A few years back, I began planting a church in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.  We all know the reputation that the PNW is one of the most unchurched places in America, but I was not concerned because at the time I had already been living there for eight years. I knew the people.  I knew the culture.  And I knew what it took to be a pastor in a hostile place… or so I thought.

I was living South of Seattle near the Tacoma area of Washington.  The church I planted was only 15 miles from the church where I had been a pastor for 8 years.  The city I was planting in was smaller, but I grew up in a small town and so I felt confident I was ready… well, almost ready.

Ultimately, I found success with my church plant, but only after a lot of growing pains.

The first lesson I learned is that when it comes to culture, proximity does not breed likeness.  The Pacific Northwest is one of the most difficult places to plant a church because the culture is so fractured and fragmented from place to place. It is hard to find anyone in the PNW that was born and raised there, so instead what you find is enclaves of subcultures that represent a variety of interests.

This leads to the second lesson I learned; don’t plant until you have proof you can work the soil. My mom loves to garden, but growing a garden in Pennsylvania, where I grew up, is not the same as growing a garden in Oklahoma where she now lives.  There are different plants with different needs, and while some basics are constant, like water and sunlight, it takes a lot of knowledge to successfully garden in diverse environments.

If you want to successfully plant in hostile places:

  • Plant in a place where you have first lived and worked.
  • Plant in a place where you have a proven track record of success in reaching the lost.

What have you learned about planting in hostile places?

Read more from my monthly column @ ChurchPlanting.Com

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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