By George Williams
In a small city in Ohio, Cody Langtry and his wife, Jocelyn, recently celebrated the birth of their firstborn, a cheerful, blue-eyed boy named Jack. Even as Cody and Jocelyn stand at the starting line of building their new family together, they also face another starting line.
Cody and Jocelyn are packing up baby Jack and boxes filled with their belongings to move across the country to another small city, Burlington, Vermont. Their reason for moving is not for a job opportunity, family, or chance to start over. Their reason for moving is the call of God.
This was not an easy decision for the couple. They have been serving at a local church that Jocelyn’s father pastors, and family support has been a blessing to them as they became parents for the first time. But, as Cody shared with me, there was a nudge in their hearts that grew into a strong urging. Then God used this verse to speak to Cody:
My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else (Romans 15:20, NLT).”Cody Langtry
Cody and Jocelyn knew God was calling them to “go.” After searching for and visiting many cities that would have been prime candidates for a new church, they ultimately felt God leading them to Burlington, Vermont. In a recent study, the Barna Group* identified the top ten post-Christian cities in America. Eight of them are in the New England area and Burlington, Vermont, is fourth on the list.
A new missional frontier is here before our eyes.
America is a changing nation. Statistics show that over the past fifteen years church membership in America has been in a rapid decline. For those who want to take pride in the fact that America has been predominantly a Christian nation, these statistics can be hard to swallow. Cody and Jocelyn see the trend as another confirmation of their call toward the great American mission field.
Church planting has recently gotten a bad rap because in many cases a church plant’s growth comes from transfer growth rather than conversion growth. Transfer growth is not always bad. When a new family moves into town, finding people in a new church plant eager to welcome them helps them get plugged into fellowship with ease. In some cases, a historic church may succumb to bad doctrine or poor leadership, and transfer growth could be a healthy progression for the body of Christ in that area. Nonetheless, overall transfer growth like this should happen as an exception, not a norm. New church plants that experience a lot of transfer growth often see little impact on reaching the unchurched in their particular city.
The tide in American church planting is shifting.
In August of 2022, Open Bible leaders and future church planters from three different Open Bible regions gathered at Wheaton College outside the bustling city of Chicago for the first cross-regional church plant training. The room was full of energy as nationally recognized Christian leaders popped in to meet and impart into the lives of the future missional movement in America. At one point the revered author, speaker, and missionologist Ed Stetzer came in to give an impromptu lesson on the changing emphasis of church planting. Church planting is moving away from the practice of first establishing worship services, and instead, is focusing on evangelism and disciple-making efforts that must take place before the first worship service begins.
Covid-19 upset the sleepy state of the Church in America. Churches were forced to explore new ways to gather spiritually, many of which would have seemed unconventional before. With the changing spiritual climate in America, better training, and a focus on evangelism, discipleship, and multiplication, more new church planters are identifying themselves as missionaries first and pastors second.
In Williamsburg, Virginia, Davy Saunders served as a campus pastor of a local mega church. In 2020 he left his position to begin pioneering a new kind of church in the area. Davy and his wife, Tammie, are starting a network of micro churches that focus on discipleship and meet in somewhat unconventional locations. Davy’s desire is to build churches for people such as the server who works Sunday mornings and in places that the everyday person already finds themselves visiting such as a coffee shop, restaurant, or friend’s house. Davy’s style of church planting moves away from the one-size-fits-all approach. He can now use this model as a missional vehicle to take the church into everyday places.
Missional-focused church plants may take longer to develop than church plants that launch first with a worship service. However, with evangelism and discipleship as the foundational focus, new missional churches will see conversion as their primary mode of growth. Jesus’ words ring true in his response to Peter’s confession of Christ in Mathew 16 (BSB):
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Our modern-day missionary church planters are shaking the gates of hell.
About the Author
George Williams is the church planting director for Open Bible East and the founding pastor of CityLight Church in Toledo, Ohio. He and his wife, Sarah, started ministry as urban missionaries in 2005, pioneering a neighborhood outreach ministry before planting CityLight Church. George is the proud father of two daughters, Selah and Anna.