November 12, 2015 — 14 Comments

Nov. 13, 2015 – Update from Doug’s brother, Brad: “Friends, thank you for all your support and prayers. My beautiful brother Doug is now in the presence of the Lord.”
   .   .   .   .   .

Doug “Booty” Neece has always been a step ahead. It looks like he’s going to finish the race of life ahead of me too.

For us, this started early. In elementary school—I don’t remember when, but we were an age where educators could still require participation in things we didn’t want to do—we had a school play which I remember nothing about, except for this one thing. Doug got to be Superman, and I had to be Clark Kent. He got to be the hero with superpowers. I got to be the nerdy reporter with glasses.

That event seems to typify the normal order of things. I don’t mean that it was typical for Doug to wear Superman tights. That would be weird. What I’m saying is that he was always a step ahead.

About the same time, the girl I was “going with” dumped me to “go with” Doug. It was a dumb phrase, since none of us could go anywhere except to recess. And it was a dumb phase, since neither of us needed a girlfriend at that age. Even so, he was still a step ahead.

As we moved into middle school and high school, this pattern worked itself out in sports. Doug was a great athlete from a family of athletes, who gave him the Booty nickname. In basketball, Doug started point guard. I played some, after Doug got tired. In football, Doug had always been a running back, and I had always played quarterback. But when we got to high school, Doug moved to quarterback, and I got bumped to receiver. Booty played QB one year, and he led us to the State Finals. He was always a step ahead.

On the field and off, Doug was quiet and confident, a leader more by action than words. Disciplined. Dependable. He was a good teammate, the guy you wanted next to you when the game was on the line. Doug’s smile started on one side of his face. If something were funny enough, the other side of his smile would tag along. He was a cool dude. Doug earned our trust and respect.

We haven’t stayed in close contact over the years, but all reports say these traits stayed with him. I’m reading lots of reports about Doug these days because his health is failing. He has cancer.

I guess even Superman has his kryptonite.

Tears fell last night as a read messages about Doug and scanned the constant stream of pictures being posted by friends and family. He will be greatly missed.

As much as others look up to Doug, I’m sure he really is Superman to his sons. Of course, there are titles far more significant than Superman. He will mostly be missed as a husband, as a dad, as a son, as a brother, as a friend. Doug was a laid back, unassuming guy. These titles fit him better anyway.

Doug’s wife, Kim, posted this update:
Doug has been a warrior, but our battle is coming to an end. They were not able to place the line for the chemo yesterday and his liver is beginning to fail. We will be transported to Hospice in Abilene sometime today. We thank you so much for your prayers. We know God hears, we know He answers but sometimes the answer is simply “No”. We are heartbroken; we don’t understand, but we will continue to trust in Him. My boys and I will need His presence more than ever for the journey that lies ahead.

For me, this is a reminder: even the best among us can’t beat death. Even our heroes need a Hero. Our ultimate victory is not one we can win for ourselves. The great victory over sin and death is one that Jesus won for us through the cross and the empty tomb. For those whose trust is in him, the Bible tells us that our battle is already won:

.     .     .
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
  “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”
Thanks be to God, who gives us the 
victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

(1 Corinthians 15:54-56)

For us all, this is a reminder that life is short, and it is foolish to ignore our need for God. Another friend who died of cancer used to remind me: we are all circling the drain, and you may go down even before I do. Friends, trust Jesus with your life now so that you can trust him with your death then.

I am praying for Doug and his family. I hope you will pray too. It’s hard to comprehend the step Doug’s about to take, but we have hope because Jesus walked this road ahead of Doug.

To my friend, Doug…
In the new earth, I don’t know exactly how things will play out when sin and sickness and sorrow are no more. Who knows exactly what happens when Jesus makes all things new? I am convinced that, in some way, it will be a place full of time and space to play. It’s hard for me to imagine an all things new kind of world without the friendship of teammates. So, maybe we can team up again, play some backyard ball, and draw up plays in the dirt. Maybe you’ll be a little taller, and I’ll be a lot faster. Maybe this time, you won’t miss me on that wide open post route. Maybe we won’t care and will just laugh about it all. I don’t know for sure about all that stuff, but this I know: somehow, whatever happens, everyone wins then. Booty, we love you. We will miss you. We will follow a few steps behind you. Just like we always have. So save some of the victory celebration until the rest of us get there. We’ll see you soon.


I didn’t notice the little Superman in this picture until after I wrote this post. Seems fitting.
Doug has left a legacy to his boys, who will follow in his steps.


I recently posted at the For the Church site. I’m including the beginning of the post below with a link to the full article.

.          .          .          .          .


I was struck the other day by the uniquely odd situation of the almost-an-apostle Joseph (Barsabbas), who missed out on being one of the twelve set apart as apostles of Jesus because of a roll of the dice. We read his story in Acts 1. The resurrected Jesus has told his disciples to wait on the Spirit’s arrival. They were gathered to pray, and they decided it was time to replace the traitor Judas, who had literally spilled his guts over his betrayal. So, his position was up for grabs.

It was kind of like when someone leaves their job, and everyone wants to fight over their office because it has a window. But this was a lot more important. In Acts, the disciples set the criteria for who would be chosen, and they land on two possible candidates: Joseph and Matthias. They cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias. This, of course, had to be a downer to Joseph.

Sure, you can play the hyper-spiritual game if you want, and say something like, “It wouldn’t really have mattered to me as long as the mission of Jesus was advanced.” And of course, that would be partially true. But let’s be honest—a part of you would have been disappointed. Part of you would have wanted to argue for a “best two out of three” lot cast rather than a single cast. You might have made a case that there should be thirteen apostles instead of twelve so that you could be the deciding vote in a tie. Imagine Joseph explaining that one to his family years later when his grandkids say, “Pops, tell us again about the time you almost got to be an apostle.”

I joke, of course, but I also know that many pastors feel overlooked, especially early in ministry…

.          .          .          .          .

Read the full article at


I recently posted at the For the Church site. I’m including the beginning of the post below with a link to the full article.

.          .          .          .          .


Nobody wants to hear a boy band play the blues. Whatever the polished pretty boys might know of hurt and heartbreak, they surely can’t dive deeply into the hardship of life. Even if they sang the words and notes all right, the feeling would be all wrong.

Sadly, I feel that too many preachers are like a boy band trying to play the blues. We find a nice melody, locate a catchy hook, and auto-tune our voices so that we sound pitch perfect. People nod along in pleasant agreement, enjoying themselves, and maybe even remembering a line or two for the drive home. The song (or the sermon) was entertaining but never really engaged their hearts.

It’s time to give up the boy band and start singing the blues. Blues music has a rawness and authenticity that is birthed out of real struggle. The blues are honest about hard times, but in a hopeful way that also convinces us that a time of trial is not the end of the story…

.          .          .          .          .

Read the full article at


I recently posted at For the Church, a new site that exists to engage, encourage, and equip the Church with gospel-centered resources that are pastoral, practical, and devotional. I am a regular contributor to the site, and I will try to post links here whenever I post something there. I’m including the beginning of the post below with a link to the full article.

.          .          .          .          .



Given the title, you probably expect this post to scold the young, brash church planter, telling them it’s time to grow up. This post is nothing like that. (As a side note, I don’t find this stereotype of church planters to be accurate in my experience, but that’s another topic.) This post is about something entirely different—it’s less “grow up” and more “slow down.”

In our church plant, we are constantly reminding ourselves to “act our age.” We are an infant church, about one year into our existence. We are just entering the toddler season. Toddlers trying to act like adults look pretty silly. Toddlers have different needs than adults, and we recognize that young churches have different needs than established churches. So, we try to enjoy the stage we are in, trusting that the developmental progress of our church body is what it needs to be in this life-stage.

The Temptation of the Fast-Forward Button

One of the temptations church planters face is pretending the church is further along than it is…

.          .          .          .          .

Read the full article at




In March, a group of students from the University of Oklahoma chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity (OU SAE) was caught on video celebrating with a racist chant. The OU SAE video went viral, making sure racism remained prominent in the non-stop news cycle. It was an appalling moment representing an appalling history. It was also a reminder of why pastors and churches must engage the issues surrounding racial reconciliation and justice.

For me, this hit close to home. After seminary, I served as a pastor on a church staff in North Dallas near the homes of the two college students in the OU SAE video. Now, I pastor a church in Oklahoma, not far from where this video was recorded. The proximity was hard to overlook. I do not know these young men or their personal stories, but it is not hard to imagine they might have been in our church building a time or two. Maybe they had even attended an event for students somewhere along the way. They almost certainly would have known people who attended our church. These realities serve as a reminder of the great responsibility and the great opportunity for churches to bring about real change. People all around us need the gospel, and our cities need the gospel to be lived on her streets and in her living rooms.

Royce Cafe Edmond, OK

Royce Cafe Edmond, OK

.   .   .

I find that many pastors increasingly feel a need to do something about racism but are uncertain about how to proceed. To be honest, that’s how I have felt much of the time. Over the last few years, I have been trying to engage in the conversation knowing that I will likely make some mistakes. Its seems better to speak poorly (and learn from it) than to remain silent. We can not do everything, but we must do something. You may not have an international platform or have all the answers to end systemic injustice, but you can take some first steps to engage in the conversation.

1. Be Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak

In this conversation, listen more and talk less. White evangelicals especially need to heed this warning. This command from James 1:19 means more than patiently waiting your turn to talk. This is a two-part command. The first is as important as the second, for it is grounded in our love for others. We need to purpose to listen—really listen—to our friends. Not listening for the sake of politeness or argument, but for love’s sake. Lean in. Listen up. Love the person in front of you. Then, when we speak, let us do so with wisdom and much grace.

2. Build Real Relationships

The most significant aspect of my journey has been the real relationships I have with African American friends. Understanding increases more from twelve real conversations than from reading twelve-hundred tweets. When I am in a friend’s home, sharing meals, and watching our kids play together, things change. I hear about in-laws who refused to attend the wedding for their interracial marriage. I hear about the time they were handcuffed face-down in the street for no reason. I hear about the insults cops made to their spouse on a routine speeding violation. They loan me their book on lynching. I feel their longing for the shalom of God to break into our world. Then, their struggle has a chance to become my struggle.

3. Invite Diversity into Your Church

Find ways to bring diversity to your church, even if it’s a short-term connection. When we need a guest preacher or guest worship leader, consider bringing in a guest that would add to the diversity of your room. The same might be done with special events, retreat speakers, or curriculum choices. Over time, we ought to consider how to grow our diversity throughout our church, but we can immediately take a first step with the guests we invite to serve our body.

4. Follow Key Influencers

In the digital age, it is easier than ever to connect with a broad collection of people. Find out who the influencers are on this topic. Read their blogs. Follow them on social media. You don’t have to read everything, and you certainly do not have to agree with it all. Even occasional reading will raise your awareness about how others are thinking. It will show you which landlines you should avoid and point you to common ground you may share. Missionaries are students of culture.

5. Research Local History

Find out about your city’s racial history. When I pastored in North Carolina, people said there was no racial tension, in spite of the fact that we were situated on Tobacco Road and the town square bore a statue to the Confederate soldier. However, when the county courthouse later burned down in a fire, one black friend told me he wasn’t sad to see it go because of the number of people he knew who had been hurt by the injustice that took place there.

In my current city of Edmond, Oklahoma, I was able to connect with a professor of African American Studies who shared with me his research, including some advertisements giving clear evidence of racism in our local history. It’s easy to see how religious people in past decades missed the mark. These serve as a warning to our churches about our need for the gospel and it’s implications. We would be foolish to think that these histories do not extend into our congregations and our cities.

6. Preach the Word

Racial reconciliation is not the gospel, but the gospel results in the reconciliation of diverse people. The implications are evident throughout the Bible, and these need to be brought to bear on our lives and the lives of those in our churches. Our people need to see “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). When you craft your sermons, allow racial reconciliation to become an illustration for how the gospel works itself out in life. When appropriate, allow reconciling with others to be an application point. Consider adding a sermon or short series on race to your preaching calendar. God’s love for all people is clear: Jesus’ blood “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). May our preaching nurture a godly love for others and a passionate longing for the day when all people will stand shoulder-to-shoulder as brothers under God’s reign.

7. Make Disciples

When I wrestle with a problem as big as racism, I can become overwhelmed or discouraged. When global solutions seem hard to find, I find it helpful to focus on first steps. So, let me encourage you: start with the people in your room. Disciples are people. They are not a theoretical group, but a collection of individuals in need of gospel transformation. These individuals have their own stories and struggles. They need help applying the gospel to their life situations. If we are going to sever the real roots of racism in our world, it will be through the application of gospel truth to the sin in our hearts.

When I consider the two young men from the OU SAE video, I know we have work to do. This is not a problem with a quick fix. This conversation will continue, and our call as the people of God is to be a voice of reconciliation and hope for all people that speaks loudest in the gospel of Jesus.


Note: The post card above is in the public domain as a royalty free image, but may also be purchased via the website in the watermark.

I love redemption stories. “No matter how broken, each violin shared it’s story…Beauty no one ever imagined coming from what had been deemed just a pile of junk.”


April 28, 2015 — 2 Comments

So, it’s been a long time. Feels like too long, but it was probably right. I’ve invested the last two years planting Redemption Church in Edmond, OK in the Oklahoma City area. Launching a new outpost for the gospel is all-consuming work, and I haven’t had time or space to write much beyond our weekly sermons. We love our church and love our city, and we are grateful for all that God is doing.

Things are starting to reach a new normal, or at least they need to do so soon. For me, that means finding time and focus to write. I’m looking forward to it. I hope you will too.

I will be posting here, as well as other sites, and I will try to post links here when something appears elsewhere.

Thanks for following and reading. May God give you strength and peace today as you run ahead in the grace of Jesus.


Christmas_LaughterNOTE: It has been far too long since I have posted. Launching a new church kept me busy in 2013. Hope and plan to write more in 2014. Thanks for your patience and for following my blog. This post is modified from something I wrote for our church, but I think it’ll encourage you as well.

Christmas is one of my favorite seasons. This week I’ve laughed with family around the table remembering old times (good and bad), old movies (good and bad), old haircuts (also good and bad). It is rare we all get together, but it is always fun to yuck it up when we can. Christmas gives us an excuse to get together, and that itself is a gift.

I pray that we will be people that laugh. I hope we laugh deeply the big belly laughs of people who know they are free. Martin Luther said, “You have as much laughter as you have faith,” and from the stories that are told about the way Luther lived, he was a man of large faith (and laughs). Those of us who take the Bible, sin, and salvation seriously sometimes seem to forget that the gospel of Jesus is “good news.”

Christmas should be a reminder that God is for us. He wants our good. One man has said that Jesus’ incarnation is God saying YES to the human race. He chose us. He wants us. He became one of us so that he could enjoy us forever.

God Made Us to Laugh

We are creatures designed by a Creator. He might have made us laughless creatures, but he chose to make us laugh. God made people with lungs that push air over vocal cords so that they can sound like Santa. Who taught you how to laugh? No one. Kids laugh without training. They laugh a lot, even when you want them to stop. No kindergarten has ever had a course on laughter to prepare kids for further laugh development. Face it, we were made to LOL (even if we don’t like the overused short-hand abbreviation).

Consider this: God made giraffes. That’s funny all by itself. He made the lady bug and the roly poly. The porcupine and the platypus. He made daffodils and daisies. He made the Alps to rise up and the water of Niagara to fall down. He made tiny turtles to peak out from their hiding place, and enormous elephants that could not find a place to hide. The moose: who can’t laugh at a moose with its overlong legs and awkward oversized horse head that seems to grin at you? I believe God wanted us to laugh with him and all the crazy things he created for us to enjoy.

God Laughs

In Isaiah 65:18-19, God says: “But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people…”

God’s Grace Gives Laughter

Let me give you two more passages that speak to God’s laughter. These are two of my favorite sections in all the Bible, and I think they will radically alter your life if you internalize the important truth they offer to us. I’ve bolded a few of the key statements. The first verses are from Zephaniah 3. I’d love to elaborate extensively on these, but for the sake of brevity, let me just say a couple of things. Can you imagine God himself rejoicing over you with gladness? Can you imagine God exulting over you with loud singing? This is not an unhappy crank of a grandpa disappointed in who you are and tolerating your presence in the house. No, this is a God that loves and laughs over his children. Read the verses for yourself, and ask, “Do I believe these verses to be true? Do I believe God could feel this way towards me?”

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

I can imagine no news that we need to hear more than this: God loves you, and laughs over you with great joy. If this sinks deep into your heart, it will revolutionize the way you view your life with God.

The second passage is from Luke 15. Jesus himself told this story to a group of religious types to show them how they were getting God all wrong. One of the messages Jesus made loud and clear is that our gracious God laughs uproariously when his children come home to him. Jesus leaves absolutely no doubt about it. His grace toward broken and sinful people should always lead to celebration of the most extravagant kind. Again, I’ve highlighted a few phrases to make sure you see them.

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ 

Jesus tells us what our God is like: A father running to greet his son, a giant bear hug, over-the-top gift giving, new clothes, custom jewelry, a perfectly prepared meal, music, dancing, and the loud laughter of loved ones celebrating together. Sounds like a perfect family Christmas to me. The older son missed out because he would not laugh with the Father’s grace. He was too proud for laughter. I pray we laugh freely at the grace of God.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, may you truly celebrate. May you laugh deep laughs at God’s grace and goodness toward you. God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. You can’t hear it enough. Never stop laughing at how good that news is.


“This is harder than I thought it would be.” We’ve all thought it at one time or another. Difficult tasks that require long seasons of effort can be exhausting. If we lose sight of the goal, we can face discouragement, depression or burnout. Many will veer off course before reaching the finish line. If we are going to persevere, we need to remember five keys to help us along the way.

Most great rewards demand long diligence before they can be seized. This is true in nearly every area of life. Family, work, sport, or cause: all require great patience and long toil before they yield results. In my current role, I am constantly reminding myself of these things and adjusting both my heart and my routine as needed. I hope you find these helpful as you engage in the battle to persevere.

As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. 80 hour weeks don’t pay off in the long run. Get plenty of rest. For me, this means avoiding late night diversions that keep me from getting to bed on time. The Bible speaks of a time of sabbath rest, where we set everything aside for a day to recoup and refocus spiritually. When I say “set everything aside,” that likely includes cell phone, tablet and laptop. This is not easy, but God himself set this pattern of rest in order. In Genesis, after six days of creating, God rested from all the work he had done. And just in case you were wondering, God never tires. God did not need a siesta. No, this was an object lesson for our benefit. We need to incorporate this pattern into our weekly schedule. What 24 hour period per week have you marked on your calendar for sabbath rest? When I’m at my best, this rhythm of rest is a part of my routine.

Ever sprinted through a week or two on a project and suddenly realized you’ve barely connected with Jesus or your spouse? Have you started calling your kids by the names of your co-workers? Not good. The busier you become, the more important it is to prioritize your schedule.

In college, I read an article called “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles E. Hummel. I’ve never forgotten the simple distinction it made between the truly important things in life and the urgent tasks that clamor for our minutes, hours and days. Hummel writes:

We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the impor­tant task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action—endless demands pressure every hour and day.

Like the busy, distracted priest in Jesus’ story of good Samaritan, we become so busy with the urgent tasks at hand that we often miss the truly important stuff. If we are to weave perseverance into our lives, we must prioritize the important stuff so that we thrive over the long haul.

Trying to live as a Christian without prayer is like trying to live without air. You aren’t going to make it very far. Martin Luther famously said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” Prayer confesses for us our dependence on God. Prayer sustains us during difficulties. Prayer provides strength to take the next step. Prayer humbles us in success, and prayer comforts us in failure. Prayer emboldens us to take risks. Prayer offers friendship with our most loyal companion. As we travel the road of life, prayer centers us on what, or who, is most important.

Have some fun. Find a hobby. Play some golf. Go to a movie (by yourself). Go fishing. Build something. Shoot something (but not someone). Go to a concert. During a season of life transition, a wise woman said to my wife, “Stop doing so much, and go read some fiction.” Pastor Tommy Nelson used to tell us to”go get some rocky road, and be sure you get two scoops.” Do whatever it is that you do when you are having fun.

A counselor friend once gave me an assignment to carve out an undisturbed three hour block each week to do something I enjoyed. This was harder than I thought it would be. In my college years, three hours of play would have been cutting back, but at this stage of life finding three free hours in a week meant saying a firm “no” to other things. For some, this may feel impossible or even selfish, but I’m learning that self-care is critical to staying power. Play promotes perseverance.

This last key will require a little more explanation, but I am currently finding this to be incredibly helpful. In a letter to a younger leader, the Apostle Paul wrote:

It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Let me shoot straight with you: I’m a city boy, not a farmer. But I have been thinking lots about what Paul said, so I’m going to offer a few thoughts about it anyway. Farming itself is an act of faith. A farmer works long hours for a long period of time before he reaps any benefits from his labor. He shows up day after day and puts in a good day’s work trusting that it will all eventually produce an abundant crop. This requires a unique combination of diligence and patience.

There are two things I will point out about the farmer. First, stuff grows when it grows, and the farmer must trust his crops to appear when the timing is right. Second, there is nothing he can do to speed up the process. Working harder or faster or longer will not change the rate of growth.

What’s the point for us? When I remind myself to “plow,” it is a reminder to work hard and to trust the growth process, no matter how long and slow it seems. Show up like a farmer and do work, and then put your head on the pillow at night trusting something good will eventually grow. When I start to get overwhelmed with all that I have to get done, I find myself saying out loud “just plow the field today.” I can’t control the outcome, so I try to “do a good days work and leave the results to God.” Perseverance requires that we balance diligence with patience.


It is said that “in comedy, timing is everything.” The same is true of perseverance. Reminding yourself of these things before you are at the end of your rope makes all the difference. Otherwise, you will learn a life lesson the hard way. The athlete who becomes dehydrated during the match will find it impossible to rehydrate until after the game is over.

Personally, I am learning that the more my responsibilities expand, the more I must narrow my focus on these key areas. For me, these are not annual check-ins. They are daily and weekly reminders that help me persevere as I fight to fulfill my calling.

If you practice these five keys — pace, prioritize, pray, play, and plow, you will be more likely to persevere in the days ahead.

Which of the five keys grabs your attention? Which of the five keys do you find most difficult? Would you add anything to this list? What is your favorite quote about perseverance?


NOTE: This is a modified, expanded post taken from an earlier piece that focused on my city. When the response to the first piece was so positive, I realized I had made a mistake in not broadening the article for a wider audience. So, I’ve tried to do that here.

iStock_000025083337LargeI heard it again. This time from a pastor who recently commented (not to me) that we don’t need any more church plants in Oklahoma City because we have lots of great churches here. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this claim, and it won’t be the last. It’s a good reminder to me that we have to continually cast the vision for why new churches are needed in the Bible Belt.

The pastor’s statement reveals both a general lack of understanding of the church planting movement and a specific lack of awareness of the changes taking place in many cities. For years, people have referred to a certain grouping of American states, where church influence remained strong, as the Bible Belt. Some have wrongly assumed this region would not shift, but the data says that change is on the horizon. If Christ’s church is to rise and be all she’s designed to be for the next generation, we need as many churches, pastors and people engaged in the planting of new churches as possible.

I’m convinced that Manhattan pastor, Tim Keller, will go down as one of the most influential church leaders in our generation. His take on church planting? Keller writes:

“The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.”

[If you read just one article on church planting, read Why Plant Churches, by Tim Keller for more on his reasoning.]

As I continue to explain to others the heart of church planting, here are some ideas I’ve found to be helpful in those conversations.

I think this is an important acknowledgement to demystify the concept of church planting. What about the church where you grew up? Yes, it was once a church plant. The church you now attend? Yep, church plant. The church led by the pastor who made the comment above was also a church plant, and I imagine that someone at the time didn’t think it was needed. Yet the years have shown how much that church was needed, and it has been a tremendous blessing to our city. We need more biblical, healthy, gospel-centered, people-loving churches, not less. Biblical mandate and practical experience both point to church planting as the primary way that Christ’s kingdom advances.

Bible Belt cities mirror the rapid growth trends of major cities around the globe. A recent Guardian newspaper article in Great Britain states, “According to the United Nations, almost 180,000 people move into cities across the world every day. That is nearly 5.5 million people a month, or a new San Francisco Bay Area being created every 30 days.” [1] It seems ludicrous to think that our current slate of churches are poised and ready to minister to the 180,000 people per day moving into our cities.

While the global stats are overhwhelming, the cities of America’s Bible Belt are experiencing similar shifts that are the localized versions of these global trends. These changes impact rural and mid-sized towns as well as large urban centers, and the church will have to adjust to meet the needs of each of these communities. Let me offer a couple of examples of shifts in Bible Belt cities.

A recent Oklahoman article (OKC’s rise in population ranking reflects job growth) claims the OKC metro area is growing by 1729 people per month. Yes…per month. With rapid urbanization in our world and a healthy economic outlook, projections say OKC will continue to griStock_000002169697Mediumow at a rapid clip. How will the church keep up with population growth? Numerically, we need to add nearly a new megachurch per month just to keep up with all the new people moving into the area. Add into the equation the vast numbers of people already here who do not know Jesus, and you start to get a sense of the burden we should feel for planting new churches.

I first heard this phrase, “add a megachurch a month,” from Bruce Wesley, lead pastor of Clear Creek Community Church, a church of 5,000+ which just celebrated it’s 20 year anniversary (obviously, a well established church). His region, the Houston area, is growing by about 2500 per month, so Bruce and Clear Creek Community Church are seeking to be a part of a church planting movement that continually sees new churches launched in order to meet the needs of gospel proclamation in this huge metroplex. We need more pastors of established churches with eyes to see the needs of their city and a gospel-compelled passion to launch new churches.

I said this in an earlier post, but it is worth repeating. Studies reveal that the average new church gains 60-80% of its members from unchurched people. Churches that have existed 10-15 years or more gain 80-90% from people who transfer from one congregation to another. [2]

Because I am planting in Oklahoma City, I have more info on my city than others, but I believe other Bible Belt cities would yield similar results (if you have valid stats on your city, I’d love it if you would post them in the comments below). Statistics vary, but my best estimate based on reports I’ve seen is that there are more than 800,000 people already in the OKC metro area who do not regularly attend church. I’m not happy about that. If we want to reach these people for Jesus, the evidence says church planting is the best way to do so.

I’m not against existing churches. I’ve been doing ministry for nearly twenty years, almost all of that time has been invested in existing churches that ranged from 50 people to 4500 people. I love those churches. In addition to that, let me state the obvious: our new church will become an existing church in a just few years. We will still have the same mission that we have now, but our ministry will work itself out in different ways during those years. There will be things we do better then. And there will be things we likely won’t do as well. Each church needs to enjoy and maximize the season that they are in. Our city needs both of us.

For the first time in 200 years, Bible Belt states have seen a decline in the percentage of people attending church. This doesn’t mean we need to panic, but it does argue against the idea that we only need new churches in other parts of our country and/or world.

A friend of mine pastors a church in an area where the church has been greatly marginalized. In a recent conversation, he mentioned to me that only 11% of the people in his area go to church. He and I both agree that new churches are needed in his city. But it does not follow that towns where 22% of the people attend church do not need new churches. That’s just not a reasonable assumption. Both places need new churches. A hungry person who only had one meal in ten needs nourishment, but so does a hungry person who eats two meals out of ten. Both need to be fed.

We need a multitude of churches planting churches. One of Redemption Church’s foundational commitments is to be a multiplying church. We are committed to multiplying disciples of Jesus, multiplying discipleship groups, and multiplying churches. Our prayer is that we always remain more focused on growing Jesus’ Kingdom than growing a church.

One of my prayers for my city (and the other cities around the world) is that the Holy Spirit would create a movement of Bible preaching, Jesus exalting, self-sacrificing churches who commit to training, resourcing, and empowering new leaders to plant churches all around our city, state, region and world. We don’t just want to plant a church, we want to join a movement of churches who continually plant churches for the glory of God and for the good of our world.

What do you think? Are you surprised by any of the data or information above? Is God stirring your heart to join, financially support, or pray for a church plant? Love to read your thoughts in the comments below.


[1] This quote was taken from an excellent book, Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church. If you want more statistics and more clarity on this topic, I’d encourage you to pick it up.

[2] Taken from Why Plant Churches, by Tim Keller