I believe in continuing education. So a couple weeks ago I took a ministry field trip to San Diego. I wanted to go to a diverse context in a coastal location. And I'm not an idiot - San Diego in March is the place to be. And I'm really not an idiot - I took my wife (and no children).
We visited some young pastors and church planters in the San Diego area. Each of them in a different setting: church plants in downtown San Diego and a northern suburb; a 60-year-old congregation in an eastern suburb; a Hispanic mission planter; a Lutheran mission organization just over the border in Tijuana, Mexico.
In some ways, an American city is an American city. Globalization, technology, and modern mobility have given us many common threads. At the same time, the Midwest is insulated. The San Diego guys were saying the percentage of unchurched people in San Diego is around 85%. In my city, I'd say it's about 50-60%. It's a different cultural context, and the church holds a different place in society.
Its generally true that "practicing Christians" are a minority on our country's coasts. The Midwest and the South still maintain a Christian stronghold. For instance, Texas has a billion megachurches (Okay, not a verifiable fact, but everything is TX is big - including it's Christianity.) By contrast, it's been said that there are more dogs in Seattle than Christians.
Our coastal cities excite me in terms of the church's mission. I firmly believe we must send our best to the most difficult places. That's why I enjoyed spending time with these gifted pastors and church planters in San Diego. These are quality leaders doing ministry in a place where the church is challenged. That said, the ministry takes a toll on these guys. My general sense is that they can easily feel alone, especially in a church body whose geographical center is the Midwest. They wrestle with issues such as finding like-minded allies and funding their ministry. I have prayed for them in the two weeks since my visit. And I've been thinking, "How can we help our people on the 'frontier?'" And, "Is the frontier closer than we think?"