Christian influence is waning across America, and Boston is on the leading edge of the drift toward secularization. New England is the least churched region of our country, and despite its history of faith, today, Boston is one of the neediest cities in US. Traditionally, Boston has been known for its Catholic presence, but after being rocked by scandal in the early 2,000’s, many people feel disenfranchised or angry with the church. Only a fraction of the 655,000 people who call Boston home are followers of Jesus. A 2015 Barna study found Boston the 3rd least Bible-minded city in America. Evangelicals are represented in single-digit percentages, and 53% of residents in the metro area haven’t attended a religious service in the past six months. While faithful people and churches do exist, their relative scarcity means that most Bostonians rarely, if ever, encounter the message of Jesus’ love through a Christian they know.
Boston is just 48 square miles; the smallest city of global influence in the world, but because of Boston’s intellectual leadership, entrepreneurship, and R&D, people from around the world are drawn here. You can’t walk down the street without encountering Portuguese, Creole, Vietnamese, Russian, or Arabic. Many of these individuals come here to study at Boston’s renowned schools such as Harvard or MIT. Often, they come from closed countries, but while here in Boston, they learn about new technologies, methods, cultures, and ideologies. During this short window, these students are more open to the gospel here than at any other point in their life. Then, after a few short years, they are gone, returning to their home countries. The nations have come to Boston, but what will they find here? Will they meet Jesus?
Boston is home to people of every background, race, religion, and class imaginable. Although predominately white (47%), there are more black youth under 18 than that of any other racial group. The Latino population is experiencing especially rapid growth and the Boston Public School system reports that 41% of students are Hispanic. An incredible 26% of the city’s residents are foreign born, more than double the national average. While Boston is diverse, it is highly segregated and the sin of racial prejudice is common. Boston presents an incredible opportunity for the power of the gospel to be manifest in churches that represent our unity in Christ.
God is at work
Despite its secular reputation, Boston has a rich spiritual history. Harvard was founded in 1636 to equip gospel-preachers. Down the road in Northfield, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and the movement of the Spirit sparked the Great Awakening. When the great evangelist George Whitefield preached on the Boston Common in 1740, some 23,000 people soaked up the Word of God (the population of Boston at the time was only 17,000!) and many became followers of Jesus. While working in his uncle’s shoe store just a few blocks from downtown Boston, D.L. Moody heard the gospel from a faithful Sunday school teacher and shortly thereafter, accepted Christ. In 1916 Billy Sunday preached to crowds as large as 55,000 on Huntington Ave. Over the course of 10 weeks some 1.5 million people came to hear him preach. In 1950 Billy Graham preached to 16,000 at the Boston Garden and was forced to turn away another 5,000 which the building could not accommodate.
While the culture of Boston has become markedly more secular in recent years, God is continuing to move in the city. Since 1965 a quiet revival has been occurring primarily among ethnic and immigrant churches in the city. During this period, the number of churches has doubled, and the church in Boston has experienced new levels of unity, prayer, and spiritual vitality.