I have the privilege of pastoring Wilkesboro Baptist Church, in Wilkesboro, NC. We are a church in the middle of the Bible belt—a moniker for the region of the South where churches dot the landscape as frequently as convenient stores.
Bible Belt Christianity certainly offers a unique set of ministry challenges. Some would contend that the Bible Belt is sufficiently churched and ministry needs to be focused on regions where fewer churches exist. At one level, I agree. We currently support two stateside church plants along with nearly twenty more national and international mission partners that engage in church planting and evangelism. The gospel must spread. But to assume the presence more than 120 evangelical congregations means our Bible Belt county is gospel-saturated is a misunderstanding.
In previous decades Wilkes County was known for moonshine, but today prescription drug abuse along with methamphetamine addiction is prevalent. Nearly half of our county identifies as “None” when asked about denominational affiliation. While many evangelical congregations scatter Wilkes County’s 70,000 residents, great need exists for churches to engage the prevailing socioeconomic and moral challenges with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Below are six important insights about Bible Belt Christianity.
It is a false assumption that an evangelical church equates to a gospel preaching community.
I’m amazed at the number of conversations I’ve had with people over the years who have had some sort of church experience, but whose life reflects no spiritual fruit. In fact some of the conversions we’ve witnessed at our church recently have come from people who have been “in” church for much of their lives. But they had never heard the gospel clearly—so they remained unconverted. No church graduates from the preaching and teaching of the gospel. Every church, wherever it is located, needs consistent, clear gospel preaching.
It is a false assumption that an evangelical church equates to a mission minded community.
It is true that the Bible belt contains enough churches to minister adequately to the region and even to the nation. But so many of these congregations are internally focused or longing for the “good old days.” Churches that lack of mission purpose are only one generation away from dying out.
Economic and/or moral challenges provide legitimate opportunities for gospel ministry.
Ministry opportunities surround every church in urban, rural, and suburban areas. In our rural area drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, and broken homes damage families and communities. These challenges are real and complex. But they provide the church a frontline where believers can and must engage people by meeting needs, caring for the hurting, fostering and adopting children, and providing opportunities for life change based on the gospel.
Established, Bible Belt churches need pastors with the patience to revitalize and the vision to lead them to become disciple-making congregations.
Church vision will never exceed the vision of the pastor. Church practice (with regard to disciple-making and evangelism) will never exceed the leadership of the pastor. Pastors must not only clearly and consistently preach the gospel, but they must live out the disciple-making mission daily.
Bible Belt churches can literally fund missionaries, church planters, and mission partners in under-evangelized regions of the country and the world.
Established, Bible belt churches often have the benefit of spiritually mature believers. These believers (many of them older congregants) may be unable travel the country or the world as missionaries. But they can pray and they can give. Bible belt churches serve an important mission supporting function that cannot be underestimated. Should these churches continue to die out, significant diminishment to denominational and mission funding could occur.
Pastors in the Bible Belt must be willing grow where God has planted them (even when it is uncomfortable).
I do think pastors of Bible belt congregations need to consider going to another part of the country or to the nations as missionaries. But if God has placed you where you are, then he expects you to bloom where he has planted you. Blooming where you are might look like leading a revitalization of church mission that equips members to go to their neighbors and the nations with the gospel. Leading a congregation of people to be on mission is vastly more influential than becoming just one person on mission. After all, equipping and making disciples is our mission (Matthew 28:19-20; Ephesians 4:12).
What have you observed about churches and Christianity in the Bible belt?