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Why I Left the Bible Belt and Moved to NYC (and You Should Too)

Every day on my drive to work, I passed seven. Not seven church buildings. Seven “Church of Christ” buildings.

This unsettled us.

Further, we began to notice the divisive ways congregations, even congregations under the Church of Christ heading, talked about each other. Have you heard how much they pay their preacher? Why do they need such a fancy building? I heard so and so left because so and so did this and that. Even the way members of one church would say the name of another betrayed their feelings.

Similarly, churches saw enormous flux in membership when a new church would crop up or an old church hired a new, exciting preacher. Attendance came in waves as people migrated liked neurotic geese.

The worst consequence of all these Christians crammed into the same space seemed to be this: They began to forget who they were. Because we’d grown up in spiritually sparse communities, Justin and I expected to be in the minority. We expected people to disagree with us. We expected people to mistreat us. We remembered that our citizenship was in Heaven, because it for sure wasn’t in Clearwater, Fla.

In Huntsville, you could pull up to a light and, odds are, one of the six cars stopped with you would carry a member of the Church of Christ. Four more (that’s fiveĀ out of the seven total) carry evangelicals Christians. Those odds are decidedly not stacked against you.

Justin and I became convinced that not only was this intense concentration of Christians in one geographic area bad for the nationwide growth of the kingdom, it also seemed bad for the too-packed Christians.

That’s when we decided to get out.

We sat down at our dining room table with a map of the United States, a list of major city populations and a list of the number of Christians in every major American metro area.

We typed numbers into a calculator and decided to move to New York City.

The entire time we lived there, in Brooklyn, we met only one Christian (outside of a church building or personal introduction). The people we met were fascinated by our way of life. They asked all kinds of questions. They wanted to know how it was we were married and still liked each other.

One night at a party, Justin found himself cornered by a woman who had never met an actual Christian. She said, “Really? You’re really a Christian? Like you believe the things in the Bible actually happened?”

In that moment, we knew we were exactly where we needed to be.

We stayed in Brooklyn for a year. We’d have stayed a lifetime if we could have. We’re just outside Austin, Texas, now, and the two cities aren’t that different. Both places desperately need more Jesus. On any given Sunday 85 percent of people in Round Rock (our part of the Austin metro area) don’t go to church anywhere.

Just so you can understand the ungodly concentration of Christians in the American southeast, consider this map from Gallop:

Do you see the dark green? That’s where the light is. Do you see the khaki? That’s where the light isn’t. Because Christians don’t live there.

Even this map doesn’t tell the story perfectly, because it doesn’t account for the significant discrepancies between Christians in urban areas and Christians in rural areas. States like Florida (and Texas barring Dallas) are statistically more Christian because of the significant rural concentration of Christians. The cities are much less densely populated by believers. For some reason, Christians avoid cities while everyone else flocks to them.

Let’s be clear, there’s nothing sinful about gathering with like-minded people and living in light-blessed communities. But there is something sinful about hoarding the light while others suffer in the dark.

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JenniferGerhardt@churchleaders.com'
I'm a writer and Bible teacher (ex reporter and college English teacher). I've been writing and teaching about God since my first church Ladies' Day at the age of nine years old. I speak at events, lead Bible studies, and write Bible study curriculum and devotional materials.