Why all the demographics about Edmond? You should know that the median household income in Edmond is a little more than $70k. Some of you from major American cities might not be all that impressed with that figure, but it's roughly 75 percent higher than Oklahoma City, and that kind of money goes a hell of a long way in Oklahoma's economy. Edmond is not the wealthiest community in the metro; that distinction goes to Nichols Hills, a small municipality just north of midtown where most of the city's old money lives. The nouveau riche live in and around Edmond in gated communities with names that sound like erstwhile sex tape-famous faux celebrities chose them in the midst of Cristal fugues: Gaillardia, Esperanta, Crackertown.
Why all this analysis of one of Oklahoma City's whitest, wealthiest areas? Many years ago when I was a staff pastor, our senior had deep roots in the Edmond community. He lived in Edmond and marveled that I did not choose to move "up there"—Jeffersons anyone? It would be north instead of east, though—but more on this later. At the time, OKC's northwest quadrant was experiencing tremendous Caucasian, upper middle class growth, but everyone knew that it would be far more sensible to move north than west, and that's where the development money went, facilitating a bizarre white flight in the late 90s and early 00s.
I say white flight, because OKC went through a strange period before downtown and midtown were gentrified. Prior to the improvements that came as a result of three downtown/midtown funding plans (called MAPS, for Metropolitan Area Projects), most of the white folk were escaping the rapid expansion of suburban sprawl by moving to bedroom communities north and west of the city, or they moved to new developments in west and north Edmond. The gentrification of downtown/midtown has created an interesting effect around town in that the formerly "important" communities where the wealthy whites congregated are now so far from the prosperous and rapidly-developing city center that they are basically marginalized. Nice businesses that rely on more than local traffic have no hope of surviving in those communities. The money and nightlife and food culture and the NBA and arts are all moving toward the center of the city or they are already there.
However, the property values in downtown, Midtown, Mesta Park, and other areas near the center are escalating rapidly and no one wants to issue a new permit for a church because there is no tax revenue in churches, even if they could afford the location. The bizarre anomaly of shifting regions of geographical importance has made Edmond important once again, and this time it's important specifically for churches. Because the property values in Edmond proper are nowhere near as expensive as comparable areas of the city's center, churches are making their way to Edmond to "reach the city."
Remember that senior pastor I mentioned. He was brazen enough to say, "Jesus loves rich people, too," aloud. After he nearly destroyed the church, he took a "core group"—the phrase still makes me slightly nauseous—north to start a church in Edmond. We had been meeting in the city's NW quadrant, and I pastored there for another two years before closing the church in an all too familiar and all too well-known personal/moral failure. That sort of brazenness is not likely to happen these days, though. Gone, almost, are the days when anyone took the prosperity gospel seriously, if we mean a statistically significant sample of people who call on the name of Jesus.
What is not gone is the idea that Edmond represents money, lots of it. A recent video announcing that an Acts 29 church will be planting their fourth Oklahoma campus in Edmond said that Edmond has good churches, but that the city needs more. According to ChurchFinder.com, there are 89 churches in this "city" of 80,000. I have no idea if that number is correct, but I assumed the number was close to 100. Either way, what that city does not need is another church. The only churches that thrive in that area are churches that practice what David Fitch calls cannibalistic practices. They take members from other churches, and the most egregious offender has been LifeChurch.tv. We now have four large churches with active plants in and around the Edmond area.
The newest LCTV plant is just a few miles south of Edmond on the main north/south corridor between OKC and Edmond in an area with scant residential property, and please don't even try to tell me if you're a local that they mean to reach the black community just east of Broadway Extension. That is laughably naive or just an outright lie. Crossings Community Church, already located in Edmond in a facility that cost more than 18 million dollars to build about 15 years ago, will be planting another church in Edmond. Yes, in the same town where they currently occupy a Six Flags Over Jesus-sized facility. At least one Methodist church has a plant going on in Edmond. Finally, Frontline, the Acts 29 church, has likely staked their financial future on an Edmond plant. There are likely other churches headed that way that just haven't hit my radar yet.
Frontline produced the video in which soon to be campus pastor David Adair opines that Edmond needs more churches. Edmond needs more churches like it needs more white people. These churches, especially LCTV, have done a fantastic job of planting churches in the most obviously white places around town: Norman, Mustang, Yukon, NW OKC, Shawnee (taking advantage of Oklahoma Baptist University's student population?). LCTV has specialized in planting in areas that are notoriously white, even planting near thriving congregations, some of which are little clones of LCTV, which is itself a weird hybrid of evangelical, fundamentalist, and revivalist traditions (Hybels, Warren, Graham, etc.).
Oklahoma already has one of the highest church attendance rates in the country, maybe the damn world. Outside of the former slave-holding states, we beat nearly every state, with more than half our citizens attending worship services at least once a month, and I think that’s a conservative estimate. That doesn't even come close to taking into account those who don't attend but call themselves Christian (a subset of the pesky nones). The idea that Oklahoma needs more churches is ludicrous. We have thriving churches, healthy churches, growing churches, churches that are nearly defunct, some with minimal attendance, some with bivocational pastors who can't scrape together a real salary, some in houses (who is counting those in these polls?), some in shopping centers, some borrowing space from another church, and some renting from a school. We have hundreds of churches, maybe more than a thousand. No way to really know. Those numbers aside, the idea that any church is going to plant in a wealthy, predominantly white area for the sake of evangelism is the worst sort of lie, especially when the numbers clearly indicate that they are growing, not through conversion growth, but through cannibalizing smaller, more traditional churches.
The next LCTV plant will be in Mustang, a 36,000 square foot facility that will only serve to pull white folks out of traditional churches in the Mustang and Tuttle area west and south of Oklahoma City. There is absolutely no reason to plant another church in Mustang. Mustang is so white that I lack the bona fides to be allowed into the city, and I’m the crackeriest cracker I know.
In the 2010 census, there were 17,000 people in Mustang, of whom 88 percent were white. The next largest demographic was two or more races at 4 percent. Again, some of those folks are presumably part white. Less than one percent of the population is African American. It also functions as a bedroom community for Oklahoma City, and it is the closest thing we have to a country-ass suburb. In fact, much of the town proper is country. ChurchFinder.com lists more than 20 churches in the area, and I know that number is way too small. Ask yourself a very simple questions: why the hell would a megachurch with more than 20 campuses in 5 states want to plant in a community of 17,000? If it was a standalone community thirty miles from OKC, would they plant there? The idea is absurd.
The primary reason these churches plant in these areas is to create a revenue stream. (It’s also entirely possible that the expansions meet some ego-driven need of the senior pastor and leadership team.) I don’t know how any reasonable person denies this. Dressing it up in the language of evangelism only serves to the make the lie respectable to the current membership, most of whom want to believe their church is doing great things. No one outside the particular tribe believes the bullshit.
Just once I’d like to see a pastor stand up and say, “We’re planting another church in the next year. We figured out where the upper middle class white folks are clustering, so we’re going to plant along one of their main commuting corridors. We’ll need some of you white folks to join us so that we can attract other white folks. However, we need the rest of you to stay here and keep giving while we create this new revenue stream. By the way, all programs, especially benevolence, will suffer during this expansion. We regret that. Well, not really, but we feel like we ought to say that. Amen.”