Centuries ago, European settlers arrived on the shores of the Northeast United States with the hope of finding religious freedom and liberty rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. As settlers left their homes abroad and settled in North America, this message of liberty in Christ became their theme. All through New England, settlers built communities with the notion that God should be at the center of life in this new land. The sign of the importance of the Church can be seen even today in little white church buildings still standing at the center of our oldest communities.
However, while those beautiful church buildings tell of a time when the message of Christ was central to life in New England, the sad truth is that many of those churches have closed, and some of those remaining pulpits proclaim ideas other than Christ and Christ crucified. Institutions like Harvard, Yale and Brown—which first existed to train gospel preachers—now seek to silence those who would proclaim the name of Christ. And today, the end result is that New England has become the least religious region in this nation. All six New England states rank in the top 10 least religious states in the US. For Christians who call New England home, this is a sobering fact.
In Scripture, we read that “nothing is impossible with God.” 1 Peter 2:10 testifies that God takes people who were once not his people and far from him and now he calls them his own. The message of the gospel is that his grace extends to those who have rejected him and to those who have forgotten him! And his call to the Church is to “ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38)—workers who will proclaim the message of sin and grace to those who desperately need to hear it!
This is why Cultivate New England was formed and is seeking to plant churches in New England: New England is one of the most un-churched and de-churched regions of the US. But in our eyes, this makes it a major mission field in North America! The ground is hard and dry, but we believe that God is able to till the soil of New England and prepare it to receive the seed of the gospel that it might grow and bear much fruit!
In 2016, five pastors (Wes Asheim, Evan Langlois, Michael Natale, Ryan Nilsen, and Roger Viksnes) serving the three New England Lutheran Brethren Churches (Bethany Lutheran Brethren Church, Faith Chapel: A Church of the Lutheran Brethren, and Praise Christian Fellowship) began meeting to pray and brainstorm about a possible group ministry venture.
Those pastors then shared this vision with their elder boards, who then agreed to meet together and discuss this opportunity further. The elder boards affirmed the idea and commissioned the pastors to continue working together as a formal Planning Team to explore a potential ministry partnership.
Cultivate New England was born as a ministry initiative of the three churches. It is a partnership between the New England CLB churches that gives us a framework for working together. Our name comes from an agricultural concept: Before you can plant something, you must prepare the soil.
The Planning Team has spent the last three years praying, meeting potential ministry partners, and visiting possible church planting locations. As we met, we visited different towns located between our churches as possible sites, but in the end we felt led by the Holy Spirit to plant the first church in Boston, Massachusetts.
Boston is a remarkable, growing city—the largest in New England. The population of Boston is about 675,000, making it the 23rd largest city in the US. There are eight major residential development projects being developed in Boston. The population of the city itself is expected to increase from 675,000 at present to 780,000 by 2020. The greater Boston area has a total population of 4.8 million—the tenth largest metropolitan area in the US. As host to some 250,000 college students, Boston is one of the most intellectually vibrant places in the world, including Harvard University, MIT, and Boston University within its boundaries. Millennials, young families, and immigrants are moving to Boston, all for different reasons.
Given all this, one thing is clear: Boston needs churches. It is estimated that Boston has one 150-member church for every 6,000 people in the city, which is a remarkably low number for the US. Some experts estimate that less than 3% of the population has heard an authentic representation of the gospel. We believe that the CLB, with our New England churches as the vanguard, ought to have a presence in one of the biggest, most densely-populated mission fields in North America. Boston was the epicenter of the spiritual awakenings in the 18th and 19th centuries, and we believe that it can once again influence our entire region through the gospel.
Next Steps & How You Can Pray:
In the coming months, we will build a launch team of excited and energetic individuals who will work together to prepare for this potential church plant in the Boston area. We will also be teaming up with Fifth Act Church Planting. They will help us identify and recruit a planter, and line up training and coaching for him. Once we’ve called a planter, he will assist us in picking a specific location in the Boston area. It’s essential that each step moving forward be bathed in purposeful prayer, so we are asking each one of you to join us in our efforts by praying for this endeavor. But then again, not only for this endeavor.
Our hope and prayer is that, with this new church plant, the four New England CLB churches will plant a fifth church, and then a sixth—and so on until Jesus comes again.
A Word of Encouragement:
We at Cultivate New England are specifically focused on seeing churches planted in New England and seeing the Kingdom of God expand throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. However, one of our prayers is that we’ll begin seeing other churches, in different regions in the US and Canada, gathering together and doing the same thing we have begun to do: meeting together, encouraging one another, and praying that you might see the Kingdom of God furthered in your area by teaming up and planting new churches.
Rev. Michael Natale is Pastor of Faith Chapel: A Church of the Lutheran Brethren in Cranston, Rhode Island, and serves as chair of Cultivate New England—a partnership of congregations in the Northeast United States working together to plant more Lutheran Brethren churches in New England.