It was the greatest and most visible move of God in the history of North America. It was the defining religious event of the eighteenth century, and the defining religious event in the early life of what would become the United States of America. It was a Spirit wrought revival that changed lives, communities, and history through the powerful preaching, passion, and burning heart for God in men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, David Brainerd, and so many more.
At its heart evangelistic preaching, personal piety, global missions, public and private discipleship, and God glorifying doctrine all collided, and the shock wave reverberations of that mighty earthquake continue to echo around the globe. It came to be called “The Great Awakening”, the revival that swept through the English colonies between 1730 and 1755, and it was a great awakening indeed. Some estimates say that at least twenty percent of the colonial population believed the gospel and were converted during this time of revival.
But a lot has happened since the eighteenth century. A shadow has covered the land where the gospel once shone so brightly, and now the region known as New England sits in the deep darkness of unbelief and hopelessness. Here are just a few of the figures for the region:
• New England’s six states all rank in the top ten of the least religious states in the USA, and the top five least religious cities in the country are all in New England.
• 22% of residents in New England claim no religious affiliation.
• Only 3.7% of the population in New England attends an evangelical church, the lowest average attendance in the United States.
• New England is considered the most “Post-Christian” region in the United States.
• In states like Massachusetts (for one example) there is only one church for every 8,078 people. By comparison, in Kentucky there is one church for every 788 people.
New England needs the gospel. The people there are walking in darkness, and we believe that we have a responsibility to take the light and shine it in the shadows. Another awakening by God’s Spirit, through God’s gospel, and to God’s glory needs to happen.
That’s why for the last several years the pastors, deacons, and other leaders have begun to take an increased interest in and make an increased commitment to the ministry of the NETS Institute for Church Planting. We are passionate about the gospel. We are passionate about missions. We are passionate about planting churches to see lives transformed by the gospel’s power. NETS overflows with these same passions and is focused primarily on the work of the gospel in New England.
We want to be a part of what God is doing in New England, and that’s why we are leading First Baptist Henryville to make this our missions focus throughout all of 2014. We want to begin building ongoing, sustained, and growing partnerships with the gospel work that is being done in this region, and want our members to get involved in taking the gospel back to New England. But we don’t want to just be involved in New England in words alone. We want to be actively involved with our prayers, our support, and our lives. So beginning this year we’ll be not merely taking an active part in a great organization like NETS, but more specifically we’ll be partnering with one family, in one city, for one church-plant.
Last year we were excited to have Steve Thiel speak at our church during one of our midweek worship services. Steve, along with his wife Linda and their children, are church-planting missionaries to Hartford, Connecticut working through NETS. We’ll be linking with him, their new church-plant, and their city of Hartford to work together for the sake of the gospel. Our vision going forward is “From Henryville to Hartford.” Hartford is a city of national and international strategic importance. It’s the second largest metropolitan area and economic center in all of New England. It’s also the city with the second smallest percentage of evangelical Christians in the nation, behind only Salt Lake City, Utah. Steve and his family have committed themselves to the long-term gospel work in this city and region, and those of us in Henryville, Indiana will be standing alongside him for this purpose.
So how can you be involved? Here are four key ways:
1. Learn: We challenge you to become more informed and introduced to New England, the ministry of NETS, and the work of Steve Thiel in Hartford. We’ve posted a separate page that we’ll be updating with ongoing information and announcements. Additionally, from that page you can access some introductory videos to this ministry that we’re partnering with and plugging into.
2. Pray: Make a commitment to pray daily and weekly for Steve, his family, and the work of the gospel in their community. Pray for their family, their marriage, their children, and pray that God will supernaturally open doors and open eyes for the advance of the gospel.
3. Give: We’d love for you individually or as small group Sunday School classes to prayerfully consider supporting Steve and his family financially in some way. If you’d like more information about how you can do that, we’d love to point you in the right direction.
4. Go: This year’s summer mission trip will be to Hartford to work with Steve and his family in laying the groundwork for the church-planting mission in the city. The dates for this trip are June 30 – July 4, 2014. We’ll be working with Steve through prayer walks, their 4th of July event, community service projects, and preliminary preparations for a backyard Bible club that will be held later in the summer. In the coming days and weeks we’ll be announcing more information regarding costs and when and how you can sign up, for now, however, you can circle these dates in your calendar and begin praying for how God will use this week for our mutual encouragement in the gospel…in Hartford and in Henryville.
For God’s glory through God’s gospel,
Toby, Cade, and Logan