After many years of frustration with New England's rocky spiritual soil, evangelicals in the region have launched more than 100 new churches in the past five years. They have had a little help from a campaign to remake their old-fashioned, sometimes negative image.

Gone are the cramped, rented headquarters in downtown Boston and the 109-year-old name, Evangelistic Association of New England. The organization now boasts 14,000 square feet of new space in the suburbs, complementing its new name: Vision New England.

At this point, leaders say, the carefully orchestrated makeover is bearing fruit as a handful of newcomer denominations to the region watch their churches grow.

"It's been incredible how the name change has overcome [an] old stigma," said Steve Macchia, president of Vision New England.

In a region known for its many quaint church buildings and rich religious history, it might seem that new churches hardly answer a pressing need. But Kim Richardson, a Nazarene pastor and coordinator of the church-planting network, disagrees. "The church culture that has been established here simply isn't reaching certain people," she says, adding that new churches are better than established ones at reaching the unchurched.

Starting a new church calls for smart marketing. Vision New England has adopted the region's beloved, indigenous lighthouse image for its logo. New churches, such as Harbor of Hope Christian Church in Lowell, Massachusetts, have tried to tap the same vein of local culture.

Like many New England church-planters, Harbor of Hope pastor Brent Storms is a newcomer to the region. He studied several Massachusetts communities in depth. Gradually, with the help of dozens of newspaper advertisements and 50,000 direct-mail postcards, his church has attracted 120 to worship at a public school auditorium.

For Alanna Davis, an Oklahoma native and a lay church-planter for Southern Baptists in Newton, Massachusetts, the goal is simply to reach people with the gospel. She doesn't trumpet the name evangelical.

"When you say [evangelical], they don't know what you're talking about," Davis said. "It's a term that has no reference point in their everyday life."

The new surge in church plants includes all six New England states, Richardson said. Yet for all the progress, planters say cultural barriers still make the soil rocky.

"This is not the easiest place in the world to do evangelism," Davis said. "There is a sense of privacy here, so people do not readily talk about their faith and their relationship with the Lord. I've got to put in time to earn a hearing, and in New England, that amount of time just tends to be longer than in other parts of the country."

Related Elsewhere

Vision New England's Web site offers more information and news about the association, as well as other resources.

The News-Times of Danbury, Connecticut, profiled the growing evangelical movement in New England in its July 16, 2000, edition.

Last week, Christianity Today profiled New England's controversial marriage laws.

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