Northern New England is the most unchurched region of the United States.
According to a Gallup poll, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine have the country’s lowest church attendance rates, with an average of 25% within the three states. The Northern New England District of the Assemblies of God (AG) and CityReach Network partnered together to make an impact on this region and begin to change this statistic. On one day, September 20, 2015, the two organizations planted 10 new churches in Northern New England.
“We have had a hard time finding church planters willing to plant in this difficult mission field,” says Pastor Dennis Marquardt, Northern New England District superintendent. “But, CityReach had church planters in the pipeline, and we had the resources. It has been a hugely beneficial partnership.”
“We were honored to partner with the Northern New England district to plant these 10 new churches,” says Pastor Brian Bolt, CityReach Network president. “It was a historic day for the Northern New England District and for the kingdom of God.”
The first CityReach Network church planted in the Northern New England District was CityReach Bangor in Bangor, Maine, planted in 2013. Pastor Bobby Bledsoe and his wife, Jade, have seen their church grow from a prayer meeting with five people to a 300-person congregation in Bangor. “We’ve seen many lives changed and people set free,” Bobby says.
Bobby, Dennis, and Brian met in 2014, with the goal of reproducing the success of CityReach Bangor.
“Can you help us? How many churches do you think we can plant in 2015?” Dennis asked.
“2 or 3,” Brian responded.
“Oh. 5 or 7?” Dennis said with a smile.
“No, two or three.”
“Okay. 10 will be good!”
What started as a humorous conversation quickly became a reality. Dennis went before his Presbytery, asking for the finances needed for this ambitious endeavor. “They were bold in their faith, and said, ‘let’s try it!’” Dennis says.
The right people and the right places
When it came to identifying the 10 church planters, God brought them in from all different places in many different ways. “We put it before God. Some how and some way, he brought them in. We just ran into people in our meetings and cast our vision in churches, in Bangor, and Pittsburgh. People just started lining up from every which way, coming from everywhere,” Bobby says.
Bobby went from being a church planter and pastor of a young church to a regional leader over 10 churches and church planters. “The desire to multiply was infused into us from the beginning,” he says. “We never saw it any other way. We knew we were supposed to multiply. God is a God of multiplication. He does all the work. We just have to be obedient.”
When deciding the locations for these 10 churches, the district originally had identified strategic locations, split evenly between the three states—Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. However, as the church planters came on board they each had in their hearts a burden for a certain area. “We had some areas we wanted targeted, but we left room for the Holy Spirit to work and lead,” Bobby explains. The result was nine churches in Maine and one in Vermont.
While the Northern New England District had been averaging one to three new church plants each year, the district also saw just as many church closings. These ten new churches brought fresh life into the district that now has 113 churches across three states. “We were closing as many churches as we opened. We were ready to do something bold,” Dennis says.
“Church planting and church revitalization are high priorities. They are the reason that we exist,” Dennis adds, once a church planter himself.
“These 10 new church plants prove that all things are possible. God is up to some big things, and there’s nothing He can’t do!” Bobby says.
In addition to the 10 new churches, CityReach has started five Hope Homes in Maine. These Hope Homes offer safety, support and renewal for those coming from desperate situations.
“Hope Homes are the backbone of our ministry. We’ve seen God do some really tangible things,” says Bobby, whose own testimony includes being set free from a life of drugs and poor decisions. “It is our passion to see men and women restored. I’ve been there and done that. I know the power of God’s saving grace and how he changes lives.”
Not done yet
When it comes to planting churches in New England, CityReach Network and the Northern New England District are not done yet!
“Our goal, as a district, is to plant as many churches as possible and help existing churches become as healthy as possible,” Dennis says. “Next year, we’d like to see churches planted in the specific regions we have identified as targets.”
While they don’t have a specific number nailed down for 2016, Dennis believes that this partnership will continue to birth new church plants in New England.
“I believe the reason that CityReach is so successful is that they use partnerships. They partner with the districts, with the church planters and other partners, so no one is left out,” Dennis says.
Brian puts it this way: “We are better together!