by Pat Kahnke • Saint Paul is the best city in the world to do what I do.
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I plant churches—specifically neighborhood churches (a throwback to the Paleolithic Era—you can read about the neighborhood church at your public library). My wife and I, along with a committed group of friends, have made this our life’s work. Our first plant was in Frogtown in 2002, and our dream is to start a new church in each of Saint Paul’s seventeen distinct neighborhoods. Our next church, which will be intentionally multicultural, is slated to be launched by our friend Shawn in the Rondo neighborhood in 2009. Saint Paul is perfect for us because of the importance of neighborhood to this city. To a visitor, the difference between Highland Park and Mac-Groveland, for instance, may be a geographic artifice, but to a resident, it’s real and palpable (and a source of inordinate pride, if we’re honest). Planting a neighborhood church in Saint Paul is considered a little bit counter-cultural, for a number of reasons: 1. Let’s face it: from a secular point of view, why bother? It would be easier to start a hookah bar—and think how relaxing the work environment would be! I’m keeping that option in my back pocket, right next to the urge to become an over-the-road trucker (which I get about once a week). 2. Evangelicals don’t plant churches in the city. We focus on the “booming exurbs,” for obvious reasons. I was absent the day they passed out that memo in seminary. . . 3. Who is Frogtown Fred, anyway? That last point deserves an explanation. In seminary, I was required to read Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Church for three different classes. Long before The Purpose-Driven Life took the nation by storm, The Purpose-Driven Church was the book du jour at seminaries across the country. In that book, we learned to study our community and write a detailed description of our target parishioner. Pastor Warren’s neighborhood was the Saddleback Valley in California, so he created the “Saddleback Sam” character to help him get inside the mind of Saddleback’s residents. Saddleback Sam turned out to be about what you’d expect. After six years in Frogtown, I still haven’t met Frogtown Fred. I see Frogtown Phuoc at the restaurant down the street, Frogtown Fuad selling cigarettes and lottery tickets at the corner store, and Frogtown Fenicia greeting me from her front step when I walk to church. Frogtown Fred? Hmm . . . Maybe I’m Frogtown Fred. What a boring place Frogtown would be if everyone was like me! Our tremendous racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity makes Saint Paul the perfect place to do what I do. My friends and I recognize that the “homogeneous unit principle of church growth” (as it’s called) has validity, and it would be easy to flow along within the smooth stream of our own monocultures. But we prefer to swim in the choppy waters of multicultural America. Sure, we occasionally get smacked in the face by a wave that we didn’t see coming, but the experience is far more exhilarating than simply doing the easy thing. And those waves cleanse our eyes so we can see aspects of the beauty of creation that would be invisible to us if we hadn’t taken the plunge. For a church planter, Saint Paul is a little slice of Heaven.
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