We need churches everywhere people are, so that means we need churches in cities, suburbs, villages, towns, and rural areas. But planting church-planting churches in cities seems to be a distinctly strategic approach to fulfilling the great commission. Why?
In his excellent book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, Tim Keller gives you several reasons why planting churches in cities is an effective way to reach lost people for Christ, edify those who have been won to Christ, and bless your city. Some of those reasons are:
1. Because people are moving to cities, especially young people (p. 160).
2. Because cultural elites often reside in cities (p. 161).
3. Because minorities, especially those who may be apart of an unreached people group, tend to flock to cities (p. 161).
4. Because poor people tend to prefer cities over anywhere else, and the Bible clearly tells us we need to reach the poor (p. 162).
Why Plant Churches in Cities?
Let’s cover each one.
1. Because people are moving to cities, especially young people.
It’s 2020. In 30 years from now, in 2050, 68% of the world will live in cities (a stat you’ll find on the homepage of the Redeemer City to City website). That’s almost two-thirds of the entire world. If the church of Jesus Christ is going to be effective at fulfilling the great commission as we journey into the 21st century, we cannot ignore the city. So the first reason why church-planting in cities is important is obvious: because that’s where people are going.
This is especially true of young people. Exhibit A: Me. When I graduated from college, I moved back into my parents’ home for six months to live with my mom and dad who lived and still live in a suburb of St. Louis. I hated it. I love my mom and dad, but at the time, I couldn’t stand living in the burbs with all those old 50-somethings. I wanted to be with my friends, with people my age, where the pace of life was faster and things to do were closer. So after six months, I told my mom and dad, “See ya.” I moved to South City St. Louis and stayed there for a few years where I thrived spiritually and personally.
Do we want to reach the next generation for the gospel? Of course, youth ministry must be important, and we all know that once people get married and have their 2.5 kids they may feel inclined to move to the burbs. But young adults are getting married less and having fewer children and often prefer the city over the county. We need to reach those between the ages of 18-34 before they get too settled in life.
2. Because cultural elites often reside in cities.
People like doctors, lawyers, musicians, artists, and athletes — but also organizations like hospitals, law firms, and, probably most importantly, universities and college campuses — tend to reside either in or near the city.
We all have influence. You’ve probably heard that the average person will influence roughly upwards of 10,000 people in their lifetime. But for the cultural elites — the people and the organizations that exercise a significant amount of influence over culture, well, they tend to influence a significantly more amount of people. And their influence affects the rest of the regions. So if we can reach those people, we will in turn reach those in all other areas. Reaching the cultural elites for Christ is a strategic missional strategy.
3. Because minorities, especially those who may be apart of an unreached people group, tend to flock to cities.
Should some of us go to the nations? Yes. But if you plant a church in a major global city, the nations come to you. There is no arguing that cities are vastly more diverse than any other geographical location. And we want our churches to reflect heaven and have as many tribes, tounges, and nations present as possible. New churches in the city tend to better reflect this heavenly community.
Let’s say you plant a church in New York City. Someone from an unreached people group comes to your church. God saves them. They invite 10 of their family members. God saves all 10 of them too. You disciple them, and they grow in their knowledge and love for God. After a few years, all 11 of them move back to their home country, where nobody is a Christian. They spread the gospel and the entire town comes to Christ — all without having to send out a missionary.
See? Church planting in major global cities is an effective way to reach minorities and unreached people groups. My illustration is a hypothetical scenario, of course. And certainly, it can happen in a town or the countryside. But it is far more likely to happen in the city.
4. Because poor people tend to prefer the cities over anywhere else, and the Bible clearly tells us we need to reach the poor.
We read: “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Proverbs 14:1). And again: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). Over and over again the Bible tells those who are not poor to help those who are poor. This might mean partnering with a parachurch ministry to serve the poor in other countries. That could be a good thing. But if you plant a church in a city, you don’t need to think about going to the poor because the poor will come to you. By planting a church in the city, you better position yourself to serve the poor, something that is important to God.
Planting church-planting churches in cities is one of the most effective ways to obey Jesus’s words in the Great Commission. In fact, some would argue that following the Great Commission precisely means planting churches.
Let me say again that we need churches everywhere: in the countryside, in the city, and everywhere in between. You might not sense a calling to plant or be in the city, but no matter where you live or what you do, all Christians should consider how they can play a part in supporting church-planting efforts.
Want to learn more? Let me point you to a few more resources.
Why Plant Churches? (Free PDF) by Tim Keller
Why God Made Cities (Free PDF) by Tim Keller
Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard