Note: I originally wrote this post as a guest blogger at kychurchplanting.com. I am re-posting it on my site as well. This post is longer than usual for me, so please accept my apologies in advance! Thanks for reading.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a Kentucky Baptist. Specifically, I am an eastern Kentucky Baptist. Even more specifically, I am a native eastern Kentucky Baptist.
And my heart is broken.
My heart is broken because of the vast amounts of spiritual darkness that are found across the entire region where I was born and raised and where I now serve the Lord as a Director of Missions. Imagine a place where 2 out of every 3 people do not even claim to know Jesus Christ. Imagine a place where 3 out of every 4 people are not a member of any church of any denomination. Imagine a place where 11 out of every 12 people will not be attending a worship service this Sunday.
Once you imagine such a place, you would probably guess that this is a description of a large metropolitan area such as Baltimore, Chicago, or Los Angeles. While the percentages of lostness are similar to those three cities, I have just described the spiritual landscape in Pike County, the easternmost county in the great commonwealth of Kentucky.
And the spiritual landscape is similar all across eastern Kentucky. In fact, according to the 2010 Glenmary Report, 21 out of the 25 most lost counties in the state of Kentucky (based upon percentage) are located east of I-75. Two of the remaining 4 counties (Jessamine and McCreary) are located just west of I-75. This means that 23 out of the 25 most lost counties are located near or east of I-75. Among these is Elliot County, where 95% do not claim to be a Christian and 98% of the 7,852 residents are unchurched. My brothers and sisters, that’s a mission field!
As I think about these heart-breaking realities, the words of Jesus in Luke 10:2 quickly come to mind: “The harvest is plentiful.” These words were true in the first century, and they are certainly true today. But, the second phrase in Luke 10:2 is equally true: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
I praise the Lord for the churches all across eastern Kentucky who are striving to penetrate the darkness with the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, I have discovered two major challenges: (1) we do not have enough churches, and (2) many of our established churches are plateaued and declining and in need of revitalization.
Challenge #1: Not enough churches. Let’s take my native Pike County as an example. According to the latest estimates, there are 63,034 people living in Pike County, of which at least 43,052 are lost and at least 57,676 are unchurched. And we have only 23 Kentucky Baptist churches trying to reach all of these people. That’s 1 Kentucky Baptist church for every 2,826 people in Pike County. Compare that to the Kentucky average of 1 Kentucky Baptist church for every 1,708 people. That means that in Pike County, we need 15 more churches right now just to reach the average KBC church to population ratio.
Challenge #2: Established churches need revitalization. Again, let’s use Pike County as an example. According to data reported on the most recent Annual Church Profile, Kentucky Baptist churches in Pike County baptized a total of 113 people last year. While we certainly praise the Lord for even one person who experiences salvation, the reality is that this is the lowest annual total ever recorded in the 57-year history of the Pike Association, and it represents less than 0.3% of the lost people in Pike County. That’s less than half of one percent.
So, I hope that you can begin to see why my heart is broken. My prayer is that your heart will begin to ache for eastern Kentucky as well. Especially in light of the fact that while 21 out of the 25 most lost counties in Kentucky are located east of I-75, all 50 church plants in which the KBC is currently engaged are located west of I-75.
Yes, you read that correctly. While the vast majority of the most lost counties in Kentucky are located east of I-75, none of the 50 current KBC church plants are located in this region. I hope that you’ll agree that this must change, and it must change quickly.
So, where do we go from here? I believe the Lord tells us where to start in Luke 10:2: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Would you join me in praying for a mighty army of laborers to be sent throughout eastern Kentucky, equipped with the life-changing message of the gospel? Would you join me in begging the Lord for more laborers to be sent so that many more churches can be planted throughout eastern Kentucky? Would you join me in praying that there would be a great spiritual harvest sweep across eastern Kentucky unlike anything that we’ve ever experienced before?
After praying, you may sense that God is leading you to do more. I certainly hope so. Perhaps God is leading you to financially invest in the planting of more churches in eastern Kentucky. Perhaps God is leading you to plant a church in eastern Kentucky yourself. Whatever He leads you to do, I pray that the Lord will be glorified through your obedience.
2 thoughts on “A Broken Heart in Eastern Kentucky”
I’m serving as pastor at FBC in Jackson (Breathitt Co). I read this article when it first came out, and so much of it resonates with us here. I came back to it today as I’m thinking about how our church can have a greater impact in the region. We’re a small congregation, but this burden continues to grow in me. Please pray for us as I work on revitalization in this church and we look for opportunities to start new churches as well. We’ll pray for you and the folks in Pike Co. as well.
Grace and Peace,
Thank you for your very gracious comment. I have been amazed by the response of the article and how it seemed to resonate with so many others, both inside and outside of Eastern Kentucky. Thank you for your prayers for our efforts here in Pike County, and I will certainly be praying for you there in Jackson. I sense that God is stirring the hearts of us in eastern Kentucky, and I truly believe that we will witness a mighty move of His Spirit if we continue to pray Luke 10:2!
Thanks again for the comment, and if I can ever serve you there in Breathitt County in any way, please just let me know how brother!