Why Whitestown?

I am so incredibly excited to be sharing with you about the grand endeavor that God has been preparing Chassity and me for over the last few years, and the work and preparation that has taken place in the last 6 months.

We are a part of the work of planting a new community of faith (church) in Whitestown, Indiana in conjunction with the Church Development team of the Indiana United Methodist Church. Over the coming weeks, through blog posts and videos, we’ll continue to share more and more about the mission God has given us, the vision we are so excited about, what values we are seeking to instill in the DNA from the get-go, about the process of planting itself, and ways in which you can be involved. So, one of the questions you may be asking yourself is, “Why Whitestown?” or maybe even, “Where on earth is Whitestown, Indiana?!” First, Whitestown, Indiana is a small, but rapidly growing town located in Boone County, Indiana, just northwest of Indianapolis. Whitestown was named after Albert S. White, a politician, abolitionist, and president of the railroad that ran through the sleepy little town. For most of its history, Whitestown was like many little midwestern farm towns, where farms got bigger and the population got smaller, but about 18 years ago that all began to change due to the town’s proximity to I-65, which connects to the growing metropolitan centers of Indianapolis and LaFayette (home of Purdue University). Sitting on the south end of Boone County, and just west of the growing suburb of Zionsville (another former farm town), developers began building on the abundant and affordable land. This effort slowed during the recession, but since 2012 has rapidly picked up pace, becoming the fastest growing town in the state of Indiana. The population has grown from 2,867 in 2010 to 7,814 in November of last year, and is on pace to likely double again in the next 10 years! Now, let’s pause for a second. The fact that Whitestown is a growing community is a big flag waving to me, and hopefully to you too, screaming, “Come here!” God’s heart is for people. He loves them, and he calls Christians to love them as well and reach out to them. When new people move into new places, it creates a need for new faith communities and new spaces to connect and engage with those coming into the area, that they might know Jesus and experience the love, transformation and new life that only comes through Him. Now, you might be thinking, “Aren’t there already churches in the area to do just that?” I’ll tackle this question more in a later post, but without unpacking it all, you might be surprised to know that new churches actually reach more unchurched and dechurched people (people who didn’t grow up in church or have left the church) than established churches. The community of Whitestown is full of people just like this. In the area, 53.7% of residents are not involved in any community of faith at all, regardless of religion, and on any given Sunday only about 26% of residents attend a worship service. While the statistics show there is not a high level of hostility toward Christianity or the church, the majority of people simply remain unaffiliated and uninvolved. Many of those moving into Whitestown are young professionals buying their first home and/or starting a family, and the average age is one of the lowest in the state, at 30.7 years of age. Further, those moving into the area don’t just come from adjacent municipalities, but come from across the state and the country, drawn by the growing industries in Indy and LaFayette. For this reason, Whitestown has the highest level of ethnic diversity of any Indianapolis suburb, far exceeding the state average, with 5.6% African American, 6.4% Asian, and 79% caucasian. This burgeoning community is developing, and by that I don’t just mean housing subdivisions. I mean that the community itself, the relationships, structures and social systems/networks, are new or absent. This great blend of people aren’t joining an entirely established community. They are building a new one as we speak. This is a fascinating and exciting thing to see. Many local onlookers in adjacent communities eye up the area and debate what it will become. Will it develop its own local culture and customs, or will it end up more of just an area where people are largely segmented and separated? That is still up in the air, but the way I see it, we have the unique privilege of joining the community and helping shape it as a more just, more loving, more creative, and more vibrant place, the kind of place God hopes it might become. Simply put, Whitestown is a land of opportunity. Not only are there numerous people who do not know the life-changing, transforming, awe-inspiring love of God, but there is the chance to help contribute to this growing community in a redemptive way, a way that puts it on a trajectory that is better for its citizens, the county, and the Kingdom of God. So what’s next? In the coming weeks we will be sharing more about our heart for this community and ways you can come alongside us in prayer and service. We invite you to not only pray for us and this community, but also ask God how you might be a part of this great adventure for His glory.

(If you’d like references for any of these statistics, just ask and I’ll send you a link, or you can Google it, which would likely be quicker)
– Seth


Why Church Planting?

In 1964, Bob Dylan penned a now famous song declaring “the times, they are a changin’” and boy, was he right. I’m not old enough to remember Dylan first singing those words (nor are my parents, to be honest) but that truth still rings out today. There have been massive changes that have occurred in the last 50 years in both American culture and in the American church, some for the better and some for the worse.
How so? Let’s look at the current state of affairs. (And if you haven’t met me yet, I geek out over facts and statistics so bear with me. Here we go.)
First, we are increasingly living in a “secular” society, and by that, I mean one in which the Christian Church’s influence is moving from the center to the margins. Church simply occupies a reduced role in the broader public life than it once did, and this is evidenced by both reduced affiliation and participation.
The number of what Pew Research refers to as “nones”, that is people who are religiously unaffiliated, more than doubled between 1990 and 2007 and has rapidly accelerated since then. Now, 20% of the US population self-identifies as “nones”.
When it comes to church attendance, things are not much better. Back in 2007, David Olson, director of the American Research project, reported that only “17.5 percent of the population attended an orthodox Christian church on any given weekend.” That means 82.5% of Americans were uninvolved on any given Sunday, a number which shows no signs of having decreased in the past decade.
While these trends are most pronounced on the East and West coasts, the South and Midwest are not exempt. Today, only 1 county in America has more Christians than 10 years ago.
And even right here in Indiana, Indianapolis now ranks #73 in the top 100 most post-Christian cities in America. The Barna Group, the researchers behind this ranking, based this on 16 factors, including whether individuals self-identify as atheists, their church attendance, frequency of reading the Bible, and other factors traditionally associated with both Christian practice and general cultural awareness. That means Whitestown, sitting in the suburbs of Indy, is part of this trend.
Second, within the church itself, we are also facing staggering challenges.
Today in America, 80-85% of churches have either plateaued or are declining. Only 15% are actually growing, and last year, half of the churches in America didn’t add a single person through conversion. HALF! In 2015, over 3,700 congregations closed their doors nationwide. Now, the good news is that same year, 4,000 new churches were planted, but the population is growing 8 times faster than the rate at which we are planting new churches.
I often hear a lot of lamenting over this state of affairs, and perhaps rightly so. But we can view this as a catastrophe in the making or an opportunity to be seized. After all, the death of cultural Christianity–which most often doesn’t actually transform a person or community, only creating a facade–makes way for authentic Christianity to shine ever brighter, offering the hope and change so many long for.
Regardless of the brave new world, we find ourselves in, the calling of God to redeem, reconcile and restore persists, growing more powerful as the gap between “the way the world ought to be” and “the way it is” widens. And integral to God’s mission here is what is known as church planting, that is the creation of new worshipping Christian communities of faith.
Why is it so integral, so important? Well, I am so glad you asked.
Simply put, church plants are the most effective way to reach people. In fact, new churches are on average, over three times more effective at reaching people who are unchurched and de-churched than established churches. The average new church will see 10 new people decide to follow Christ each year for every 100 members for the first 15 years of their existence. On the other hand, churches that have been established longer than 15 years average only 3 decisions per year for every 100 members.
Church plants not only provide increased opportunities to engage with those in growing areas, where many established churches are absent, but they also allow us to effectively reach out to segments of the population previously overlooked by current churches. They allow us to reach new people groups, new demographics, and new locations.
In our minds, we know that every church was new once, that it had to be planted, but not everybody knows that now is a great time to be planting. We have such a tremendous opportunity before us.
For this reason, I’d like to invite you to be a part of church planting yourself. I’d like you to stop and take time to pray about how you can be part of this growing movement God is guiding by his Spirit all around our country. Now, you should know praying prayers like this is always a risky business because you never know what God will call you to do. He might even lay a place or people on your heart this very day as he prepares to launch a new ministry for them. If he does, look for like-minded people who are also sensing the stirring of the Holy Spirit to take a leap of faith.
And if my words about Whitestown and Rooted have stirred something in you, I’d like to invite you to be a part our church plant. You can be involved through your prayers, praying for the people of Whitestown, Boone County, and Indianapolis as well as those taking part in this plant. You can support the project financially by partnering with us. Or you can even be a part of the launch team, a group that will gather and prepare ourselves to launch this new community.
Let us pray boldly and reach out like never before. There has never been a better time to start a new community of faith; whether that is in your community, the church you currently serve, or in a new place or context. The race has been set, let’s run it well.
– Seth