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splagna church planting:

When Jesus did ministry He went to Samaria. The faithful called the Samaritans “dogs.” It wasn’t a compliment. People there were not worthy of God, and Samaria was not a place the godly would even set their feet. In fact, they went out of their way to avoid entering Samaria.

But Jesus went to Samaria. And not only did He enter this sinful country, He went to a woman who even the “dogs” of Samaria considered a mangy mutt. She had lived a life of sin, going from man to man to man, bouncing from bed to bed to bed. And this was the woman Jesus went to. This was the woman Jesus offered living water to. This was the woman Jesus started a revival with.

It was actually a pattern. His M.O.

Another time He went into Jericho. There were good, God-fearing people in Jericho. There were others who perhaps weren’t strong in their faith but were spiritually sensitive and could be easily convinced. And then there was Zaccheaus. A Jew who had sided with the violent, oppressive Romans. A Jew who took a job with the Romans, collecting tax money from the Jews, to fund the Roman army who were going from town-to-town commanding people to worship Caesar rather than God and massacring those who refused. Zaccheaus was considered the most sinful man in Jericho. His home was the den of the iniquitous. That’s where Jesus chose to spend His day.

In fact, when Jesus was choosing His key followers one of His first picks was a tax collector named Matthew, another one of the betrayers of God and God’s people. And Matthew threw a party so all his sinful friends could meet Jesus, while the religious stood outside gasping at the audacity of Jesus. They could not believe that Jesus would go into a place where sin was sure to be abounding.

Another time Jesus went into Jerusalem. Which seems more like, finally the holy one in the holy city. But when He arrives, rather than going to the temple, or to the faithful, or to the almost-faithful-if-someone-would-just-present-God-in-a-compelling-way-they’d-come-to-God crowd, Jesus heads straight for the pool of Bethesda. It was the place where the sick and the sinful hung out. It was the place where people, rather than seeking God, were seeking other solutions to their problems. Where people were putting their faith in something that was not of God. That’s where Jesus went and the people He went to. And of the group, Jesus chooses what must have been the elder statesman, a guy who had been in the same sorry state for thirty-eight years.

Of course He did. It was a pattern. His M.O.

Here’s the problem: Jesus went to the most sinful places and most sinful people. Historically, Christians have done the exact opposite. Rather than shining God’s light in the darkest places, we start churches where there is “low hanging fruit.” We look for suburbs with lots of houses going up and babies being born, because we know they represent people who will be most open to faith and church. That’s not the problem. Those places need churches too. The problem is, oftentimes, we stop there.

Case in point: In 2010 we started a church called Verve. The population of the five-mile radius from which we meet is 270,000. 270,000 living in a five-mile radius is a lot of people. By comparison, the population of the entire cities of Lexington, Kentucky and of St. Paul, Minnesota each equal 270,000. Now check this out: There are approximately 450 churches in Lexington. There are about 650 churches in St. Paul. And when we started our church there were … 11 in our five-mile radius. And we can only venture a guess as to how many dozen new churches were planted in Lexington and in St. Paul over the last years. In our five-mile radius there were none.

Why is that? Because Verve was planted in the middle of Las Vegas. It was started just off “The Strip,” near the epicenter of Sin City. Does “The Strip” have sin? Yes. Sinful people? Yes. Darkness? Yes. Churches? No. But thinking about Jesus, about His pattern, His M.O., doesn’t it seem like if He came to America today, the center of Sin City is where He would go?

And it’s not just Las Vegas. The truth is, where sin abounds, we – like Jonah – tend to retreat all the more. Where it is darkest, we hide the light. Where people are least open to the gospel, we leave them to their own fate.

It should not be that way. Something must be done. And Splagna is what we’re doing about it.

In Matthew 9 we’re told that Jesus was travelling through some towns. And then: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

Jesus saw people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.” They were people without their Heavenly Father. What made it worse is that they were helpless. No one cared.

But Jesus had “compassion” on them.

The word “compassion” is translated into English from the word “splagna.” Splagna literally refers to your guts … your intestines. You feel compassion in your stomach. When you see something wrong and you have to do something about it, it’s like your guts get twisted inside you.

We are calling this church planting movement Splagna because we will look for church planters with Christ-like compassion for those who are without God and without a local church trying to do something about it. We are calling this church planting movement Splagna because we’re looking for church planters who have the guts to do something about it. We’re looking to find, inspire, equip, and resource church planters who will go to the places Jesus would have gone. The kind of places where sin may abound, but where God’s light will burn bright, and grace will abound all the more.

The kind of places where it may seem impossible to start a thriving church, but where some fools for Christ had the compassion and guts to go because they followed Jesus, and where the god of logic is slayed, and where the God who says nothing is impossible will be worshipped.

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