The Opportunity of Ministry in Cities

If the church in the West remains, for the most part, in the suburbs of Middle America and neglects the great cities, it risks losing an entire generation of American society’s leaders.

The growth in size and influence of cities today presents the greatest possible challenge for the church. Never before has it been so important to learn how to do effective ministry in cities, and yet, by and large, evangelical Christianity in the US is still non-urban.

Along with these challenges comes a range of unique opportunities. Tim Keller, founder and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, sees four important groups of people who must be reached to fulfill the mission of the church – and each of them can best be reached in the cities. Here’s a brief summary of his thoughts:

The Younger Generation – the prospects for advancement, the climate of constant innovation and change, the coming together of diverse influences and people – all of these appeal to young adults.  In the US and Europe, the young disproportionately want to live in cities, and for the highly ambitious, the numbers are even higher.

The Cultural “Elites” – the second group is made up of those who have disproportionate influence on how human life is lived in a society because they exert power in business, publishing the media, the academy and the arts. These people spend much of their time or live in city centers.

Accessible “Unreached” People Groups – the currents of history are now sweeping many formerly unreached people into cities as rural economies fail to sustain the old ways of life. These newcomers need help and support to face the moral, economic, emotional, and spiritual pressures of city life, and this is an opportunity for the church to serve them with supportive community, a new spiritual family, and a liberating gospel message.

The Poor – a fourth group of people who must be reached in cities is the poor. Some have estimated that one-third of the people representing the new growth in cities in the developing world will live in shantytowns. A great majority of the world’s poor live in cities, and there is an important connection between reaching the urban elites and serving the poor of your city.

The cities of the world will continue to grow in significance and power. Because of this, they remain just as strategic – if not more so – than they were in the days of Paul and the early church.

  • If Christians want to reach the unreached, we must go to the cities.
  • To reach the rising generations, we must go to the cities.
  • To have any impact for Christ on the creation of culture, we must go to the cities.
  • To serve the poor, we must go to the cities.

– Tim Keller

In Center Church, Timothy Keller offers challenging insights and provocative questions based on over twenty years of ministry in New York City. This book outlines a theological vision for ministry—based on classic doctrines but rethinking our assumptions about church for our time and place—organized around three core commitments:

  1. Gospel-centered: The gospel of grace in Jesus Christ changes everything, from our hearts to our community to the world. It completely reshapes the content, tone and strategy of all that we do.
  2. City-centered: Cities increasingly influence our global culture and affect the way we do ministry. With a positive approach toward our culture, we learn to affirm that cities are wonderful, strategic and underserved places for gospel ministry.
  3. Movement-centered: Instead of building our own tribe, we seek the prosperity and peace of our community as we are led by the Holy Spirit.

Read more about Center Church here.

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4 thoughts on “The Opportunity of Ministry in Cities

  1. Pingback: 7 Features of a Church for the City « 27gen

  2. Pingback: What Should Christians Do About Cities? « 27gen

  3. I love this. There are several churches that exist in these cultural, population focal points that are all about it! Check out Trinity Grace Church in NYC. They host a conference each year called, City Collective: Joining God in the Renewal of our Cities.

    • Thanks Tony! I’ve followed Jon at Trinity Grace for a few years, as well as Tim Keller at Redeemer. I’ve did some consulting work for Bronx Bethany Nazarene in 2009, 2012. All 3 are very unique churches in unique settings – and the beautiful part is, they have clarity about who they are and why they are ministering where they are.

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