As Far As The East Is From The West: A New Study on Lostness in Kentucky

In December 2012, the Kentucky Baptist Convention released a report titled Lostness Indicators For Kentucky.  This report revealed that “many Kentuckians are unclaimed by any religious group, and most of those who identified with a religious group don’t attend services of any sort on a regular basis.

The report included a breakdown of all 120 Kentucky counties, using three metrics:

  • Percentage of population which self-identify as religious “Adherents”.
  • Percentage of population which self-identify as “Members” of a specific religious congregation.
  • Percentage of population which self-identify as regular “Attenders” of religious worship services.

The results from the report indicated that only 51.6% of Kentuckians are identified with any religious group, and only 13.9% of Kentuckians attend a religious gathering on a regular basis.  While these results were troubling enough, the county-by-county breakdown revealed that the percentages in some Kentucky counties were far worse.

Over the past few years, the findings from this report have been used by local pastors, Directors of Missions, as well as KBC leaders to raise awareness of the great spiritual darkness that still permeates the state.  And it served as a catalyst for the new study that I am releasing today.

The new study is titled “As Far As The East Is From The West”, and it expands the 2012 report in 3 significant ways:

  1. This new study examines the spiritual differences among the 6 geographic regions of the state identified by the Kentucky Baptist Convention as the “consultant regions.”  (See map below.)
  2. This new study takes into account not only the percentage of lostness in the 6 regions and the 120 counties, but also the population of lostness in the 6 regions and 120 counties.
  3. This new study identifies the regions and counties in Kentucky that are in most desperate need of intentional evangelism and church planting efforts.

You can read the full report here, but a quick summary is provided below.

kbc-regional-consultant-group

Population:

  • The Central region has the most people (1,303,806) while the South region has the fewest people (388,048).
  • The East region has the most counties (29) while the Central region has the fewest (15).

 

KBC Churches & Church Plants:

  • The West region has the most KBC churches (506) while the East region has the fewest (247).
  • The North Central region has the worst KBC church to population ratio (1:2886) while the South region has the best (1:888).
  • The Central region has the most KBC-funded church plants (20) while the East region has the fewest (1).

 

Lostness Indicators (By Percentage):

  • The East region has the lowest percentage of religious adherents (34.2%) while the West region has the highest (65.0%).
  • The East region has the lowest percentage of members (25.8%) while the West region has the highest (48.4%).
  • The East region has the lowest percentage of attenders (10.0%) while the West region has the highest (19.4%).
  • Nineteen out of the top 25 most lost counties (based upon percentage) are located in the East region.

 

Lostness Indicators (By Population):

  • The Central region has the most religious non-adherents (611,505) while the West region has the fewest (166,444).
  • The Central region has the most non-members (902,291) while the South region has the fewest (225,343).
  • The Central region has the most non-attenders (1,152,492) while the South region has the fewest (329,497).
  • The Central & North Central regions have the most counties (7 each) in the top 25 most lost (by population) while the South and West regions have the fewest (2 each).

 

Based upon all of this data, I developed a “church planting priority index” to be used to help identify the regions and counties that are in the most desperate need for intentional evangelism and church planting efforts.  Here’s what the data said:

Church Planting Priorities – By Region

  • Priority #1: East Region
  • Priority #2: North Central Region
  • Priority #3: Central Region

Church Planting Priorities – By County

  • Priority #1: Campbell County (North Central region)
  • Priority #2: Jessamine County (North Central region)
  • Priority #3: Bullitt County (Central region)
  • Priority #4: Rowan County (East region)
  • Priority #5: Pike County (East region)

Obviously, there is much more detail included in this study; this post is simply meant to be an introduction to the study.  I will publish several subsequent posts to discuss some fascinating observations from the report, but feel free to go and read the full report now:

New Report on Lostness in Kentucky

2012 Report on Lostness in Kentucky

Praying For An Eastern Kentucky Harvest, Pt. 4

Person in Wheat Field Religious Stock Photograph

Note: This is the final part in a series of posts on how to pray for a great spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky.  If you haven’t already done so, you may want to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first.

In Matthew 9:35-38, we have already examined how Jesus teaches us to pray with the proper motivation and with the proper understanding of the needs.  In verse 38, He teaches us how to pray with the proper goal: “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

There it is.  The goal of our prayer.  More laborers.  It’s a pretty simple prayer really.  But, it’s a specific type of laborer that we are to pray for: those who are sent out into the harvest.  We don’t need more laborers who are content to simply sit in our pews, but we desperately need more laborers who are sent out throughout eastern Kentucky proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s the type of laborers that we should pray for.

And here is an amazing truth: you and I are the answer to our own prayer.

Even as Jesus commanded His disciples to pray for more laborers at the end of Matthew 9, He turns around and sends out those very same disciples at the beginning of Matthew 10.  And the same principle still applies today. Even as Jesus commands us to pray for more laborers to be sent out, the truth is that we are the answer to our own prayer.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have been given the same gospel that the disciples were given.  You have been given the same power of the Holy Spirit that the disciples were given.  You have been given the same opportunities to share the gospel that the disciples were given.  And so you and I have been sent just as the early disciples were sent.  Jesus says in John 20:21: “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

So, as you and I respond to Christ’s sending call, God will use us to bring in His harvest!  This is both an encouraging and humbling truth.  We are sent on behalf of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords to a lost and dying world.  And that certainly includes the 781,903 unchurched people of eastern Kentucky.

So, here’s specifically what I’m praying for.  I am praying for God to raise up and send out an army of church planters from among the already established churches in eastern Kentucky.  I am also praying for God to send church planters from outside of eastern Kentucky to our region to help us establish new churches.  And I’m praying for hundreds of new churches to be planted throughout our area.  In other words, I am praying for more laborers that result in more conversions that result in more churches.

The harvest in eastern Kentucky is plentiful, but the laborers are so few.  Therefore, let us pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.  Will you join me in that prayer?

Praying For An Eastern Kentucky Harvest, Pt. 3

Note: This is Part 3 in a series on how to pray for a great spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky.  If you haven’t already done so, you may want to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Matthew 9:35 serves as a good summary of Jesus’ ministry up until this point in Matthew’s gospel: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”  But it also describes the fact that up until this point, Jesus has been the only one involved in the ministry.  The disciples had been mere spectators thus far.  They had followed Jesus and watched him teach and minister, but they had not been involved in the work themselves.

Although Jesus was fully God, He was also fully man.  Therefore, he could only be in one place at one time, which meant that there was only so many people that He could minister to during His earthly ministry.  That’s why He says in Matthew 9:37: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  In fact, up until this point in Matthew’s gospel, the laborers were one: Jesus himself.  And Jesus knew that He could not physically conduct all of the ministry that was needed by himself.

And after 2000 years, the situation has not changed: the harvest is still plentiful, and the workers are still few.  According to the data published in the latest Glenmary Report, the harvest is very plentiful in eastern Kentucky.  Out of the 872,048 people who live in counties located east of I-75:

  • 522,324 do not claim adherence to any religion.
  • 624,969 are not a member of any church of any denomination
  • 781,903 do not attend worship services on any given Sunday.

In other words, at least 522,324 people are not saved in eastern Kentucky.  At least 624,969 people are not church members in eastern Kentucky.  At least 781,903 are unchurched in eastern Kentucky.  And as I have mentioned in a previous post, 21 out of the 25 most lost counties in the entire state of Kentucky are located east of I-75.  The harvest truly is plentiful.

And yet the workers are so few.  While there are hundreds of thousands of eastern Kentuckians who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, there are less than 300 Kentucky Baptist churches working to reach all of these thousands of lost people.  And unfortunately, the combined total baptisms from all of our eastern Kentucky Baptist churches amounted to reaching less than 0.3% of the lost in the region last year.  Furthermore, the vast majority of our eastern Kentucky churches are like most other Southern Baptist churches: they are plateaued and/or declining.

So, there is a great need for our churches to be strengthened and revitalized across eastern Kentucky. And I’m so thankful that the Kentucky Baptist Convention and others are working diligently to see revitalization take place all across the region.  Church revitalization is certainly part of the solution.

But, it’s only part of the solution.  If we are going to see a great spiritual harvest across eastern Kentucky, I firmly believe that we need healthier churches, but we also need more churches.  Many more churches, in fact.  Missiologist C. Peter Wagner asserts that “planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”  And the data backs up his claim.  According to a study cited by the North American Mission Board, new churches have a much greater evangelistic effectiveness.  According to the study, established Southern Baptist churches baptized 3.4 people per 100 resident members, while new churches baptized 11.7 people per 100 resident members.  That’s nearly three and half times as many!

No wonder Jesus commanded us to pray for more laborers to be sent out into the harvest.  More laborers means more churches which means more of our friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers coming to faith in Christ.  And yet, right now, as the map below (produced by the Kentucky Baptist Convention) shows, there are no churches being planted throughout the entire eastern Kentucky region.  That’s why it is time to pray, and time to get to work to change that.

KBC Church Planting Map 2015

So, as you pray for a great spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky, understand two things: (1) We need our current churches to be strengthened, and (2) we desperately need more churches in eastern Kentucky.

Will you join me in prayer?

Praying For An Eastern Kentucky Harvest, Pt. 2

Person in Wheat Field Religious Stock Photograph

Note: In Part 1 of this series, I briefly described 3 different components that should be present as we pray for a spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky.  Part 2 deals with the first component: praying with the proper motivation.

As Jesus went about his ministry, crowds flocked to him.  In Matthew 9:36, we read how Jesus reacted to the crowds: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The term “shepherd” is frequently used in the Bible to describe spiritual leaders.  In fact, the Greek word translated as “pastor” in Ephesians 4:11 is translated as “shepherd” every other time that it appears in the New Testament.  And the crowds of Jesus’ day were supposed to have spiritual shepherds: the scribes and Pharisees.  However, these “shepherds” were anything but shepherds.  They were uncaring and unloving, and they spiritually abused the people with heavy burdens and rules that they could not keep.  Indeed, the crowds were sheep without a shepherd.  So, Jesus sees their helpless condition and he has compassion on them.

And just as Jesus’ compassion led to his command to pray, that same compassion is what must drive our desire to see a great spiritual harvest take place across eastern Kentucky.  But that will only happen when we begin to see the 781,000 unchurched people in our region the way that Jesus sees them.

And yet I have a confession to make.  I am often tempted to view the lost around me not with compassion, but with contempt.  In other words, I’m tempted to view them as my enemy.

In this political season, it is tempting for me to view those of a different political persuasion as my enemy.  It is tempting to view those who practice and promote an unbiblical view of marriage as my enemy.  It is tempting to view those who sacrifice their family to feed their addictions as my enemy.  And when I view them as my enemy, I’m not seeing them the way that Jesus sees them, and it will be very difficult to have compassion for them.

And yet the Apostle Paul identifies my true enemy in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  In other words, the lost around us are not our true enemy; our battle is against the spiritual forces of evil.

But the sad reality is that all unbelievers have been blinded by our true enemy: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).  If you were to see a blind man or woman about to step out into oncoming traffic, I’m sure you would do everything in your power to prevent them from doing so.  Why? Because you would have compassion on them because they could not see where they were going.

And Paul says that unbelievers today have been spiritually blinded and brutalized by our true enemy.  In a very real sense, they are casualties of war, harassed and helpless.  This is true for every lost person in eastern Kentucky and around the world.  They are headed down a path to destruction.  If they do not repent, they will perish.

And when we begin to see our lost friends and neighbors this way, we will begin to see them the way that Jesus sees them.  And when we see them the way that Jesus sees them, we will have compassion on them.  And when we have compassion for them, it will drive us to our knees in prayer.

That’s what it means to pray with the proper motivation.

In Part 3 in this series, we will examine how to pray with the proper understanding of the needs in eastern Kentucky.  Until then, please continue to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Praying For An Eastern Kentucky Harvest, Pt. 1

Person in Wheat Field Religious Stock Photograph

Two months ago, I was invited to write an article about the church planting needs in eastern Kentucky for kychurchplanting.com, and I was happy to do so.  (You can read it here.)  I freely confess now that I have been amazed by the response to that article.  Since it was published, I have been contacted by church planters, pastors, missionaries, and others who share a common desire to see a church planting movement spread across the region.  And for that, I praise the Lord!

So, now that folks are starting to learn about the spiritual landscape in eastern Kentucky, where do we go from here?  As I mentioned at the end of the article, I firmly believe that a church planting movement will spread across the region only after God’s people fervently and frequently pray for such a movement.

However, as much as I want to see a church planting movement in eastern Kentucky, such a movement is severely deficient unless it coincides with a great spiritual harvest of souls.  But the good news is that if we witness a great spiritual harvest, I believe that we will also witness a church planting movement throughout the region.  In other words, I don’t believe that we will see one without the other.  Therefore, I want to spend the next few posts describing how I believe that God would have us pray to that end.

In Matthew 9:35-38, we read: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘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.’

 In this familiar passage, I believe we can see 3 different components that should be present as we pray for a great spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky:

  1. Pray with the proper motivation.
  2. Pray with the proper understanding.
  3. Pray with the proper goal.

I will cover each of these in greater detail over the next few posts, but here is a brief summary:

Prayer Component #1: Praying with the Proper Motivation

Jesus saw that the crowds were spiritual orphans.  Because of this, he had compassion on them.  As you and I pray for a great spiritual harvest across eastern Kentucky and beyond, we must do so because of our love and compassion for our lost neighbors.

Prayer Component #2: Praying with the Proper Understanding

Jesus states the situation very well: “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  That was true in the first century and it is certainly true today.  I’ll share more about the vast amounts of lostness throughout the region in a later post, but according to Census Bureau data and the Glenmary Report, approximately 781,000 of the 872,000 Kentuckians who live east of I-75 are unchurched.  The fields truly are white unto harvest.  Therefore, we must pray with this understanding in mind.

Prayer Component #3: Praying with the Proper Goal

Because of his compassion and his proper understanding of the needs, Jesus commands his disciples to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  That’s the goal: more laborers to be sent out into the harvest throughout eastern Kentucky.  As these laborers are sent, our current churches should become healthier and more evangelistic.  But many of these sent ones will also start new churches, and these new churches have the potential to reach many people with the gospel as well.

My heart still aches for the people of eastern Kentucky, and I now know that many others share that burden as well.  May we unite our hearts in prayer to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest on a daily basis!  Will you pray with me?

Note: Part 2 in this series will be coming soon.

A Broken Heart in Eastern Kentucky

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.