News Articles

Seminarians help plant churches amid Seattle’s spiritual void

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student Shane Critser talks about Seattle, he uses a somewhat startling analogy:

Imagine an unreached people group — in America.

It may be somewhat of a stretch, but his point is still valid: The Pacific Northwest is in need of church planters and missionaries.

Critser and a team from the Louisville, Ky., school traveled to Seattle hoping to make a difference. Their main task in the summer venture: assisting those North American Mission Board church planters already located in the Seattle area. The Southern Seminary team members performed door-to-door evangelism and research. They held free car washes and block parties.

Along the way the team members also prayerfully considered a key question: Was God calling them into church planting?

There were no public decisions for Christ, but they realized the trip was worth the effort in planting seeds of faith.

“There’s an overall spiritual deadness feeling you get that you just don’t understand here in the Bible belt,” said Critser, Southern Seminary’s coordinator of missions activities.

The latest religious data by the Glenmary Research Center underscores Critser’s point. The researchers found that — when including all religions — Oregon and Washington are the two least churchgoing states in America.

Seattle is one of the cities receiving intensive focus by the North American Mission Board. The area is part of NAMB’s Strategic Focus Cities initiative, which is a long-term effort to take the gospel to the nation’s largest cities.

One church planter told Critser, “I’m not working with people who reject the gospel because they know it and don’t agree with it. I’m working with people who have never heard the gospel.”

Southern Seminary missions professor Mark Terry led the trip.

“It’s a very different culture there,” said Terry, the A.P. and Faye Stone Professor of Christian Missions and Evangelism. “The people there are indifferent to religion — especially the younger people. The young adults just don’t see that religion plays any role. Three percent of the population there is actively involved in church.

“It’s not that they’re antagonistic. They’re just apathetic. They don’t see the point. … The church planters say that a lot of people go to that area … because there are so few churches. They’re really looking for a secular environment in which to live. It’s a lot different from Louisville in terms of its religious culture.”

The Southern Seminary team assisted several church planters but spent most of their time with two new churches: Discovery Church in Tacoma and Lakeside Community Church in Bellevue, both in the greater Seattle area.

In a nutshell, team members were there to serve the local pastor, assisting in whatever way they were needed. They conducted door-to-door evangelism. They prayerwalked. They handed out “Jesus” videos. They worked in a soup kitchen.

At one location team members helped a pastor move his office. Another time the group repaired a fence at a pastor’s house.

“He’s doing all of this by himself, and he just doesn’t have time,” Critser said of the pastor. “We fixed his fence so that he can sell his house.”

In door-to-door surveys with Discovery Church in Tacoma, they helped the new pastor learn more about his community. They also held a block party where residents learned about the church and heard the gospel.

“We’d walk around, knock on doors and say, ‘The church is going to have this. Come on out. There’s free food,'” Critser said. “We’d do the physical part of it — grilling the hot dogs and hamburgers, serving the food and sharing testimonies.”

The task at Lakeside Community Church in Bellevue was similar, with team members sharing their faith through door-to-door evangelism. They also held a free car wash — something that automatically gave the church a good name.

“From what the church planters told me … one of the most effective things was the servant evangelism and the car wash,” Critser said. “People are still talking about this church that did this free for no reason.”

He said the people would ask, “Why are you doing this? Do you want any money?” Critser said group members would respond by simply saying, “No. We’re just trying to share the love of Christ and let you know Lakeside Community Church is here to serve you.”

The car wash, he added, “would open up the door to share Christ with those folks.” The goal was to get the driver out of the car to make evangelism a bit easier. Car owners were also given free bottled water and Gatorade.

“We spent about eight hours washing 50-plus cars — which means that we had 50 contacts with people which you don’t have if you knock on doors,” Critser said. “Where are they going to go? … Some of our team was assigned the Gatorade so they could talk while we were washing the car.”

Critser said the trip met its goals. Team members provided much-needed assistance to local pastors, shared the gospel and also explored their own call into ministry.

“Until you get on the field, you really don’t know what it’s like, so you’re learning practical aspects of church-planting,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust