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?


The Opportunity of Ministry in Cities

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” 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 review, update, and bring back timely information for today.

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.


Next: 7 Features of a Church for the City