Driving the stretch of Route 50 and crossing the Ohio River at the Blennerhassett Island Bridge thus begins our familiar journey into the region of Southeastern Ohio. This part of the Buckeye State represents the outer part of Appalachia with many of the same cultural and economic trappings. Coal mining used to be a booming business before dying out. To a somewhat lesser degree, manufacturing had its heyday here as well. There are still a few factories dotting the map, but by and large this has become a service economy. Virtually everyone I know from here has a job which is connected, in some way, with the medical field.
The most populated area I’ve seen in this area is the City of Athens, a college town which boasts about a little less than 25,000 residents within its limits (Athens County as a whole has around 65,000 people). My wife grew up in nearby Perry County, one of the poorest counties in the State. The demographics here resemble which you’d expect in any area of Appalachia. It’s overwhelmingly white (98% in the last census), very rural, and it’s not hard to find signs of a defunct coal industry. Things like deer hunting are a way of life. The town of New Straitsville hosts a popular moonshine festival every year. Of all the places I’ve ever seen in Ohio, this area is definitely the most hilly and reminds me of the foothills of the Blue Ridge.
As homogeneous as the region is ethnically, this part of Ohio is fairly diverse religiously. The first Roman Catholic congregation in Ohio was started in Somerset and today Roman Catholics remain a pretty significant group here. Oneness Pentecostalism is also fairly popular in these parts. Methodist and Baptist churches are numerous and old line Presbyterian congregations (PCUSA) are scattered about. And of course there is a smattering of non-denominational churches in the mix. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a confessional, Reformed congregation is this particular area of Southeastern Ohio. There is definitely a great need for an intentional effort to bring one about.
If you look at trends in church-planting these days, a place like Southeastern Ohio seems like the last place on earth to plant a church. Most of the trends point toward urban areas, the most fervent pleas being for folks to plant in the inner-cities. There’s nothing wrong with making disciples in urban areas (and I praise God for that), but I humbly suggest that the current focus in planting churches is very unbalanced. I suspect that places like Appalachia aren’t on a lot of short lists of areas for missionary effort. That’s incredibly sad. It’s been on my heart for quite awhile to spearhead a church-planting project in this area. When I recently stumbled across this article about Appalachia which talked about how this people group was one of the most unchurched in America, I was galvanized all the more.
Just shortly before I read that article, I was very inspired when I read a blog post by James White in which he described the efforts by Apologia Church to set up a church plant in Hawaii. He talked about how whole families are pulling up roots, giving up careers, and starting businesses out there. I’m not an expert on Hawaii by any means, but I’ve heard that the cost of living is pretty high out there and I image it may be difficult to start a business there from scratch. Yet people are willing to do that in order to fulfill the Great Commission in that part of the world. So what’s my excuse?
I’ve taken the first baby step toward getting this project off the ground. I created a Facebook page in order to gauge interest in starting a church plant in Southeastern Ohio. The page isn’t just geared toward folks who already live there, but to anyone who may be interested helping with this. When I talk about help, I’m talking about everything from regularly praying for this effort to actually considering moving here yourself. It can mean all kinds of things. For one, I’m going to need to find a job in this general area of Ohio to provide for my wife and five children. I will also be seeking the guidance, advice, and oversight from at least two different pastors. The bulk of my theological education will have to be completed. There are certainly other practical needs which will come up as this gets off the ground, but you get the idea.
Only time will tell if God will bless this effort. There’s a lot that needs to happen before we can get this going. I encourage everyone reading this to spread the news about this project. It’s going to take time. Our desire is to be a worshiping congregation which has a high view of God, Scripture, holiness, and grace. We’re trying to form a genuine community of believers which emphasizes the “one anothers” of Scripture. This will be a local church based upon the doctrinal standards articulated in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. We want to be a church which makes an impact upon the local area, supporting evangelistic efforts and outreach.
Please consider supporting us as we are obedient to this calling. Thank you in advance for your prayers and any other help you can provide.