ... It's something you can actually get into really early, because it's not just taking 50% of your budget.
So, pretty amazing for that. You can find really, really good spaces. Some small towns ... It doesn't apply to every small town. Some small towns are a little more upper-middle class, and you're going to find space to be a little more of a premium. But that is one of the opportunities that is going to be a lot harder to find in an urban context, where you just have to rent, you have to lease, you have to move stuff in and out. You can find a permanent space pretty quickly, have your stuff set up, that alleviates a lot of burdens for church planning.
Here's the fourth thing, and I kind of touched on this a minute ago, which is revitalization movements. That's kind of a thing with small towns right now is revitalization movements. It's kind of returning back, restoring all the old buildings back to their former glory, everything looking kind of quaint and kind of Norman Rockwell, and our town is going through a revitalization movement right now. It's going to take forever. We were almost the first thing in there. We didn't kickstart it, but as they were talking about this, and as they were trying to create an environment for outside businesses to come in and be part of that restorative process, we just kind of jumped right in, so it was really interesting what God did through that.
Like I said earlier, it's a downtown where a committee has been formed to help pave the way for new growth. For us, what it's done is created a lot of opportunities for us to take part in something restorative and, this is the bigger thing, show our town that we care about the things that they care about. We don't have to Bible thump them just because we're there. We're doing things with them, alongside of them.
In fact, this Tuesday, they do this crazy thing every year called Costume Capers for Halloween, and what it is, is all the downtown businesses open their doors on a Tuesday night, and then all of these kids come in, about 3,000 kids, they just go door-to-door and they go trick or treating. We've been a part of this the last couple years. We have this roll-up door. We just roll it up, and then they eventually circle around to us, and we give out candy, but we're taking it to the next level this year. We're closing off ...
This is what you can do in a small town. We can close off the entire street, so we're closing off the entire street and we're setting up all this crazy stuff, we're giving away all this free food. We're setting up all these tables, and so as they walk through our street to get to our cars, because we have all this parking behind us, they're just going to be bombarded and confronted with this, it gives us a reach, right? Again, the town is stoked out of their minds that we're doing this.
Why? Because nothing's ever happening. It's just an event. We didn't have to ask the paper to advertise. We didn't have to ask the downtown committee to put it all on Facebook. That's all they're doing. They're pumping it every day. Why? Because it's the only thing going on. You know what I mean, "only thing going on." That sounds snobbish, but essentially, it's something that is available for the whole family, and here's plenty of stuff like that, but, specifically, it's safe, and a church actually cares about something that's going on in the community, which is different for that town. So, that's what we're experiencing for that ... Revitalization movements and just sort of the welcoming aspect that you get and you can be a part of.
Here's the next one, and again, some of these are just really practical to encourage you to [inaudible 00:21:50] look out beyond the perimeter of this city that you might be in. The next one is Cost of Living. Let me just cut to the chase here. Small towns are cheap to live in, because as a church planner, what are you most worried about?
Speaker 4: Money.
Ronnie: Money. Can we all just say that together? One, two, three. Money. Okay. Finally, some honesty here at Sojourn Network. I'm lying.
Cheap living, our town ... Our town was listed a couple years ago as the fourth cheapest town in the, wait for it ... nation to live in. What this means is ... You just don't need this Willow-Creek-sized budget to move in and start doing some work. You need ... I remember, I'll just be honest with you guys. I think our initial budget, years ago, was something in the neighborhood of $45,000 for our first year budget.
Yeah, I know, they were starving me to death, but here's the things. There's no overhead. If you're paying a couple hundred bucks a month for a building, where's all the overhead coming from? You're getting people donating things, and at the end of the day, you just got to be able to have electricity on. You got to have some heat in the winter. You got to be able to open those doors. You got to have a pulpit or a music stand, a Bible, and dude, you're ready to go.
Some of you guys are thinking, "Ronnie, that's really simple." Yeah, that's just our vibe. We've kind of kept this very simple model. That's a philosophical thing for us, and our budget is not $45,000 anymore, but the fact that we were able to start that simply was encouraging, because, again, we started in some measure of chaos. We didn't have a sending church. We had a lot of animosity towards us because, again, we were a new thing in and old town, and had some people that were not thrilled about what we were doing.
So, being able to say, "Hey, man. If we can just get $40-$50K, man, we can do this thing. We had a small core group. That's another thing I didn't write [inaudible 00:23:55]. You don't need a massive core group. You don't need the magic 40. We started with the magic 25. I think five of those people left after the first week we gathered. You can have a smaller core group, and a smaller core group can provide the budget money that you need to do the work. There's not that pressure of needing those massive expanded budgets, because you're starting in you're counting your $180,000 to get through the first year, and I don't even know if anybody's going to show up. It allows you to have some safety and some fallback.
So, cost of living, I think, is something to really consider. Again, that shouldn't be the motivating factor, but it's also something where it allows you to think of other things besides the money, because honestly, the money is not going to be that big of a barrier. You got 25 people hat are committed to the church, you're going to bring in $50,000. Right? So, that's just a practical thing.
Here's the next one. No Hostility. I got to qualify that, because we had some hostility, but that was more of a personal hostility that we had, but I'm talking in terms of the town itself. You don't experience hostility because small towns are typically very churched cultures, or at least they used to be at one time. What this means is that people aren't necessarily hostile to churches. You're not messing with their minds. They haven't gotten political about churching. In our case, many were happy to have something positive and new and family-oriented, which is how they would have framed us coming to town.
On the flip, it also means that people will be incredibly indifferent to you. They're not offended, but they're kind of just like, "That's cool. Another church? That's great. It's positive. There should be another church. I know we have 140, but what's 141?" And that has its challenges, right? Because, again, churches are like wallpaper, sometimes, in these towns, so the lack of offendedness also creates an indifference.
At the very least it means that you'll likely have an opportunity to walk through a door without any resistance on the other side. That kind of means something, right? That means there's one less battle that you're fighting with all the other battles that you're going to be fighting. Sometimes, resistance can be a good thing, too, but in small towns, what I've experienced is that you don't have the same kind of resistance that you might have in other areas.
Here's the next one. I forget what number we're on. Does anyone have a number count?
Speaker 5: Seven.
Ronnie: Thank you. Yes. I went to Christian school. I don't know how to count.
Not Transient. Not a transient culture by and large. Small towns are not transient. Like I said in the beginning, some have ... And even ours, we found this, is serving a little bit more as a bedroom community because we are pretty close to Cleveland, we're pretty close to Columbus. What you have is a free 45-minute, no-traffic drive to any of those towns. Not that big of a deal, right?
You can work in Cleveland, you can work in Columbus, and then you can live for free in Ashland. There's something incredibly appealing to that for some people. What happens is that most people in these towns are very rooted. They're very rooted in the town. It's kind of like our favorite band, Journey, small-town boys and girls who took the midnight train going anywhere. Right? We all know the song. We all love the song, because it's truly one of the top 10 greatest pop songs ever written.
What happens is, when they leave town, and they all want to leave town, and they're all anxious to get out of town, a lot of them return to town when it's time to settle down, and it's time to raise their families, and we've seen that. What this means is you have opportunities to invest in a congregation that's not going anywhere, and there's something very interesting about this.
I grew up, again, in Suburban California. You go to a big church ... Well, first off, you don't really know that many people anyway because there's 2,000 people, but you do know that the people you know after two years are probably not going to be there because they got a job in L.A., they don't want to commute anymore. They got a job up the coast ... It doesn't matter. Everybody's in and out, and it's hard to settle down and establish community. It's much different here, because people are there, they want to be rooted. They're there for a reason, so you get to invest in a congregation that's not going anywhere.
There are other socioeconomic reasons why people don't and can't leave small towns, too. I don't want this to feel too [inaudible 00:28:45], because there's a lot of issues that in terms of socioeconomic things. For us, we have zero racial diversity. So, when Sojourn's talking about racial diversity, I'm just checking Facebook the whole time. I'm kidding. It matters for all of us to be educated in those things. Practically speaking, it just has no impact on us. We are [inaudible 00:29:05], wait for it ... Nine-eight, 98% white Caucasian in our town.
I think we have three African Americans in our ... We have the three African Americans that live in the town, are in our congregation.
Speaker 6: [crosstalk 00:29:19] accomplished the goal you've got there.
Ronnie: Boom, we made it. We're the most diverse church in Ashland, right? Again, it sounds funny and crazy. It really is true. It's really true.
There's other diversities, though, and what we deal with is, we deal with a good side/bad side of the tracks kind of a thing. We have a massive opiate problem in our town that nobody knows how to deal with, including yours true, and a lot of socioeconomic diversity and downturns depending on where you live and where you're at. Even though the town is small, there is a dividing line in our town, and again, our church has probably gotten to a place ... Very few of those people on the other side of the tracks feel comfortable coming in even though we're just this broken [inaudible 00:30:10] old warehouse. We actually made the warehouse too nice.
So, again, that's just one very simplistic factor that I'm bringing out. There is some diversity, but, again, these are people of which they have never left the town. They can't leave the town. They have things going on. They have other issues that they're dealing with.
Yeah, go ahead, man.
That really accounts for, really, the limited racial diversity, but the massive socioeconomic diversity that these towns have, which you really might not think about. If you're thinking in terms of having that kind of mission of heart and outreach, it's there. It's there. Racial diversity always looks sexier. It just does. But this is a very real diversity that we have.
When I talk to guys like Wes Thompson from Veritas East in Columbus ... His dad has a ministry called the Refuge, who works with people who have various forms of addictions. It's a whole other thing that we're probably not really dealing with much, because you need a level of education to dive into it, and you don't want to be just the ex-Southern California, white church plant dude with the, you know, his pants are too tight to dive in and think he can save the world in small-town Ohio.
Those are some of the diversities, but at the same time, back to my original point, they're not transient. Nobody's going anywhere, and I think that's a benefit that often gets missed.
Here's number eight. Good Transfer Growth. Oh, the evil phrase that we're all afraid to mention. Transfer growth. I think that there's a good transfer growth. In fact, go to Sojourn Network, an article I wrote on it a little while ago. You can click on that. There is such a thing as good transfer growth that I wholeheartedly endorse and believe in, because gospel-centered plants in small towns, what is happening there is you're giving spiritually starving people the opportunity to finally be fed.
This doesn't mean you become a burglar. This doesn't mean we become the Hamburgler, right? It means that God may transfer someone from an unhealthy congregation to your healthy congregation. This is a good thing, right? This is a good thing. And, again, it doesn't happen in vast numbers. We've had some of that.
Here's a story I always like to tell. I remember, I was sitting down with about a 66-year-old dude. His daughter and his son-in-law had helped plant the church, and this guy went to the ... There's two big churches in our town that are about 1500 people. One of them is a Lutheran Church. This guy, because his grandkids are at the church now, and he'd been kind of in and out of the Lutheran Church, attending four times a year, his daughter's there, so he kind of got in.
They'd experienced some tragedies in their life, so we sat down with him. I don't know where he's at. I'm not sure that he's saved, and so we were able to share the gospel with him and talk, and I remember he said this line to me. This was really important to me. This was years ago. There was a pause with him, and he looked up, and his eyes were all glassy, and he said, "Why have I never heard this before?" And I looked at him, and I said, "What do you mean?"
He goes, "Well, I've been a member at the Lutheran Church for 55 years." He goes, "And I've never heard what you just said."
I said, "What do you mean about ... What I said about the gospel and the cross and Christ's love and his forgiveness for you?" I go, "You've seriously never heard that?" He goes, "Not the way you just said it." And I said, "Oh." I was like, "Well, damn that place." Right? That's how I felt. That was the indignation, and it was probably self-righteous indignation in me a little bit, but there was this sense of, "Are you kidding me?"
Like, "You've been ... " And not only ... This dude wasn't just a member. He was on one of the two or three of the 97 committees they had at the ... He was involved. His dollars had gone to this Lutheran Church almost his entire life, and he's just, he's crying, he's like, "Nobody ever said it like that." And I'm not a great preacher. So, it's like, there was something significant about that.
What happens is, I look at something like that, and again, with, hopefully, a good measure of humility and just say, "Well, God, thank you for bringing him to us." I don't know. I'm sure that there are people there that are getting fed, so I don't want to blanket-statement this thing, but he had not been. So, praise God. He came over. Now he's hearing the gospel preached, with a level of mediocrity, but nevertheless, it's getting out.
So, good transfer growth, because you're new. You have something new. You're popping. You're standing out. It's different.
Number nine. You Can Be a Change Agent. Because you're in a place that sees slow or little change, God can use your church plant as an opportunity to actually be a change agent in the culture, and here's why. Small things can feel like big things in a small town. When a gospel church reaches into the community with love and care what we've [inaudible 00:35:33] about the churches in our town is, man, they have all just formed ... They've all just put glass cases over their church, and they're all just kind of holding on, and none of them step outside. They step outside after Sunday afternoon, after Sunday morning service, and they just kind of pop in and out. It's a place that they hibernate at on Sunday mornings.
If you are even a church that has a conversation with other churches, that has a conversation with the mayor, that has a conversation with some of the people that are rally interested and love the town and want to see it grow and thrive, it's going to be shocking to them. It's shocking to them that we have people that sit down with some of these people and actually talk to them about things that we'd like to do, not because we're brilliant. We're not strategists, we don't have all these amazing ideas. We don't. That's just not how God has wired me.
It's just a matter of saying, "Is there a few things we can do this year, I don't know, that we can be a part of what you have going on here, and allow people to see what it looks like for a church that actually just cares?"
Again, it's not so agenda-driven. I mean, we're always agenda-driven. The gospel is our agenda. But we can look like we care about all the other things that they don't think churches care about other than bringing in [inaudible 00:36:48] and trying to stay afloat.
Finally, here's my last one. It's kind of tied to that. It's Social Media. Social media goes a long way in a small town. Again, kind of like the sign, we have had countless people. We're a church of about three ... congregation's about 300 people. We have had countless people come in because it's like, "Yeah, I don't know. We just saw you on social media." [inaudible 00:37:19] They're kind of are no other churches on social media in our town out of 140 churches. It's crazy, right? So, for Melissa and I, we're a little more natural with the social media thing. For some of you guys, it's not your natural thing.
Here's the advantage of it, is it goes a long way, because everybody sees everything in a small town, and having a social media presence, it doesn't turn into white noise, or wallpaper. I can't tell you ... I get stopped by people at the grocery store and these places, and they'll be like, "Oh, you're the dude from Substance." I'll be like, "Yeah, how's it going?" And they said, "Man, we follow you on Facebook. We love what you're doing. We see you. We go to the church down the road."
I'm like, "Yeah, that's great."
"But, man, we're so encouraged by that. We see you guys doing all these things, and it's like ... " Actually, we don't really do that much. We just let everybody know the couple of things that we do. That's it. We're not doing that much. We're not overachievers.
So, don't miss that one, because it's massive. It also means that there's a marketing thing. There's a marketing thing, because everybody is stalking you on Facebook, because there's not a lot of other stuff going on. It's just, "Hey, we're doing this event," or, "We're going to be over here," or, "Join us on Sundays. Again, just reminding you that these are the times we meet," and man, you have an opportunity with just a little clicking to present yourselves as something that is thriving and living and growing, like a gospel organism.
Those are 10 Things. I know we kind of just breezed through those things, but those are 10 things that really have sort of stuck out to me in the last five years as we've engaged in this work, and what it does to me, what it does for me, because I tend to be a minimalist, so God brought me from this very noisy culture, but I've always been kind of a minimalist.
I like stripped down things. I like simple things. So, he very providentially put me in a place not because I feel like I have all this commonality with the mindset and the culture of the place that he put me, but he actually gave me just a couple of giftings, ora couple of proclivities that allow me to do something that's made it not such an overwhelming word. You start talking to me about what Starkey's doing in Manhattan, and I just go, "I know I look like a Manhattan guy, but that's just not how God wired me."
He's allowed me to sort of see this thing very streamlined, very simple, with the understanding that, hey, some of these things are actually going to produce fruit in the way that you're able to do them, which is just a couple of things, stripping things down, keeping it simple, and then, at the same time, knowing that small towns ... They're very suspicious of things that come in too complicated and too over-the-top and too corporate.
We had a guy that we were going to be planting a church with. He went into a town of 32,000 people, did the big, massive budget thing, had to raise like $6.9 million. He wants to start this thing, he wants to start this thing like [inaudible 00:40:25], the first Sunday, the big launch thing, and it's like, he's going into this town, which is all factory workers, median income of $30,000 a year, and it's like, "Dude, what are you ... You can't do that. They are going to look at you like you are coming in to rule them with an iron fist."
And, again, there's been a lot of issue. He still went ahead with it. A lot of issues. A lot of problems with how he's done that because people are like, "That's weird for me. I want something more simple. I want something more stripped down. I want something more homey. I want to feel like I can go in there ... I can just, I can look how I want. I can dress how I want. There's not that pressure."
So, again, just some things. I threw up a lot on you, right now-