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

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.