The Bible says, “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.’” (Acts 18:9-10).
God loves people, and people are moving back into cities.
According to the United Nations Population Fund: “The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history. More than half of the world’s population now lives in towns and cities, and by 2030 this number will swell to about 5 billion.”
The historical trend for many churches has been outside the city. Many great movements began inside the city but inevitably moved out to the suburbs.
Cities create challenges for church planting.
Big cities are diverse. Chinatown, Little Italy––these are reflections of that diversification. You want Indian food? There are five restaurants in walking distance! Theater? No problem.
At any given crosswalk you will see a homeless guy, a lawyer, the gay couple, and just about every race or color you can imagine. You aren’t going to find one cultural language like you might in the suburbs. Talking about your children’s soccer game won’t make much sense when the large majority of people living in cities are young and unmarried. There are very few common shared values in the city.
Big cities are liberal. The large majority of people moving back to the city are young professionals. They want to be close to work and closer to the parties! They don’t necessarily share the same political, moral and spiritual views of the generation before them. Ranting against the President or liberal media won’t connect. Chances are (and if you are lucky) government officials and media come to church! City service requires a re-think of what is conservative and liberal.
Big cities promote opportunity. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”––so sang Frank Sinatra and he was right. Whatever it is, you’ll find it in the city, for better or worse. Most likely you will be ministering to the widest possible range of human potential you can imagine. From the overachieving businessman to the guy with mental issues who talks to himself. Cities promote and create opportunity. Learning to minister to the driven as well as the destitute will be a challenge.
It is these diverse cultural and economic possibilities that bring people into the city at the fastest rate in history.
I believe that the movement of Calvary Chapel, up to this point, has largely been a suburban work. This is not a negative but an observation. It’s what God was doing in us for many years.
Recently we have been hearing more and praying more for cities. I believe that God is giving us His heart because God’s heart is for people. And where God’s heart goes, we must go too.
We have a call to the city because people are there. I believe just as God spoke to Paul, He is speaking to us today: “I have many in the city.”
I grew up in the suburbs. When God called me to Hungary, I planted churches across this country in small cities. Every once in a while, but only when absolutely necessary, I would go through Budapest. I hated going through Budapest because it’s a big city with over 2 million people living in a small space.
I would get lost every time I drove up to the city, spending as much time in traffic as I did driving from my small town to get to the city! Frustrating.
Then God called me to pastor a church in the city and when I say “in the city,” I mean IN THE CITY, in the very heart of the city.
And I absolutely love it. I am privileged. God’s heart for people has changed my perspective. Where else could I go and have the potential to reach as many people as in the city?
Let’s consider our missional priorities accordingly.
It requires risk-taking. As so many Christians are leaving the “liberal” city, God is still calling some, not just to make a stand, but to fight for the souls of men. A prostitute’s story can end differently when Christians take risks for the sake of the gospel. That young professional’s life can be transformed when Christians take risks for the sake of the gospel. God told Paul to go on speaking and not to be afraid. Cities can be scary and overwhelming; we will have to take great risks.
City churches are messy. I don’t mean physically, though that can also be true. Lives are messy in cities; they give us a microscopic view of the world. Racial, social, economic and psychological issues come to the forefront more evidently in the city.
But the rewards are amazing. When the prostitute gives her life to Jesus, you know that God is amazing, not only because He saved that girl but because He let you be a part of His work. Usually the rewards of city service are small but it is so meaningful.
In many ways, cities are the heart of a state or nation. What flows out of the city will make its way into the suburbs and towns. We cannot avoid the cities. The facts are in: people are moving to the city and where the people are, God’s heart is too.
I pray that you will be willing to go wherever God sends you.