Why Utah Matters
This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at a church in Greenwich, CT. In many ways Greenwich, CT is completely different from West Jordan, UT. For example it was about -20 degrees in Greenwich, while it was rather sunny and warm when I left Utah! Greenwich is home to many wealthy hedge fund managers who commute into NYC each day. The pastor there lamented that they would likely never be able to buy a house in the area because a small three bedroom house would cost around $750,000. I was thankful for our rather affordable housing here! But for all the differences between Connecticut and Utah we have this in common: we are both living in the least Christian areas of the United States. A recent survey I saw listed the twenty least evangelical metro areas in United States. Provo took the top spot. In fact, five of the twenty least evangelical metro areas are in Utah, which happens to be ALL the metro areas in Utah! The remaining fifteen come from places in the Northeast.
This means that Utah and Connecticut, the least Christian places in America, are some of the most important places for the future of Christianity in America. Why? Because every year around 4000 churches shut down. Only 1000 churches are started each year. This is a net loss of 3000 churches. There are less than 3000 Christian churches in Utah right now, so imagine if every single Christian church in Utah disappeared this year! That is essentially what is happening every year around our country. This means the United States will look like Utah in terms of the number of churches. As fewer people attend church in the United States, churches will find their message is less valued. Thus the church in the United States will see itself relegated more and more to the sidelines, but in Utah, this is how the Christian church has always operated.
Utah matters because we have the chance to learn how to be the church-on-the-sidelines in our society. As we learn how to do this, we have the opportunity to share what we learn with others as they find their churches relegated more and more to the sidelines. While some may see Utah as the final frontier--the last place in the United States to be reached by Christianity--we should also see it as the next frontier, a place where the church exists in the margins.
This is why we are continually trying new ways to reach out to our community. We’ve reached many new people through things like VBS, MOPS and the recent MRM Symposium. But we need bigger ideas, we need input from those who grew up here. Colossians 4:5-6 says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” In short, we need to be a church that has answers for the questions people are asking in our communities. Too often churches only have answers to questions we wish people would ask. Our conversations need to be filled with grace. Our doing so does not just impact the future of JPC, but it could also have an impact on the Christian church in the rest of the United States.
In March, Reid Jones is leading a missions team of college students from the University of Alabama, Huntsville out here. One reason they are coming is because Reid wants to show his students a place where Christianity is on the sidelines. There will be many opportunities to help serve these students by providing them a place to stay and helping to cook meals. But also, one of the most helpful things you can do is teach them about Utah. Tell them your stories of living in a place where we are in the minority.
Your brother in Christ,