The North East has a reputation of being hardened and closed to the gospel. Many in this part of the country take pride in their intellect, their academic prowess, and their financial achievement. New England has been documented as the most biblically illiterate part of the country. Read more about that here.
At the same time, there’s a Christian revival happening in the North East. Secular media has documented this, and you can read more about it here.
In fact, in one study, 57% of New Englanders said they would respond favorably if a friend invited them to church! You can read that article here.
Recently Christianity Today featured an article about a liberal FoxNews contributor who became a believer in Jesus Christ. You can view a recent FoxNews interview with her here.
Another recent article gives compelling thoughts regarding New York city opening to the gospel. You can read that here.
Not only does secular media document a revived interest in the gospel in New England, we are seeing this very thing unfold right before our very eyes in Connecticut. Easily 8 out of 10 people that I invite to church in the Hartford area actually pause, look at the tract, and thoughtfully say “I’ve been thinking about going to church…” I know, that sounds like an exaggeration—I agree, it’s unbelievable—but still true.
I previously wrote about an interaction I had with a Dunkin’ Donut’s manager. Her story has continued to unfold. She came to church. She wept through the whole message. She trusted Christ as her Saviour. She has continued to come. She’s growing. She’s attending our connection group for ladies. And this past Sunday her daughter and niece placed their faith in Jesus Christ.
Yesterday, I had an appointment with an ER doctor and accomplished medical professional. She has two PHD’s and graduated at the top of her class. She was on a fast track to becoming a CEO of a hospital. One month ago she discovered she had cancer. The next Sunday she “happened” to choose Emmanuel Baptist Church to visit. We “happened” to be studying “Off Script”—a sermon series about hardship. She trusted Christ. And God is quickly reordering her entire life through her struggle.
Nearly every Sunday guests walk into Emmanuel Baptist Church—most of them lost. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds and educations. They have grown up in a New England culture of hopelessness. The hopelessness flows from two primary sources—secularism and religion.
From the secular world, they’ve been taught that there is no god, that they came from nothing, that they are going to nothing, and that life is essentially meaningless. This has left them empty and hopeless—with a conscience longing for truth.
From the religious world, they’ve been taught that God must be appeased by adherence to church traditions and works of self-righteousness. This too is hopeless, as all of our efforts to be moral and religious eventually leave us empty and longing for a loving God who will accept us as we are.
The result—New England is hopeless and ANXIOUS! The most secular heart is also a most hopeless heart. It may be well-educated, highly successful, and self-assured—but it’s secretly fragile and desperate. Even the most well-educated heart knows the gnawing absence of hope, and deeply longs for something more than this broken world of nothingness.
The gospel is the ONLY real source of hope. When Jesus Christ is presented with compassion and clarity, His love is compelling. And there’s nothing like seeing longing hearts respond to Jesus Christ!
How do we participate in this obvious move of the Holy Spirit? Here are a few quick thoughts that I see in the ministry of the Apostle Paul:
1. Intelligent Gospel Dialogue Over Dogma—as Christians we must be able to do as the Apostle Paul did—reason with people from the scripture with compelling logic. For decades Christianity has, in some sense, marginalized itself with the simplistic declaration of dogma that wasn’t presented with well-reasoned, biblical logic and thoughtful engagement. Dogma only works if your audience already believes in what you are saying. Dogma presumes biblical literacy and agreement. Persuasion is the mission of the Christianity in a secular society. The intellectual personality requires intelligent preaching. (Eg: Everybody knows that Christians are against homosexuality, but almost no one knows why, and very few Christians can offer a thorough, biblical, rational dialogue about why—especially in person to a homosexual.)
2. Gospel First, Issues Later—seems strange to write this, because I have a strong stand on moral issues, as does God’s Word. Here’s the question: do we really expect unregenerate hearts to embrace biblical values? God says they are blinded and ignorant. What a lost heart needs is not a “corrected moral position” (that comes later because of the gospel)—it needs a clear, compelling gospel message. The Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the cross—that is His chosen weapon to transform an immoral heart and make it interested in holiness. After salvation is the time to disciple a regenerated heart toward vital biblical values.
3. Connect to a Broad Demographic—Are you touching your whole demographic? Historically, American Christianity contextualizes life through the lens of traditional family—marriage, kids, etc. While our past constituency was primarily traditional families, our culture has shifted, and our lost candidates are a part of a much more diverse family history and hurt. Has it occurred to you that 50% of American adults are single? 50%! That’s HALF of our pool of searching hearts? Are half of your adult groups designed for single adults? Or are you subconsciously leaving out that segment of searching adults? The examples could go on. Most lost couples live together long before they decide to marry. Do we assume a visiting couple is married? Our “Christian box” is no longer “mainstream” in America. It’s long past time to reach beyond our box and intelligently persuade people.
4. Present Relationship Over Religion—America doesn’t need more religion. Hearts of the North-East are full and fed up with religion. When they think Christianity they think “religion”—dead, distorted, impersonal religion. That’s good news! Because we know and love a personal Saviour! We belong to an intimate, loving Heavenly Father. The gospel is an invitation into a real relationship with a living Saviour Jesus Christ. An accurate presentation of the gospel is going to compel lost souls to come to a person, not just a position. Secularism and religion have left the harvest field ripe and ready!
5. Speak to the Biblically Illiterate—America, as a whole, has become a biblically illiterate—especially the North-East. We have the great privilege of laboring in a context where the gospel and the life-changing truth of God’s Word is often heard for the first time. How cool! Thus, it’s critical that we do not presume a Judeo-Christian understanding or world-view. Keep it simple, Jesus centered, and gospel oriented—over, and over, and over! Even the most educated hearts are ignorant to the most simple biblical truths.
6. Authentically Identify with Real Life Struggles—The average American is having a tough time. Life is overwhelming, complicated, and challenging. Our lives are saturated to the max! Media, schedules, demands, debt, broken relationships, bad decisions, worry, fear—this is the stuff of everyday life for a majority of Americans. This average American has a hard time seeing “Christians” as anything but bizarre. To them Christians are an aberration of reality, an anomaly, a rare bread of pious people who appear to have no connection to real life pain and struggles. A lost, struggling, hopeless heart is set back and softened by genuine Christians who identify with real-life struggles. God’s grace uses our brokenness to magnify Jesus, while often our pretense or piety masks that same grace. Too often, we as Christians come off contrived and artificial rather than rescued and redeemed!
So YES—the gospel can reach North-East intellectuals!
Scratch that—the gospel IS reaching North-East intellectuals. With me, or without me—God is moving the gospel forward in this part of the nation.
Let’s ask God to “let us in” on what He’s already doing!