On Episode 104 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with Pastor Jacob Young about why he started a church in New England.


The Journey of Planting a Church in New Hampshire
Innovation & Business: A Non-Profit
Moving To New England
Rejecting the Bible Belt Culture
Why New England and Not Philadelphia?
The Presumption of The Bible Belt Culture
The Presumption of the Christian Culture
Using Verbiage & Language that Everybody Understands
More Episodes
Show Notes

Why I Started a Church in New England With Jacob Young


Paul: So, welcome, Jacob Young.

Jacob: Thank you.

Paul: From the Great White North. Not Canada. Not Vermont.

Jacob: Not quite, no.

Paul: New Hampshire.

Jacob: Yeah, we’re in God’s Country up here, you know.

Paul: So how long have you been there?

Jacob: We’ve been here five and a half years now. As we’re getting close to the end of October, there’s always — It’s that every other year we get a snowstorm, so we’re going to have —

Paul: Oh.

Jacob: I’m curious as to whether that’s going to happen.

Paul: Great. I’m glad you brought that up. Thanks.

Jacob: Yeah.

Paul: It’s going to happen. It’s inevitable, but that’s true.

Jacob: Yeah.

The Journey of Planting a Church in New Hampshire

Paul: So, five and half years ago, you embarked on a journey to the Great White North of New Hampshire. But what was your idea of this journey?

Jacob: Well, we moved up here to plant a church here in Manchester with King of Grace down in Haverhill. So, we took over a small group, and we had intended that to become a church plant. It’s taken about five years. But we’re a fully-fledged, card-carrying church now. And I think when we moved here, we were just really — Like, I enjoy New England culture. I enjoy the frankness of my friends here in the city, and I know that’s off-putting to some people. I just prefer the directness of it.

So, yeah. It’s been a, a fantastic experience of being here, and our boys are New Hampshirites.

Paul: Wow.

Jacob: Yeah, I don’t know if that’s what you were asking about, but —

Innovation & Business: A Non-Profit

Paul: I think so. I mean, we try and talk about innovation and business. But, you know, business is about having an idea and producing a product that satisfies a need and really, building the systems that deliver that product to the — not necessarily the purchasers, but the consumers of that product.

And, I think that a lot of what you’re doing may qualify as both innovation and business. It’s not perfectly business, because it’s a non-profit. It’s not built for profit, and a lot of people might stumble over that.

But the point of it being that what every institution is doing is trying to perpetuate some values and some mission.

Moving To New England

Paul: And so, you decided to — Well, let’s just roll back a little bit. So, are you from New England?

Jacob: No, yeah. My, my dad is military, and so I grew up moving all over the place so I’m, like, generally American. You know, I’m not from one place.

And, my wife, she grew up in the South, with her mom being a native to London, so she had a bit of a Deep South. She grew up going to visit her grandparents in London, growing up, during the summers, and so she kind of grew up in two different cultures, I guess.

Paul: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, those are huge contrasts.

Jacob: Yeah. Although, apparently, I’ve heard that the Southern accent is probably the truer form of the 17th and 16th century English accent. So, potentially, they were a bit closer together in terms of dialects than we might otherwise associate.

Paul: Maybe. But if you were in the South and quoted that in a dark alley in the middle of the night, it wouldn’t get you any points, or vice versa if you were in London in a dark alley and said that.

Jacob: Sure. Yeah, I’m not sure if I’d get out alive, so that’s why I say it in the comfort of my office on the phone.

Paul: Right. Exactly, yes, this being broadcast all over the world. Yeah, that’s a good idea.

So, how did your path end up in New England, let alone New Hampshire?

Jacob: So, my wife and I, we met in high school, and she, being much more brilliant and smart than I am — I’m normal brilliant and normal smart; she’s much more brilliant and much more smart — went to Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

We were dating through college, and we got connected with the family churches that we wanted to be a part of, and so, out of the gate, we just were like, “You know what, we’re done with, kind of, the Bible Belt culture in the South.” And so, we wanted to move out to the Northeast, and so we moved to Philly to be a part of a church in the Philadelphia area.

Rejecting the Bible Belt Culture

Paul: Let me have you pause there for a second. You made a pretty big statement, “We were done with the Bible Belt culture.”

Jacob: Sure, yeah.

Paul: I’m sure that every person — certainly in America — can identify with that either positively if you live in the Bible Belt, or south of it, or negatively, if you live north of it. You can at least leap to what that might mean. And you went to Philadelphia, which is — Generally, it’s in the North. I mean, it’s definitely in the north; from New Hampshire, it’s in the south, but how do you contrast that? What was the thing, the real nugget of what was that that you were moving away from, for some reason?

Jacob: Sure. And I don’t mean that in a, necessarily, a denigration dynamic.

Paul: No, definitely.

Jacob: It was just to make a contrast, I guess. So, some of it is, I grew up in a more, — in terms of church culture, and I realize it’s a subset of American culture. I grew up in the United Methodist church, a moderate-to-more-progressive side of the spectrum.

I got my degree in philosophy, and the English literature stuff that I got my degree in was half Old English and half postmodern theory, so the two ends of the spectrum, I guess.

I was very comfortable being around my non-Christian friends. Not as some sort of charity case, but I genuinely enjoyed their friendship and company. They had honest and genuine questions, and they were self-consciously who they were. They were an agnostic, or they were whatever. They were self-consciously, “This is my belief structure.” I’d disagreed with them, obviously, but they would have a self-awareness of who they were.

My experience beyond my non-Christian friends within that university setting is that the Bible Belt, generally, is kind of pervaded by a very generally, “I’m a Christian,” very surfacey dynamics to what that means, but there’s not a self-awareness of one’s belief structures or how they operate with engaging in the world. And I think that there’s a presumption in this in the Bible Belt culture that going to church is a good thing and that that makes you a better person. Those may be, certainly, morally true dynamics but at a cultural level, it tends to be a bit surface. Maybe you could just use other words that might be a little more on point on that.

Why New England and Not Philadelphia?

Jacob: But in terms of the North, certainly, Philadelphia is on the southern end of the Northeast. It’s technically outside the Mason–Dixon line, and so we appreciated that Christianity was not a presumed part of the culture — even in Philadelphia which is, maybe, more religiously-minded than New England, especially Northern New England. And that if somebody was going to say they were a Christian or that they weren’t a Christian, there is a little bit more self-awareness and cultural dynamics where it was not so presumptive that, “Well, we’re a Christian community.”

So, that was, I think, some of the emphasis for Michelle and I. I just get hives around, like —

Paul: Hives.

Jacob: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: Hives are all — Okay, go ahead. I want you to walk into this one.

The Presumption of The Bible Belt Culture

Jacob: The presumption of the Bible Belt culture. Like my folks still live down in the Pensacola, Florida area. It’s funny. We went and visited them. This is maybe an example of the differences. We went to a coffee shop. Michelle and I were down visiting my folks in Pensacola. It was on our anniversary, so we didn’t have any kids with us.

So, we went to the coffee shops to, kind of, sit and read, and, you know, be adults without children hanging on us, and across the way from us in the coffee shop was this very large table of about ten young women, you know, 20s, 22, obviously college students, and they were not only doing a Bible study, but just out loud praying for each other. And it struck me. Like, that is so strange. And here I am. Like, I’m a pastor, and, you know, I like the Bible, and I want people to pray. I just, I had this experience of, like, that would never happen in New Hampshire. Like that, just not showy. They were being very respectful, but it was still a moment where I was like, “Oh, I’m from New Hampshire, where spiritual dynamics are not as presumed to be a part of the culture.”

Paul: So, I want to belabor this a little bit. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Jacob: Yeah. I don’t think it’s inherently a bad thing, for sure. I would say that there is a presumption to the public’s face that — It seems to me that evangelicals at times have a presumption to have their voice heard within the public sphere merely by the sake that they are evangelicals.

Paul: Mm hmm.

Jacob: And, so, rather than having merited it or gained it by the trust of the folks around them by the life lived among their neighbors and contact. So, I’m very overt with my, you know, “I’m a Christian. I’m a pastor.” I talk to people about Jesus all the time, but, so that could be said, “Well, am I presuming a place within the general culture?” I hope not.

But I guess, the way in which it can be used to bolster a sense of rightness or superiority, is maybe a loaded term, would be the negative connotation to that. So, yeah, I mean, not inherently right or wrong, but the way in which it’s oriented can certainly have a dynamic that could be right or wrong.

The Presumption of the Christian Culture

Paul: Now I want to redouble my effort here. What would your recommendation be — if you could be so bold — of how somebody from the Bible Belt, or the Bible Underwear, Shorts, if we go south-er, Socks, the Bible Socks. What would you recommend they do? because this is a critical thing that’s going on in America, let alone the world, is how do we actualize what we believe, regardless of where you fall in what spectrum. What’d you recommend?

Jacob: Yeah. Maybe this is a simple answer, but I think the way to combat the dynamic, I guess, in play within the Bible Belt culture that I would say is, maybe a negative dynamic, is a presumption of a Christian culture that assumes everybody else is playing on the same field, that they’re playing with the same terms, that they understand what you’re talking about. I wonder if it would be a helpful way of addressing some of that and correcting some of the Bible Belt culture if people were to ask the question of themselves, “Do I know who my literal neighbors are, and do they know that I care about them?”

Now, the way that I would confront a Bible Belt culture is my neighbors tend to get redefined as “whoever I like,” which sometimes is folks at church, folks from work, and there is a certain sense of presumed categories. You know who the pastors are. You know certain religious terms. You know how to navigate the Bible. You know certain Bible stories. That is just common knowledge.

For example, we had somebody visit our church a few years ago, and he was preaching for the church, and he made a reference. He said, “We live in a Genesis 3 world,” in a sermon. And to somebody from the Bible Belt culture, or a maybe from a more insulated Christian context, I understand what that phrase means, but I know that my neighbors, who not only have they never been to church, their parents never went to church. They would have absolutely no idea what the phrase “Genesis 3” is. They don’t even know what the Book of Genesis is, let alone “Is 3.0?” Is this the third Book of Genesis? I guess there are three Genesis books?

Paul: Right.

Jacob: What does that “three” mean? And so, there’s a presumption about that statement that is — Again, I’m kind of drilling down on a specific to kind of make the case. And I’d say it’s probably generally true with American evangelicals and in general, not solely, Bible Belt culture. When Jesus says to us, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I think the controlling factor in that is, does my neighbor know that I know them and care about them and love them on their terms? Not necessarily that I agree with them, but on terms that they would understand.

Paul: Right.

Using Verbiage & Language that Everybody Understands

Jacob: And so, if I’m using cultural verbiage or language or assumptions or association that they have absolutely no… Like, if I told my neighbors right now, like, “Oh, there’s a big controversy around this trinitarian issue going on within the Church right now, and I’m really reading a lot about it.” It would just be absolute gibberish to them, you know.

Paul: Right. It’s technical.

Jacob: Yeah, and it’s certainly myopic. Yes, so I think that the correction — or maybe big question – for the Bible Belt context, is less “How do you stop being Southern.” And I don’t want you to stop being Southern. I love Southern hospitality. But I don’t know if somebody’s being nice to me for whatever reason. That’s maybe my New England cynicism coming out at this point. It’s in the way in which I orient towards the world. I’m sorry?

Paul: What do you want?

Jacob: Yeah. Is the association that you’re making with somebody, presuming that Christianity is in power and everybody must adhere to it, or is there a sense in which I want to just simply understand who somebody is?

Paul: Well, I think, I think you’re bringing up a great point, I think one that could be — really benefit both the Republican and Democratic parties right now, is there seems to be this incredible factionalism going on. And I don’t know if that’s really the right word, but it seems like neither side is doing anything to win the other side’s heart.

Jacob: Yeah, and I think even for business context, I think that it just happens when you’re in an intensive reinforcing context, that you are not inclined to think very clearly about the world that somebody else you’re engaging with lives in.

So, my brother is a mechanic in the Coast Guard, and he will use all of these phrases and words. I have no idea what any of them mean, and I can’t even repeat what any of them are, because they just did not register to me. And, I feel the same way at times when I’m engaging… I’ve done work with others as well, where you used the phrase “SEO,” and I’m like, “Okay, I know what that means.” Nobody else that I’m engaging with, even a client that I’m engaging with may not understand what that phrase means.

Paul: Right, right. Or they may think they know. That might be even worse.

Jacob: Yeah. They may think they know. SEO is not — I’m trying to think of a horrible example…

Paul: Yeah.

Jacob: So, I’m not sure if that’s necessarily a unique Bible Belt culture dynamic, but I think that it’s a human condition factor that we tend to drill down. And whatever culture reinforces our values, we tend to double down on that, whether that’s Republican or Democrat, Christian or not.

Paul: All right. Well, we’ve been talking with Jacob Young, a church-planting pastor in Manchester, New Hampshire, and we’ll have links to his website and some of his blogs.

Jacob: Yeah. Exciting times, and I’m enjoying it.

Paul: Cool. Thank you, sir.

Jacob: Yeah, Paul, thanks for your time.

More Episodes:

This is Part 1 of 3 of our conversation with Jacob Young! Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon! We’ll be talking about how measure & identify the success of a non-profit organization!

Show Notes: