It seems obvious that, to plant churches in the Plains, that vast stretch of land from Canada to Mexico and between the Rockies and the Mississippi River, will take more time and proportionally more investment. The return on investment will be lower. It will not be sexy nor will there be thrilling reports. The church planters will not even be able to position themselves as culture shapers or influential figures as church planters in NYC, Boston, DC, Miami, Dallas, or LA might be able to do.
Some dear friends left their life in the city and moved back home a few years ago. They live in his Mom and Dad’s place in the Sandhills of Nebraska. North Platte (pop. 23,000), a hour to the south, is the nearest town of any size. There are no confessional Presbyterian or Reformed congregations for hours. The P&R congregation in Sidney, NE closed when Cabellas fortunes shifted and workers moved. The nearest confessional P&R congregation, in Kearney, NE is 2 hours and 3o minutes away. The confessional P&R congregation in Cheyenne is 3 hours away and the congregation in Rapid City, SD is 4 hours away. In leaving the city and going home they are part of a trend. I do not know how large a trend it will be nor do I know how long it will last. Which mortal knows anything about the future during Covid?
Nevertheless, there are early indications that Americans are leaving urban centers. Some surveys suggest that they are going west and south. New Yorkers are fleeing taxes, snow, and a what seems to be an increasingly repressive Covid regime for Florida. U-Haul confirms that people are leaving New York and San Francisco. Some of the Bay Area exodus is headed to to less expensive locations in California but U-Haul says that the top locations outside of California are Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Texas, Utah, Idaho, and New Mexico. According to Andy Kierz the rustbelt states (particularly Illinois) are still losing people. The outliers on his list are Topeka, KS and Manhattan, KS. The Pre-Covid trend, in 2019, according to American Van Lines, showed people leaving the high taxes in California, New Jersey, and Illinois (with Minnesota chasing the pack). Where were people going? “Idaho first followed in order by Arizona, South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Carolina.”
Some influential voices are also speaking up publicly about leaving the big city and going home. In March, 2019, a year before Covid, Michelle Anderson published an essay in the New York Times about moving home to Fergus Falls, MN. Two years before her, however, in March, 2017, J. D. Vance wrote in the NYT about his family’s exodus out of Silicon Valley and back to Columbus, Ohio. He describes not only his own journey but that of others. There were a flurry of stories about people fleeing the cities this summer, because of Covid. The data seem unclear so far.