The Christian Science Monitor notes that Southern Baptists are among the denominations “’planting’ new churches in the rocky soil of secular New England”:
In eight years, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has more than doubled its Vermont church count, from 17 to 37. Among them is Capstone, which opened on this site in December. Likewise, Southern Baptists have planted at least 24 new churches in New Hampshire over the past 10 years. The Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination, has planted at least six new congregations in New Hampshire and Maine since 2006.
Northern New England, however, is a land of rocky soil. This year it replaced the Pacific Northwest as America’s least religious region, according to Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey. Vermont tops the list in unbelief: 34 percent of Vermonters claim no religious affiliation.
Even so, conservative Christians see opportunity in a land of empty churches and unconverted souls. They’re sending teams of volunteers from other states to restore old buildings. They’re adapting outreach styles, much as they might in Africa or Eastern Europe, to fit the local culture. So far, they are getting a largely – albeit cautiously – warm reception.
What is remarkable is that the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in America and yet in Vermont—a state with a population of 623,908 people—there are only thirty-seven SBC churches.
It’s true that Vermont is a small state; only Wyoming has fewer people. But compare it to Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has just over half that number of people (pop: 384,037). Each of the red dots on the map below represents a Baptist church.
With an estimated sixteen million SBC members and more than 42,000 churches in American—there are more Southern Baptists in Louisiana (757,639) than there are people in Vermont—it would appear (especially to those in the Southern states) that the denomination is everywhere. Yet it’s still likely that many Americans (especially those in the Northern states) never encounter an evangelical, much less one that attends an SBC church.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that so many of our fellow Americans are leery of evangelicals (especially Baptists) when—despite our ubiquity—they’ve never met one of us. Perhaps we need to branch out more and introduce ourselves to our (mostly Northern) neighbors.