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When church planter Todd Murphy and his family moved to Providence, Rhode Island, eight years ago, he was told that ministry in New England could not be successful.

It was hard to argue with that. “Providence is a spiritual black hole,” Murphy says. “People there are cautious and often consumed with their own lives.”

Additional challenges include the presence of organized crime, a sex trade, and the highest number of adult bookstores per capita in the U.S. On top of that, the area’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation.

Many residents also possess a general distrust of the organized church. About 73 percent of the county considers itself Roman Catholic, though actual church attendance is estimated at below 20 percent and shrinking.

Murphy started Sacred Journey Church in Providence two years ago with the support of Christian Reformed Home Missions. Why? Because he says that people in the area are truly searching for something spiritual in their lives.

“While many in Providence have abandoned the church, they have not given up on God, and they have a need to hear the truths of the gospel in relevant, timely, and compassionate ways,” he says.

But reaching this population isn’t easy. Through experiences and wisdom from others, Murphy has learned to engage in spiritual conversations but to avoid a forceful or aggressive approach. Rather, he listens and challenges gently.

“For ministry to have an impact here, you have to start with Jesus and go from there,” he says. “It will take time for people to work through their questions and understand.”

Murphy, who is married with five children, is working with his team to develop various stages of discipleship training, possibly through seminars or small groups. These stages will give an introduction to the gospel, discuss spiritual questions, explore what church is and does, teach and encourage spiritual disciplines, and further develop the vision of Sacred Journey.

Through this, the young church aims to enrich the spiritual lives of its members and to help others progress along their journeys.

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