7 Features of a Church for the City

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandate and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.

The challenge is to establish churches and other ministries that effectively engage the realities of the cities of the world. – Tim Keller

As Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC notes in his book Center Church, “the majority of evangelical Protestants who presently control the United States mission apparatus are typically white and non-urban in background. They neither understand nor in most cases enjoy urban life. Furthermore, many of the prevailing ministry methods are forged outside of urban areas and then simply imported, with little thought given to the unnecessary barriers this practice erects between urban dwellers and the gospel.

Keller believes that churches that minister in ways that are indigenous and honoring to a city – whatever its size – exhibit these seven vital features:

Respect for Urban Sensibility – Christian leaders and ministers must genuinely belong to the culture so they begin to intuitively understand it. Center-city culture in particular is filled with well-informed, verbal, creative, and assertive people who do not respond well to authoritative pronouncements. They appreciate thoughtful presentations that are well argued and provide opportunities for feedback.

Unusual Sensitivity to Cultural Differences – Effective leaders in urban ministry are acutely aware of the different people groups within their area. Because cities are dense and diverse, they are always culturally complex. The ever-present challenge is to work to make urban ministry as broadly appealing as possible and as inclusive of different cultures as possible.

Commitment to Neighborhood and Justice – Urban neighborhoods are highly complex. Often, alongside the well-off residents in gentrified neighborhoods with their expensive apartments, private schools, and community associations, there is often a “shadow neighborhood” filled with many who live in poverty, attend struggling schools, and reside in government housing. Urban ministers learn how to exegete their neighborhoods to grasp their sociological complexity.

Integration of Faith and Work – Traditional evangelical churches tend to emphasize personal piety and rarely help believers understand how to maintain and apply their Christian beliefs and practice to the worlds of the arts, business, scholarship, and government. Urban Christians need a broader vision of how Christianity engages and influences culture. Cities are culture-forming incubators, and believers in such places have a significant need for guidance on how Christian faith should express itself in public life.

Bias for Complex Evangelism – Not only must an urban church be committed to evangelism; it must be committed to the complexity of urban evangelism. There is no “one-size-fits-all” method or message that can be used with all urban residents. Urban evangelism requires immersion in the various cultures’ greatest hopes, fears, views and objections to Christianity. It requires a creative host of different means and venues, and it takes great courage.

Preaching that Both Attracts and Challenges Urban People – Perhaps the greatest challenge for preachers in urban contexts is the fact that many secular and non-believing people ma be in the audience.  The challenge is for the urban preacher to preach in a way that edifies believers and engages and evangelizes non-believers at the same time.

Commitment to Artistry and Creativity – Professional artists live disproportionately in major urban areas, and so the art are held in high regard in the city, while in non-urban areas little direct attention is given to them. Urban churches must be aware of this, and should have high standards for artistic skill in their worship and ministries. They must also think of the artists no simply as persons with skills to use, but connect to them as worshippers and hearers, communicating that they are valued for both their work and their presence in the community.

By his grace, Jesus lost the city-that-was, so we could become the citizens of the city-to-come, making us salt and light in the city-that-is. – Tim Keller


Reflections and excerpts from Tim Keller’s book Center Church.


To read another post about Center Church, go here.





Next: What should Christians do about cities?


When the DNC Comes to Town…

Adventures in Parking & Traffic Control at Elevation Uptown

The most brilliant battle plan is only good till the first shot is fired

Attributed to von Clausewitz, Prussian military theorist

When Charlotte was announced as the site for the 2012 Democratic National Convention in February of 2011, something clicked in my mind that the event might impact our church, Elevation Uptown. The schedule hadn’t been announced but early indications of events beginning on Monday September 3 told me that eventually it would impact us.

Sometimes, my hunches are right. This one was dead on.

First of all, you have to understand that Elevation’s Uptown campus (which meets in McGlohan Theater and started in August 2008) is literally in the middle of Uptown Charlotte, and almost everyone who comes drives a car to get there…and parks in the 7th Street Parking deck a block away.

Earlier this year a news release from the DNC indicated “several streets in the Uptown area surrounding the Time Warner Arena will be affected.”

Because of President Obama’s involvement in DNC activities, security plans were not going to be released until several days prior to the convention’s start.

When they were released, we were in for a surprise: the streets leading to, and surrounding, the parking deck we used were going to be closed, with “restricted access.”


As noted above, Elevation Uptown worships in a theater, but all our Guests and attenders park in a deck a block away – which just happened to be on the other side of the “restricted access” line.

Campus Pastor Joel Delph met with Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) officials, who assured him that the church would have access to the parking deck by going though the checkpoints. Additionally, an open lot 3 blocks away that we use for our volunteers would be available as usual, as well as the 2 lots next to the theater that we use for VIPs (our first time Guests) and families with small children.

Armed with these assurances, we moved forward with a plan to have our weekend experiences as normal at 9:30 and 11:15. The week before, we encouraged our volunteers to pick up an Elevation logo card to put in the dash to help move through the checkpoints. Late in the week, an email blast went out encouraging people to come a little early to allow extra time for the checkpoint access.

Still, I had that little gnawing feeling in my gut. I take my role as a Guest Services coordinator very seriously, and I wanted to make sure we were ready for the day.

Sunday September 2, 7:30 AM

Pulling up to our Volunteer lot, I find it chained and barricaded

Over at our VIP lots, we found the electronic gates turned off – no access.

Trying to get a handle on what we could expect, I talk to the policeman stationed outside the theater entrance, only to find he’s from Louisville, KY, and doesn’t really know anything except he’s be assigned to this spot – and, by the way, his radio wasn’t working

Checking with other policeman at the parking deck entrance, I found the same thing: they were from Louisville, and only had site-specific orders – no overall idea of the street closure plan. When I showed him the map the CMPD gave us, he said that was the first he had seen of a map.

The quote above came to mind…

By this time, our volunteers were arriving in full force, only to find the lot not accessible. A quick sign adaptation directed them to the parking deck. There, at least, the crew that runs the parking deck was ready in full force. They were only allowing cars that had Elevation logos or were on their approved list into the deck. Everyone else was turned around. The lines were long, and I know people were frustrated.

As expected, our crowds were lower than usual. I don’t know the exact number because I never made it off the street, but I would say probably half as many as a typical Sunday.

Some quick word pictures from street-side vantage point:

  • Squads of law enforcement officials from around the state, walking with an intense look around the area
  • A Hummer with two soldiers, M-16s slung around their shoulders
  • At least 6 different motorcycle patrols checking in to the precinct across the street
  • 4 different bicycle police squads whizzing by in a blur
  • A mounted police patrol clip-clopping down the street
  • Black SUVS by the dozens, with sun-shaded occupants
  • Helicopters buzzing overhead all day long – both military and news outlets
  • Assorted vehicles of every size and shape, belonging to a broad array of law enforcement agencies
  • Construction crews bringing in, and installing, concrete barriers around the perimeter of the theater

And an image that sums it up pretty well:

photo from the Charlotte Observer online

We did the best we could, and I hope anyone attending Elevation Uptown for the first time or for the fortieth time felt as welcome as we could make it.

Special thanks go out to members of our Greeters, VIP, and Security Teams for pitching in and helping things go as smoothly as possible.

As always, our Parking Team rocks. Aaron, Tim, Ed – you’re the best!

I’m headed to the beach…

The Turn of a Phrase

It’s amazing what an impact a few words can have…

The map you see above is part of a draft report being prepared by a partnership of government, business, and citizens outlining some possibilities for the city of Charlotte.

It’s a little hard to see, but the area outlined in gold is what has traditionally been called Uptown – the area enclosed by the I-277 loop and I-77. It’s the big time – banks, corporate HQ, restaurants, sports facilities, and a few residential towers. It’s been the heart of the city.

And it’s changing…

Now notice the red circles – those are neighborhoods. They are mostly outside Uptown. Some have gone through decades of change; others are just now starting. In those neighborhoods are homes, businesses, parks, shops, and cultural events.

The visioning group mentioned above realized that Uptown can’t carry on with the dreams alone – it’s going to take a partnership of everyone working together.

That’s why they called it Center City.

It’s more than just business – or government – or residential areas. It will take all of these groups working together to fulfill the CenterCity 2020 Vision Plan.

It’s also time for the Church to step forward be a part of transforming the City.

viable | livable | memorable | sustainable

It’s going to be amazing…