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What Should I Do? There’s No Church in My Town that Teaches the “Truth

biblical truth

The United States is awash in Evangelical churches. I live in the rural northwest Ohio community of Ney — population 344. There are seven churches within five miles of my house, and six of them are Evangelical. Surely Ney, Ohio, has all the churches it needs, right? It does, but back in my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church-planting days, I would have looked at the religious demographic for Ney and concluded that the town didn’t have a church preaching the “truth.” You see, the Church of God, the other Church of God, and yet another Church of God, the garden-variety Evangelical church, the Methodist church, the charismatic church, and the Catholic church all preach from the same Bible as IFB churches do, but, in my mind at the time, none of them is as true to the faith as an IFB church would be. So, with God on their sides and a wind of prayer at their backs, Evangelical church planters will go to communities already overrun with congregations and start a new church. Most of their members will come from other churches. That’s the dirty little secret Evangelicals don’t like to talk about: that most church growth comes from transfers; people moving from one sect/church to the next. “Look at how God is ‘blessing’ our new church. We are growing by leaps and bounds!” Yet, for the most part, these new members are most likely disgruntled people poached from other churches. Of course, in the IFB church movement, it is generally believed that Catholics, mainline Christians, and charismatics are not even Christians — that they are following a false Jesus — so its okay to steal them from their churches.

Calvinists, in particular, are noted for searching far and wide for churches that teach the gospel according to John Calvin. Back in my Calvinistic days, I had congregants who drove 30-45 minutes to our church just so they could sit under a man who preached the “true” gospel. In 1994, I became the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elemendorf, Texas. The church was stridently Fundamentalist and Calvinistic. We had people who had moved all the way from Michigan and Ohio just so they could be members of a church that taught the “truth.” Think about how many thousands of churches they passed on their way to San Antonio, Texas. None of them preached the “truth”? There were several members who believed that the Christian gospel = the five points of Calvinism; that professing Christians who were not Calvinists were likely false Christians; that all the great Arminian preachers of the twentieth century were false prophets who preached an errant, heretical gospel. At Community Baptist, “truth” mattered. This led to numerous squabbles over doctrine; you know, one “truth” battling another “truth,” both believing they are right, straight from God himself.

According to the Bible, Pilate said to Jesus, “What is Truth?” You would think that after 2,000 years, Christians would have the “truth” figured out; that by now they would be united around ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, ONE BAPTISM. Instead, Evangelicals fight among themselves over the slightest of doctrinal differences. Not that all their internecine wars are meaningless. Much blood has been spilt over how a person is saved and the method by which he is baptized. Evangelicals fight over eschatology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, soteriology and a host of other “ologies.” Evangelicals tend to be literalists who believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. In their minds, the Bible is a divine roadmap, a blueprint or handbook for life. Thus, every jot or tittle matters; every word has divine meaning. That’s why many Evangelicals believe certain Bible translations are “true” and others just contain the “truth.”  On the extreme fringes of Evangelicalism, you have IFB churches that believe the King James Bible is the “pure” inerrant Words of God. Over the years, I heard several preachers say that if the person who led you to Jesus used any Bible but the KJV, it was very possible that you weren’t even saved. In their minds, the KJV of the Bible was some sort of magic book, supernatural in nature, chucked by God over the rampart of Heaven 408 years ago.

It is for these reasons and others that Evangelicals continue to start new churches in communities already saturated with Christian churches. Why, even in the Baptist Belt, new churches are being planted. Why? I ask. Isn’t everyone in the deep South already saved? The real truth is that Evangelical church-planting is much like opening a new hamburger joint. There’s a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Sonic, Jack in the Box, Carl’s Jr, and Five Guys in town, yet the community “needs” yet another restaurant. So it is with church planting. Evangelical church planters convince themselves that such-and-such town NEEDS a new church — an Evangelical one. When a new hamburger restaurant comes to town, where does most of their business come from? Other restaurants. People have a fixed amount of discretionary money, so for a new restaurant to grow and thrive, it must poach patrons from other restaurants. All the new restaurant does is weaken the other ones. So it is with churches. They are predatory in nature. Rarely do you find congregations that started with people from public salvation decisions. For all their talk about saving souls, Evangelical churches rarely increase their attendance through “winning the lost.” Why do the hard work, when you can just steal members from somewhere else?

To answer the “what should I do” question, I say this: stop looking for Theological Nirvana®. It doesn’t exist.  I don’t know of a community that needs more churches. How about trying to make one of the churches that already exist better? But, Bruce, God told me to start a new church! Sure, he did. As a former church planter, I know better. Church planters start new churches because they need the Jesus Buzz® that comes from planting a new church; that feeling of everything being new. People seek out new churches because they too are looking for a Jesus Buzz®. New churches are exciting. When Evangelicals can’t “feel” the Lord like they used to, they look for that feeling elsewhere.Where better to “feel” the presence and power of Jesus than in a new church?  The problem, of course, is that new churches will one day become an old, established churches, just like the one people left years before. That’s the nature of the human experience, be it marriages, churches, or hamburgers.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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  1. Avatar

    My son and I are traveling in VA, NC, SC this week to visit colleges. We live in NJ and my kids don’t know a lot about specifics of religions, and my son knows little about my fundamentalist upbringing. Within the span of 30 minutes we saw 10 “Thank you Jesus” yard signs and more churches than you could throw a stick at. We saw a big Baptist church, and he asked me what they believed. I told him there are many types of Baptists, but they are autonomous in terms of government but belong to a convention for study materials and doctrinal guidance. They typically espouse literal belief in the Bible (sin, heaven, hell, the Bible stories, etc). And that I used to be a Southern Baptist. He was incredulous and asked how I got out. I explained that complementarian teaching started my exit path. I explained that a lot of Methodists, Church of Christ, and others we were passing hold similar beliefs with minor differences.

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    maura hart

    out of thousands of gods since the beginning of ever, it seems the height of arrogance to believe that yours is the one true god. and, having learned as a survivor of childhood abuse and neglect, i know my prayers were not answered.
    so, either god is omnipotent or not and omni benevolent or not. if he does not answer the prayers of a child being raped he is neither. why believe in such a god? it is evidence that either the christian god is worthless and useless or evidence that there is no god. or, perhaps it is evidnece that if you do not say the exact right words, in the exact right order, at the exact right time, in the exact right way at the exact right place, your prayers are futile. bah. who needs or wants such a god?

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      I’m so sorry. I was abused too, prayed, got no answers, saw all the holy people fawning over the abusers and believing their c***. (“We believe in giving everyone the benefit of the doubt” they said. But this generosity did not extend to children.)

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    You know, I never thought of it that way. Parishioner Poaching! What a concept! It’s so, so…heathenistic!

    I also knew people from my “Assembly of God” days that followed a particular pastor. People moved from Chicago to Florida for one pastor, to California for another (wait…I’d move there too from Chicago. I hate our weather)!

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    If you are going to Clemson in SC, you will be in the thick of the Evangelical and IBF soup. The upstate in SC is rife with these cults. Now, if you are visiting C of C here on Charleston, we are the blue part of SC. USC in Columbia is a mixture. Have fun in your travels. I enjoyed mine when the kids were looking at colleges.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Back in 1980, for our honeymoon, my new husband and I traveled to Minnesota to introduce him to my family living there, to Indiana to introduce me to his sister and both of us to her new husband, and to upstate Louisiana to introduce both of us to his paternal grandparents, recently found by his dad. All of these people lived in small towns or in rural areas near small towns.

    Plainview, Minnesota had maybe three churches: Catholic, Lutheran, and Other.

    Salem, Indiana, small as it was, was the county seat. It had a few more churches than Plainview, mostly Evangelical. Robeline, Louisiana was one block long, and the nearest real town, Natchitoches, was still pretty small. Between them the road was packed with churches. I have never seen so many churches in such a small space. All of them were tiny buildings that would probably struggle to squeeze 50 people in their sanctuaries.

    Husband grew up in a couple of the more mainstream Evangelical churches, and I grew up Catholic. Neither of us was a Bible expert, but we both knew our basics pretty well. To please his grandmother, we attended church with her on Sunday morning at one of these tiny churches. Afterwards, I said to Husband, “what Bible was that man preaching from?” Because his sermon seemed to be based on material he had pulled from his ass.

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    Jan Markell, host of “Understanding the Times”, a show on one of my local “Muslims, Gays, Commies and Obama is GOING to GET US!”, oops “Christian radio stations”, says that she get’s questions all the time about “true” churches. In her case, it’s because she thinks most churches do not talk about prophecy and “end times” enough.

    I find watching the finger pointing and battles about which versions of “Christianity” is the “true” one, fascinating. And a conspiracy of the dairy and popcorn promotion boards.

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    i was raised an athiest, i completed a series of courses at a Christian seminary, and was ordained a Christian minister, converted to Hinduism three days later, and, 40 years later, i’m still a happy hindu… who is largely athiest…

    i’ve basically decided that i don’t trust any church, especially those who say “anyone is welcome”. it is my impression that they mean “anyone is welcome… as long as you want to end up exactly like us.”

    i haven’t been to a church in a long time… probably more than 40 years. the last time i went to a hindu temple was about 5 years ago. i like to emulate the sentiment of that excellent quote from Groucho Marx, “I refuse to join any church that would have me as a member.”

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    Well, just last night, after reading this post, I had a shower and the water kept changing temperature, first too hot and then too cold and I was not touching the hot or cold handles! This was, it is now clear to me, a message from God and at first I did not get-it. You see, I was seeking the lukewarm setting in my head and God was trying to tell me something! After my shower, I decided to read the Bible and it was all new and full of meaning! I understood every word as if, well, as if I already knew it inside-out. When God gives you true knowledge, well, that is better than any schooling! I know now that God has chosen me to bring His True Word to you all and so I will be starting a church, the true church of the the One God.
    I know that I do not need to advertise because God is advertising for me and speaking to you if you will only listen to that still, small voice.
    I’ll see you Sunday!
    (It happens as simply as this so otherwise ‘normal’ people end up running out to sidewalks and malls to share the good news to anyone at all fortunate enough to be able to hear them. Some of them, like my uncle, end up on meds to control the suffering weight of the lost on their hearts, the lost hoardes they want so much to save from hellfire. Others earn a meagre living at this holy panhandling and a few are chosen by Gawd-dog to have Jesus jets so travel days are few and sermons are many…
    You know, once you are in the club, anything goes!)

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Bruce Gerencser