While ministry is primarily the work of caring for souls, and preaching and speaking the truth to people who God places in our path, there is a hard infrastructure unique to the work of church planting which includes things like demographic research.
When I moved to New Jersey in 2009 to start the process of organizing a new congregation in my denomination, the PCA, Gloucester County was the fastest growing county in New Jersey as of the 2000 census. While not of the essence for starting new church plants, such statistics, measuring population and social trends, are helpful. The thinking goes, “People who are moving or who are in transition may be more open to trying a new church.”
But the housing bubble (bust) of 2007-2008 hit our area pretty hard and affected that our area significantly and what new growth had been taking place slowed markedly. In fact, a number of subdivisions which were newly begun in farm fields had literally stopped in their tracks and sat stagnant for years.
Our own experience with new people in South Jersey has been that most of the people I have met are people that are from here–and have lived here for a while, if not all their lives. There’s an unwritten “twenty minute rule” for some families: no more than twenty minutes away from important relatives (parents, grandparents). Sometimes the rule is enforced, and other times it simply happens to work out that way. But it is pretty common.
At some point I came across a group called New Jersey Future, which is an organization that:
brings together concerned citizens and leaders to promote responsible land-use policies. The organization employs original research, analysis and advocacy to build coalitions and drive land-use policies that help revitalize cities and towns, protect natural lands and farms, provide more transportation choices beyond cars, expand access to safe and affordable neighborhoods and fuel a prosperous economy.
Now I’m not particularly interested (at least not in my capacity as a minister of the Gospel) in land use policies. But among the things that “revitalize cities and towns…” and “fuels a prosperous economy…” I’d put vibrant, healthy Christian churches at the top of the list. And while I wouldn’t have a lot of people joining me in hearty agreement, I think I’m right in my assessment. Continue reading