Why Do We Need to Plant Churches in the City?

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Why do we need to plant churches in the cities? Or better yet, what kind of church plant does the city need? 

I was told recently that the majority of people on the planet now live in cities. Urbanization has been increasing for decades, if not the last two centuries, but this means a pivot point has been reached. If cities are where people live then this is where the gospel must follow, and so cities are the places we need to be planting churches.  To really preach a holistic gospel, one has to plant churches.  If one wants to disciple people as whole human beings, then one has to plant churches. 

Are We Making a Difference?

Just because churches are being planted in cities, and just because some of them have pretty incredible growth statistics, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we are actually making much of a difference in the world.

It doesn’t seem like anyone needs to advocate for the planting of churches in cities anymore. Isn’t there a lot of that going on?  Isn’t this where the really cool churches are being planted, and aren’t there some amazing stories of rocket sized launches with explosive growth? This is “not rocket science” as they say. However, cities are complex things made up of all kinds of people. Just because churches are being planted in cities, and just because some of them have pretty amazing growth statistics, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are actually making much of a difference in the world.  

How are churches any different from Wal-Mart in following the customers and shutting down all the pre-existing mom & pop shops?  If these new urban churches are gathering displaced believers who have left the suburbs for the economic expansion that has now come to urban areas, then is the growth real or simply a rearrangement of church members and their now grown up youth?

Are We Committed?

The vital question in my mind is one of vision. Is there the will to do the difficult work of evangelism?  Will there be a commitment to do the harder work of cross-cultural evangelism and discipleship?  Will there be the passion and tenacity to do the very hard work of crossing socioeconomic lines to disciple the poor out of poverty as they are discipled in the word of God? Without such vision from urban church planters then this will not happen.

Churches planted in cities are culture affecting and can be culture changing.

Churches planted in cities are culture affecting and can be culture changing.  But will that attempt be made only to impact those who are already cultured through the arts, intellectual discussion, civic and political engagement, and the renovation of old historic buildings?  Or will it be culture changing in the redeeming of ethnic culture, the changing of personal moral and ethical behavior, and blessing the widow, orphan and immigrant? Will it be to extend ourselves from our own families to the raising of abandoned children, foster children, adopted children, and kids from single parent homes into a context of mentoring and molding into healthy family life through a grace-empowered local church?

Are We Evaluating?

Cool and fast growing churches doesn’t equal effective churches.

There are some cool and fast growing new churches in the cities of America, but cool and fast growing doesn’t equal effective. The greater issues a church should be concerned about are those of spiritual impact and moral and cultural impact on the lives of individuals in the community.  

I encourage you to evaluate these questions with your pastoral and ministry teams to give an honest evaluation of your church’s impact in your community. As you do so, here are some helpful questions to consider:

  • Are we actually reaching the lost through conversions?  
  • Are our churches growing by reaching indigenous folks who live there or are they actually colonies of churches commuting from out in the “burbs?”
  • Are we (the church planting team) making the cultural adjustments so that those ethnic minorities who already live in the cities will feel not only welcome, but at home, in our new church plant?”
  • Are we thinking through the cross-cultural challenge of worship, staff, and programing to make our church plant relevant to those in the neighborhood?
  • Are we thinking in a missional way about ways to reach the unsaved, indigenous, ethnic, and impoverished people of the city or are we only thinking about growth?

May God bless our efforts and commitments to make an gospel impact in our urban communities for the glory of God!

Randy Nabors is the Urban & Mercy Coordinator for Mission to North America (PCA) and the Coordinator of The New City Network, (an affinity network of urban churches that are cross-cultural, include the poor, have joyful worship and sound biblical teaching). Randy is the church planting Pastor Emeritus of New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN having served them for 36 years. You can learn more about him at www.Thenewcitynetwork.org or read his blog at Randysrag.blogspot.com. Randy will also be a main session speaker at our upcoming Leaders' Summit. For more info, check out our event website