LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Bardstown Road in Louisville, Ky., is recognized for its peculiar shops, postmodern subculture and particularly large population of GenXers. The area, known as the Highlands, is a different kind of place, tailor-made for a different kind of church plant.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Daniel and Mandy Montgomery have pioneered this area with a new church start begun through Southern Seminary’s Church Planting Center and the North American Mission Board’s Nehemiah Project.
The church, called Sojourn, seeks to offer refuge to the unreached and forgotten emerging generations who have sought haven in the Highlands.
“We’re reaching after people with a postmodern mindset,” said Daniel, a master of divinity student from Marietta, Ga. “We’re reaching after emerging generations. We’re reaching after cultural creatives. We’re reaching after the homosexual community.
“We’re looking at reaching people who normally would never even go into a church.”
The Montgomerys began work in the Highlands in January and recently held the initial service at Sojourn in September, drawing more than 130 people — an amazing accomplishment in an area sometimes skeptical of and even hostile to Christianity.
The key to contacting the postmodern populace, said Daniel, is presenting a mission-minded Christian community native to the Highlands.
“What we are trying to do is really build a community in the Highlands where people are saying, ‘How can I reach out to my neighbors?'” he said.
The church started with a core group of 12 people, which also includes Southern students Leslie Groce, Jason Gurnari and Mark Swann. They gradually built a growing gospel church through community groups (similar to Bible studies), art evangelism in local parks and a “seeker study” for unbelievers during the week.
“In a given week, there are unbelievers exploring the truth of the Bible and asking all kinds of aggressive questions,” Daniel said. “There are believers, of course, exploring the truth of the Bible and experiencing God in a community group.”
To these groups, the planting team will soon add a philosophy study group and film discussion group. The philosophy study will be led by Southern professor of worldview and culture James Parker, who will strive to create a nonthreatening environment, open to questioning.
Daniel compares dynamics of the group to the late author and apologist Francis Schaeffer’s study center L’Abri — a place where questions could be asked and truth explored.
For Daniel, philosophy, art and beauty all play a large role in “cultural evangelism” — engaging the culture with the gospel in ways the culture understands.
A major cultural evangelism outlet for the church is through a newly opened art gallery in a Highlands storefront.
“We caught this picture of a place where the arts could be celebrated in a Christian community, in a biblical community,” Daniel said of the newly opened gallery, called “aslans how.”
In total, he described the Highland community as reacting positively to the church plant with both curiosity and interest — especially to the gallery.
“I have more unbelievers that are excited about that than believers,” Daniel said.
With attendance leveling out at 70 or 80 people, the church’s impact has been immediate. Yet, remarkably the church has yet to be publicized.
Sojourn, though, is not for everyone.
“If you want to serve, then this church is a place for you,” Daniel said. “It’s not a place for your typical Christian. It’s a place for people who want to be disciples.”
Indeed, gospel mission is the focus for Sojourn. “The biblical term ‘sojourn’ always implies a destination, a purpose and a place,” Daniel said. “You can contrast it with the biblical term ‘wandering’ which is always in the context of sin. … Sojourn implies that we are going somewhere. We are not religious vendors of religious goods.
“We are really missiologically driven. Some of the best insights we’ve gotten is from cross-cultural church planting — starting churches overseas.”
Daniel said his training at Southern has been “indispensable in the development” of him as a church planter.
“I would have never been opened up to so much knowledge and also such good foundational stuff,” he explained. “Southern has provided the theological foundation for fulfilling the Great Commission.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: DANIEL AND MANDY MONTGOMERY.