In 1996 there were 10 Christian churches in the six New England states. At that time Dan and Linda Clymer were asked by the administration and trustees of Lincoln (Illinois) Christian College to move to Manchester, New Hampshire, to establish Restoration House Ministries, whose mission is to “partner with the church in transforming the spiritual landscape of New England, and beyond, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Since then, Restoration House has led in the planting of 14 new churches in New England and helped train more than five dozen interns from Christian colleges across the United States about the challenges of ministry in the Northeast.
What was the original plan for Restoration House Ministries?
The tasks we were given were to set up an extensive internship program and a limited college course schedule (Bible and practical ministries courses). Over the last 11 years, 62 interns have served through Restoration House in New England Christian churches. In addition, 36 college courses have been offered to better equip the New England church members for their service.
Do the interns live at Restoration House?
Most of them do. We can house 10 interns at a time. Linda and I live on the third floor of the ministry center and share the hospitality center for our kitchen and living room quarters. The ministry center also has a classroom with a 3,000-volume library along with a full floor equipped for interns and guests.
What do they do?
It depends on their major. Some will work with a local preaching minister and learn church programming, sermon planning, and vision casting for church growth. Others serve as their major designates.
How long is an internship?
Usually it’s six months. We also have a second program we created called the Resident Ministry Program where college and seminary graduates serve for a full year.
John Cassetto came our first year as a preaching major and served with the Manchester Christian Church. During this internship he discovered that preaching was not where he was best gifted. So he came back after graduation for the Resident Ministry Program, where he served for a year at Manchester Christian Church discovering and practicing his real passion, which is worship ministry. So the goal of our internship program is to allow each intern to discover his giftedness and passion for ministry—which may or may not be the same as his college major. Now John is the worship minister at Manchester Christian Church.
Does all of the programming at Restoration House point toward church planting?
It does now. The intern program and the educational program were part of the runway for creating a church-planting ministry for New England. We took three years to prepare for our first church plant by putting together a team of leaders who would help our church planters succeed at their mission. John Wasem was called to be the church-planting coach, Mike Shryock was called to do the administrative and bookkeeping setup for each church plant, and Curt Nordhielm joined our staff to be the director of cross-cultural church planting. Church leaders from across the country were recruited to be part of partnership teams that oversee each church plant.
It took three years to get that first plant going?
We called our first church planter in the fall of 1999 and planted our first church near Hartford, Connecticut, in March of 2000. Our first plant is now self-supporting and self-governing. Since 2000 we have planted 13 churches with almost half of them being ethnic church plants. We have planted cross-cultural Christian churches among the Chinese, Cambodians, Koreans, and West Africans.
Are New Englanders as resistant to the gospel as the conventional wisdom would tell us?
The churches of New England were dying for two predominant reasons. One was the liberalism that was coming from seminaries in the region, through the pulpits, and into the pews. The second was because the cost of living has always been high in New England. So when churches were without a preacher their only options were to turn to the liberal seminaries or to merge with other churches. Most preachers from outside the region could not afford to move here. These circumstances resulted in the church slowly dying in this area.
Has the hard-hearted reaction of people ever made you just want to “shake the dust from your feet” and go elsewhere?
Not at all. Since 1991 the churches of New England have had people coming in every Sunday trying to answer the question, “What is the purpose of life?” Prior to that, many churches would go weeks, if not months, without having a guest come in. Right now we have no shortage of opportunities to reach the people of New England.
Has the church misunderstood New England?
Definitely. Because of the liberalism in the region—not only theologically, but politically, socially, and culturally—Christians have been afraid to come to this region from other parts of the country. And those few who have come have paid a deep price because of the cost of living.
Do you get frustrated with the church’s attitude toward evangelism in the Northeast?
Right now it’s very positive. We are very encouraged by the response of the churches across America in capturing the vision for this region. Our vision is a transformed spiritual landscape of New England and beyond. We describe it this way: our passion is to see the Lord’s church reach one-quarter of the U.S. population that lives in just a 50-mile wide stretch of land from the coast inward, from Washington, D.C., all the way up to Portland, Maine. The particular focus of Restoration House Ministries is to reach the six New England states, the most unchurched region of the United States.
What changes have you seen in New England in your years of ministry?
While some church planting was taking place among ethnic groups prior to 1995, there was very little church planting taking place among the Anglos. Since then major denominations have opened up their doors of church planting again to this part of the country. In the last three years the Southern Baptists, the Assemblies of God, and the Nazarenes have started planting churches in this region, unlike what has been done for more than 50 years. In that sense, Restoration House Ministries was on the front edge of the opportunities God was creating for new churches to start.
What precipitated the call to head to New England?
For more than 100 years the church was dying in New England, so by the late 1980s New England was already being called post-Christian. Then in 1989 and 1990 a recession hit the New England region harder than the rest of the country. People were losing their jobs, and then their houses, and then their snowmobiles and boats (in that order). They began asking the question, “How can I work 60 to 80 hours a week and three months later lose everything? What is the purpose of life?” So when the preachers of the 10 Christian churches in New England called in 1994 and said we think the doors are open and we need help, we began to make plans for the creation of Restoration House Ministries. We’ve been riding the wave of this question for the last 11 years.
Does it take a uniquely suited person to succeed in growing a church in New England?
Indeed. Just as many of us may not be gifted or called to Africa or South America or Asia, not every American is gifted or called to serve in New England. That’s why we have programs and internships to break down the walls of fear and to give as many people as possible the opportunity to see what God is doing here and whether he or she can fit into his plan in this region. It is absolutely different from the rest of the country.
Why should someone who is looking for a place to minister consider New England?
New England needs pioneers, like the pilgrims of almost 400 years ago, who will come minister to a lost world. Those who have prepared themselves in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ should seriously pray about how they can make a difference in the most unchurched region of the United States. The influence of this region surrounding Boston, Massachusetts, impacts the whole world. Boston is the academic “mecca,” where people from all over the world want to come to study—including the sheiks and princes of Mideast countries. It is also a political force that impacts the world. It’s not uncommon for half of all presidential candidates to be from one of the six New England states. Five of the last seven Supreme Court appointees have been educated in New England. And, Boston is an economic giant that influences the world with the presence of Fidelity Investment Corp. and State Street Bank, two of the three largest investment corporations in the world. So when we plant churches in New England we are seeking to transform the spiritual landscape of New England, and beyond, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Brad Dupray is senior vice president, investor development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.