BOSTON (KT) – Increasing numbers of pastors from the Bible belt are migrating north to Boston to start churches in a city that has fewer Christians than Saudi Arabia.
Kentucky native David Butler, a Southern Baptist Convention missionary, said secularization has transformed Boston from a Christian city founded by Puritans to a place where less than 4 percent of residents attend church regularly.
Butler, who works for the SBC’s North American Mission Board, said he’s seeing hopeful signs of change the other direction.
“If you had looked at the church planting map of Boston in 2005, there would have been two dots,” Butler said. “Today, there are 72 dots on the map.”
Still, he said, far more churches are needed to make an impact in Boston where some 6 million people are considered spiritually lost.
“There are more evangelical Christ followers in Saudi Arabia than there are in greater Boston,” Butler said. “In Saudi Arabia it’s 4 percent. Here, it’s 3.7.”
The North American Mission Board’s goal is to establish 300 evangelical, Bible-preaching churches in and around the city by 2030.
For more than 20 years, Butler served as the pastor of Springdale Baptist Church in LaGrange, Ky., and now uses connections in the state and across North American to connect with potential church planters who have a heart for Boston.
“We believe God wants to raise them up, do the amazing and more,” Butler said. “My role is to come alongside them, to shepherd and guide them.”
Among the Boston area church planters he mentors are Kentuckians Bland Mason, a former Springfield Baptist Church pastor, and Tanner Turley, who served at Henderson First Baptist Church.
Mason planted City on a Hill in 2010, and since then launched a new independent church under the same name a few miles north of Cambridge, Mass.
Turley started Redemption Hill, a church plant that meets in a high school about 20 minutes outside of Boston. In March, the church drew in nearly 1,000 people to a community event Easter weekend.
“There is such deep, deep, deep brotherhood here,” Butler said of the network of Southern Baptist church planters. “It’s not how big can I grow my church. It’s how many more churches do we need to plant to reach this city, and how can I be a part of it.”
One of the Boston church plants has already started five other new churches.
“Something is happening here,” Butler said. “It may be a movement; we don’t know. But it could be a real gospel church planting movement.”
Still, Butler said, the young, enthusiastic church planters can only do so much and what each one needs is the “prayer, participation and provision” of supporting churches.
“I think churches sometimes underestimate what God can do through them,” Butler said.
While participating in a tour of Boston sponsored by the Kentucky Baptist Convention, Shelby Baptist Association Director of MIssions Steven Gouge was impressed by the perseverance of the planters.
“I’m struck with an overwhelming sense of the need for Kentucky churches to come alongside these church planters,” Gouge said.
Shawn Edwards, director of missions for Severns Valley Baptist Association, said church planters in Boston “have overwhelming needs and underwhelming support.”