by Ron and Lori Clark
July – August, 2006
The Pacific Northwest is a part of the country that remains distant from traditional American Christianity and open to many other paths to spirituality.
The land is also unique in the United States, with its lush green forests, rugged coasts, majestic mountains, and active volcanoes. Wonder and awe exhale for all who experience this land.
The culture and religious landscape of the Northwest is equally diverse.
From the strong presence of Native American spirituality, Satanism, New Age experiences, Islam, Judaism, Eastern religions, Wicca, various forms of Christianity, it seems that the Pacific Northwest promotes a sense of openness and freedom of choice.
But while spirituality is considered important, traditional Christianity is not. Less than twenty-five percent in the Northwest attend a church or faith community.
Jerry Rushford’s book Christians on the Oregon Trail 1 suggests that many of the early pioneers to the Northwest were members of the Disciples movement. These disciples provided Oregon with a rich history in the Restoration Movement. Patricia O’Connell Killen’s recent research shows that any movement that had to cross the Rocky Mountains developed a rugged, individualistic, and self-reliant mentality that has always made evangelism in the Northwest difficult.2
Killen’s research is revealing. She indicates that the culture of the Northwest is resistant to organized religion. The churches that wish to grow must be able to persuade people that Jesus is Lord over all and that God is truly love.
Because so many in the Northwest are “unchurched” and because they do have an openness to spirituality, we believe that God has led us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in Portland, Oregon. After working for eight years with an established church we saw God’s leading to move on to another work. God made it possible for us to stay put and continue our ministry in this city. We are convinced that there is a great need for Christians to show the power of God not only in our lives, but in the growth of churches. We need people to be a dynamic witness of Jesus’ healing power and the holiness and purity of God’s Spirit.
The future of the churches, said Ruel Lemmons, in an editorial for Firm Foundation, is not in filling existing pulpits, but in creating new ones.
He called us to plant churches because, he said, the existing churches were not growing as they should. Two decades later Stan Granberg, director of Kairos Church Planting (, says Churches of Christ experienced almost no growth from 1980 to 2000. This is especially true of Churches of Christ in the Northwest. Lori and I have been preaching and leading ministries in the Portland community. We have seen churches struggle to grow and reach out to a culture desperately needing Jesus. (NW Editor’s Note: See the Interview with Stan Granberg article, this issue.)
We moved from Missouri and have been able, by the grace of God, to acclimate to this diverse culture. For example, our son attended a public school with mainly Spanish-speaking children and one that also had students speaking from nine other language cultures. We have become leaders in our community in domestic violence, immigrant ministries, and others areas of social justice. Luke’s Gospel calls us to take Jesus to our communities and empower our city to know and respond to Christ. This call is as real today as it was when Luke reminded the church that Jesus was a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34-35). We love our neighborhood, our city, and the people of Portland. Yet we understand that reaching people in the Northwest will be a task that requires God’s people to go to others and minister where they live and move.
God Moves
God led us to Christians like Stan and Gena Granberg, Larry and Leslie Deal, and Scott and Kim Lambert, who are part of the Kairos Church Planting staff. Through prayer, discussion, and the Kairos Discovery Lab we realized that God had been preparing us to lead another church plant to reach others in Portland. The west side of Portland has grown by seventy thousand people in eight years, but few churches in that area are growing enough to keep up with the population explosion. There are good churches in Portland, but we are not able to keep pace with the high growth rates in our cities and counties.
Here’s something very important that we’re learning: our experience with our community indicates that Northwestern people have a passion for social justice and empowering others to heal. Portland people appreciate churches that reflect the same passion for others as well as the ethnic diversity that exists in our cities. They want to see churches engage their communities rather than withdraw. They also look for leadership which presents strong moral character. In other words, Portland people want to see the real Jesus living in the lives of His church.
We made the decision to resign from preaching in an established church in Portland in April 2006. Two days after resigning, the Park Plaza Church of Christ ( contacted Kairos and expressed a desire to support a church planter in the Northwest. God is good and is not only building relationships with those seeking Jesus, but between Christians in the Northwest and the South. A wonderful working and ministry relationship will exist as the Park Plaza and Agape church members continue to work together to reach young unchurched people in our area, and plant more churches in this area. Singles and families are coming together to form a team that will commit to reaching unchurched people who need to see and hear about the love of God.
The Blessing of North and South
The body has many members, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. So when we think of the church universal we realize that Jesus’ body has many churches. Southern churches have consistently sent many missionaries, preachers, and college professors out to build up Jesus’ body throughout the world. These churches are strong numerically, financially, and spiritually. They are truly a testimony to a region that has risen from the ashes of post Civil War poverty to become a source of love, hope, and passion for the Gospel of Jesus. At the same time, churches in the South ought to humbly consider that Southern Christianity is not superior to Northern because of the “Bible Belt” nor because some brands of churches are enormous and have wealth. These are not necessarily indicators of spiritual growth and ministry.
Churches in the Northwest, as in other northern regions, continue to struggle in many areas where the South abounds. The same heart and love for Jesus, the church, and the lost exists in our area, but we lack the resources needed to fulfill the mission of Christ. We have schools, churches, campaigns, missions, and ministers but we are limited financially. Some of our cities have the highest property values in the country. Yet the opportunities we have to engage our culture provide us with a field ripe for harvest. There is a great need to work together to bless each other, our cities, and the name of God.
Working Together Like Paul and Barnabas
In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement over taking Mark with them on their second mission trip. Mark had deserted them (Acts 13) while they were in Syria yet Barnabas wanted him to come with them again. Somehow Barnabas felt the need to give him a second chance but Paul disagreed. About what we don’t know but we do know both men fulfilled valuable ministries while apart. Barnabas went to Cyprus, his home country, and developed Mark who later wrote the second gospel, became a companion of Peter, and was later deemed “useful” by Paul. It seems that Barnabas had a valuable ministry that only he could do, while Paul had a ministry that only he and Silas could do. Both men had specific ministries, in different locations, with different results.
Likewise, ministry in the Northwest United States will need to be done by people from the Northwest or those who understand its culture, one that may seem foreign to others in the South. We have a great opportunity to think and develop theologies specific to this region. As former Midwesterners Lori and I have learned to adapt our thinking to bring Jesus to our people. We are committed to staying and training others to have culturally specific ministries in this portion of the country. We also have observed that the Gospel is best spread by empowering those in Portland to reach their neighbors. While preaching is an important part of ministry, becoming a leader in the community will be the best way for God’s people, especially ministers, to show Jesus to a world resistant and skeptical about Christianity. Jesus was known as a friend of sinners and this will need to be seen in the lives of Christians in the Northwest.
Churches in the South can partner with Northwest churches in reaching the lost. We look forward to a long and healthy relationship with our partnering church. We are already making plans to receive Christians from Park Plaza as they travel to Portland to help us and observe how the gospel is taken to new and non-traditional cultures. We also look forward to a day when our young people come to the Northwest for training in planting churches throughout the Northwest and the world.
1 Jerry Rushford, Christians on the Oregon Trail: Churches of Christ and Christian Churches in Early Oregon, 1842-1882 (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997).
2 Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk, Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone (Lanham, MA: AltaMira, 2004).New Wineskins

Ron and Lori ClarkRon and Lori Clark will be lead church planters for the Agape Church of Christ, in Portland, OR ( They will be working with Kairos Church Planting and are overseen and supported by the Park Plaza Church of Christ, in Tulsa, OK. Ron and Lori have been married 19 years and have 3 sons Nathan (14), Hunter (3), and Caleb (1). They are both active in Portland’s domestic violence work and bring this work to their ministries. Together their work has produced the book Setting the Captives Free: A Christian Theology for Domestic Violence, by Cascade Books. They have spent all 19 years together in ministry in Missouri, and most recently the Metro Church of Christ in Gresham, OR.

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