Will You Give Me a Dollar

With each stop on the Giving Rocket tour, we’ve been continuing a social experiment and project called Will You Give Me a Dollar.  Basically, we are asking people we meet to give us a $1 bill for no particular reason at all.  The results and conversations have been amazing.

While this is a fun project, we’re learning some serious things and writing a book about those learnings. Here’s a little glimpse into the New York City dollar-asking experience. For a little more on the experience, visit the Dollar site.

Grace in the Old Testament

I recently finished reading Andy Stanley’s The Grace of God. Not only did I receive some tremendous encouragement and teaching, I thought the book would make for a great sermon series called “Grace in the Old Testament.” Most people don’t think of grace and the Old Testament together. In fact, some consider the Old Testament to be about the law and the New Testament to be about grace. But that’s a big mistake.

Here are a few title and subject ideas, inspired by various chapters in the book:

1. Grace in a Garden. God created an amazing environment that had just one rule – that’s something to consider about how God wants us to live. He gave humanity a purpose for living, a job, and company. Creation itself is a blessing and an act of grace.

2. Grace on Tablets of Stone. The ten commandments weren’t given to Israel until God had already established a relationship with His people.

3. Grace in the Belly of a Fish. The story of Jonah is really a story of grace. God gave Jonah a second chance, and the city of Nineveh a second chance. God isn’t interested in paying back people, but in bringing back people.

4. Grace for a Prostitute. In the story of Rahab, we see that God can punish sin but extend grace to the sinner.

5. Unending Grace. The life of David shows us that grace has no limit.

Have you ever preached on grace exclusively from the Old Testament? Maybe it’s time to give it a try.

Jeff Foxworthy Wants You To Preach Better Sermons

Have you heard about Preach Better Sermons, a FREE online event with Andy Stanley, Dr. Charles Stanley, Louie Giglio, Perry Noble, Jud Wilhite, Vanable Moody and Jeff Foxworthy.  It’s happening on March 15 from 1-4 EST.  All of these communicators will be sharing practical information on preparation and delivery, all to help you become a better communicator.

Check out this short video with Jeff Henderson and Jeff Foxworthy, and be sure to register for the event.

Jeff Foxworthy Wants You to Preach Better Sermons from Preaching Rocket on Vimeo.

You Can’t Lead From Behind Your Desk

In 2006, when I was doing the leg-work that would lead to the launch of a brand new church, I spent a lot of time creating strategies and systems. I wrote every word on our website. I drew up some pretty charts.  I created a darn good strategic plan.

And all of those things, while foundational, did not directly result in one person joining our launch team or showing up to our grand opening service. Nobody ever showed up at church with a print out of something from our website claiming that our doctrinal statement on heaven is what drew them in.

A computer screen is my comfort zone. And I like my desk. I’d be perfectly happy behind a closed door surrounded by books and connected to blogs. Such is the life of an introvert.

But my introverted personality quickly turned into a relational obstacle, and I failed to realize this important lesson: Leadership involves people, not just paper.

While strategies are helpful (in fact, I believe they are essential) I allowed myself to get lost in them and missed the bigger picture.

Musicians are not going to be developed via twitter. You can put out a twitter APB for bass players, and someone may respond. But frequent calls for help is a sign that there isn’t a culture built on relationship and mission.

You cannot make disciples via Facebook. You can find out what vampire you are most like, or join the pirate army in the fight against the Sith Lords or maybe even discuss that obscure Old Testament passage in the One Hundred Million Christians Strong Studying the Old Testament Group, but for all the social that Facebook brings to media, life isn’t going to happen there. It might be a window into life, but it’s not real life.

If we are going to make a difference, it’s going to involve conversations. We’re going have to push back from our desks, leave the confines of our keyboards, and go out there and talk to people.

Maybe it’s time to stop creating sending status updates looking for musicians and go listen to some bands play. Maybe we should stop sending emails to groups of ten people hoping for one response and take someone for a cup of coffee.

I cannot force myself into being an extrovert. But If I want to be an effective leader, I’ve got to lead where people are. And that’s not from behind my desk.

How Do You Create a System in the Church

Here’s a simple system for creating a system. (Ironic, isn’t it?)

1. Start with the end. Just like in communicating, start with the end. What do you want people to do, feel, or thing? What’s the desired outcome? If you can’t define a clear win, how will you know if the system works?

2. Get some people together. You can create a system on your own, but if it’s going to involve other people, you’re wise to involve them in the process. It’s hard for people to buy in to a process they didn’t help create.

3. Talk. Get out of the office and turn off the phones. Capture thoughts on a dry erase board or a sheet of paper. capture thoughts. Argue, debate and discuss.

4. Write it down. I’m convinced that God wrote the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone because Moses would have gotten them wrong if he tried to remember. If you want people to be on the same page, put some words on an actual page.  And if you’d rather start with 100+ templates instead of 100+ blank pages, grab Docs and Forms.

5. Review. Systems aren’t eternal – they evolve and change over time, Review them on a regular basis.

When Do You Need to Create a System in Church?

If you do it more than once, then you should create a system around it. Decide HOW you’re going to do it, and each time you do it, it gets a little easier. Here are some examples of where systems can help:

1. Sermon writing. Since you do it every week, what can you do on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual process to make your prep time more meaningful?  This is just one of the things Preaching Rocket is going to help you do.

2. Finances. You can build systems around counting money, thanking donors, communicating with your donor base, reporting and accountability. Think of all the repetitive tasks involved in church finances. Build systems so you don’t make mistakes.  Nothing will be better than Giving Rocket to help with this.

3. Hiring. Getting your hiring system right is more important than your next hire. Create the steps you’ll go through each and every time you need to identify and fill a staff role.  A hiring process is a part of Docs and Forms.

4. Planning events. How many of your events happen every year? Decide in advance when you’re going to start planning and promoting. Build a system and stop reacting to the calendar.

There are just four areas where healthy systems can really help.

Organize Your Church in 30 Days with My Free Course

Sign up for this FREE eCourse called Organize Your Church in 30 days and get 30 practical, action oriented lessons delivered to your Inbox over the next 90 days.  You’ll learn:

  • How to create calendars that actually help you execute
  • How to create systems and strategies that help your staff lead effectively
  • How some technology tools can save you time and save your butt
  • How to develop staff and volunteer leaders

You will also get sample documents and resources along the way to jump start your organizational process.  Sign up now…it’s FREE.

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Build a Better Core Team with Ten Minute Training

Your core group will influence the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of people in your church for the next several years. People on the Core Team aren’t enough…you need the RIGHT people on the team. You may have a plan or a prospectus, but unless the people on your core team reflect the mission, vision and values, your church might not get off the ground.

HERE ARE TWO REASONS THIS MATTERS

  1. The wrong people on a core team can absolutely kill momentum, passion and vision. Too many churches DIE in the early days because the first group of people is not on the same page.  Great people don’t automatically make great teams.
  2. Who you are is who you will become.  That’s why Lyle Shaller said, “Your first 20 members will determine who your next 100 members will be–even if there will be a next 100.”  You’ve GOT to get this right now, because your core group will be a microcosm of your entire church.  At this point, your mission and vision flows through your core team.

William Tinsley says, “Core groups are best developed in informal meetings of interested persons. Through these meetings relationships are nurtured, spiritual truth explored, and questions asked. A strong core group is developed that will give rise to a healthy new church.” (Breaking the Mold, p. 30)

But what do you DO during your core group meetings?  When you gather in a living room or a rented space with a small group of people ready to change the world, what should you talk about?  How do you best describe the hard work that lies ahead, communicate expectations, and build unity amongst this new group?

TEN MINUTE TRAINING IS THE SOLUTION

From my personal experience in building a core group and launching a church, I will speak DIRECTLY to the people in YOUR core group, as if you’d invited me to speak.

It’s a collection of seven videos, all ten minutes in length, you watch WITH your core group or launch team.  Each video covers one of these topics:

  • How to Protect the Unity of the Church
  • The Personal Responsibilities of a Core Group Member
  • Dealing with Change
  • Caution: Hard Work Ahead
  • You ARE the Marketing Department
  • This Isn’t Your Last Church
  • Meeting Immediate Needs through Serving

In addition to the .mov files, you’ll get a one-page PDF handout with a Bible passage and discussion questions. After you watch the video, you can lead your group through the discussion.

Add to Cart

This resource isn’t filled with theory or flowery language – I speak directly to some of the most important issues you and your core group will face in the early days.  I will deliver practical training on crucial topics.

“This is top notch training! I wish we had it when we started three years ago. I am making this required training for all of our future church plants.” – Zak White, Revolution Church

SEE FOR YOURSELF

Here’s a full-length preview of “The Personal Responsibilities of a Core Group Member.”  This is one of the seven videos you’ll get.

HERE ARE THE BENEFITS FOR USING THIS WITH YOUR CORE TEAM

  1. It’s easy to use.  You can use the videos and lead the discussion with little prep time.  This is important for planters who are trying to juggle many things at one time.
  2. Someone else will say what you want to say.  Parents know this, because they see their kids respond to someone else saying what they have been saying for years.  I will support your leadership and talk openly about how your team can support you and your family.
  3. I will share personal success and failure stories from my time building a core group and launching a church.  You and your team will be able to relate.
  4. Your core group meetings will have just the right amount of structure.  Each video is just ten minutes long, so I’ll teach a little bit and you can lead the rest of the meeting.

Ten Minute Training for Core Teams is an instant download and costs $149.  You will receive a link to download all seven videos and seven discussion guides.

In addition, you’ll receive a bonus audio session called From Core Group to Launch Team, full of practical ideas for developing a launch team.  In Ten Minute Training, I’ll speak directly to your core group, but in this audio seminar, I’ll coach you – the planter.

Add to Cart

BUILDING A CORE TEAM IS SERIOUS WORK

In order to plant a healthy church, you must have a strong vision and mission.  But you must be as equally serious about building a strong team. This plug and play resource will help you build a strong team that shares your mission and values, who will fight with you for the long haul.

As with all of my resources, I offer a no-nonsense guarantee.  If you aren’t satisfied with the resource, just let me know and I will promptly refund your money.

Everything Egg Drop

Do you want to put on a high-impact, highly-attended event that will attract hundreds or thousands of people and eventually connect them to your church?

Think about doing an Egg Drop.  It’s like an Easter Egg Hunt, only you drop plastic eggs from a helicopter.  And WAY more families attend. We got the idea from Elevation Church in Charlotte, and we did it four years in a row.  It fit with our values, it was a great way to invite children and families to church, it was a bold announcement to our community, and it helped us involve a bunch of NEW volunteers.

We learned a lot over three years and I want to share everything with you in this resource. I’ll show you how you can do this event on a shoestring budget and how to avoid some huge killer mistakes.

The Egg Drop Kit will give you everything you need to execute an Egg Drop for your community.  It’s a step-by-step guide that will teach you the folliwing things:

  • How to get a massive amount of volunteers to sign up at once
  • Where to purchase supplies
  • How to plan the details of your event
  • One decision that will save you thousands of dollars
  • How to connect those who attend to the ministry of your church
  • How to pre-register people for the event
  • How to promote the event for your community
  • How to keep children and parents safe
  • How to follow up with those who attend

In addition, we’ll give you all original documents, including:

  • Layererd graphics, logos, and design elements.
  • A frequently asked questions handout given out at registration
  • Volunteer sign up form and master list
  • Candy donation request letter
  • Press Reselease
  • Schedule
  • Sponsor and Vendor applications
  • Master planning timeline

Charlie Swain, from the Church at Cane Bay had this to say:  “I bought your Egg Drop resource…we had 4000 come out! It was unbelievable.  So many doors open.”

Get The Egg Drop Kit for $99 today via instant download.

Why Systems Matter in the Church

Today is part two in a series on systems in the church.  Today, I want to talk about why systems matter.  Here are three reasons.

1. Many of the problems you face are systems problems, not people problems. You can blame a person, but a good person in a bad system will produce mediocre results. If you fix the system, you’ll see better results.

2. You will save money. There’s a very real, tangible benefit to getting yourself organized – you’ll save real money. How much money is wasted because of poor planning. Rush jobs, overnight shipping, and high premiums can be avoided with some extra time that healthy systems will give you.

3. Systems allow volunteers to function at a higher level. If you create a good framework around your people, you’ll see them soar to a higher level. Too many times, we make the mistake of handing something broken and ineffective to a volunteer in the hopes that they can fix it. But nobody wants to jump on a sinking ship. Create a good system, THEN volunteers can thrive.

Up Next:  When to create a system and how to do it.

Your Church Needs Good Systems

A lot of people talk about the necessity of having good systems in the church, yet many churches don’t have them. In the next few series of posts, I want to talk about what systems are, when you need them and how to create them.

What is a system? Let me give you a few metaphors.

  • Systems are like pipes inside the wall of a house. You don’t want to see pipes, but without them, the toilet won’t flush. Pipes may not be pretty, but they are incredibly useful.
  • The body is a collection of several systems – there’s the digestive system, reproductive system, and neurological system. All of these systems work together. When one gets out of whack, the whole body is like that.
  • We live on Earth, which is the third planet in the solar system, created by God with a specific set of parameters. A slight variation in the earth’s axis and we spiral into space.
  • My computer runs on an operating system (OS 10.5 to be exact). If I have a problem with my operating system, my software won’t work. Downloads and apps are useful, but without an operating system, they are useless.

The church works like this. It’s organized mission. Focused passion. In order to have a healthy church, you need to have healthy systems. You can be missional, attractional, organic, passionate, evangelistic or any other buzz word, but if you’re not organized, then whatever you’re doing isn’t going to work as well as it should.

Stay tuned for some practical help on this important issue.

25% off The Egg Drop Manual

Easter is about 50 days away, and if you act this week, you’ve still got time to plan and execute an Egg Drop, a cool outreach event that can help you invite a ton of people to church.  I’ve got a resource that will give you a step-by-step plan to make it happen.  Use the code EASTER and get 25% off.  

The PDF will teach you these things:

  • How to get a massive amount of volunteers to sign up at once
  • Where to purchase supplies
  • How to plan the details of your event
  • One decision that will save you thousands of dollars
  • How to connect those who attend to the ministry of your church
  • How to pre-register people for the event
  • How to promote the event for your community
  • How to keep children and parents safe
  • How to follow up with those who attend

In addition, you’ll get all kinds of documents and resources, including:

  • Layererd graphics, logos, and design elements.
  • A frequently asked questions handout given out at registration
  • Volunteer sign up form and master list
  • Candy donation request letter
  • Press Reselease
  • Schedule
  • Sponsor and Vendor applications
  • Master planning timeline

Get the resource here, and remember, use the code EASTER to save 25%.

Stuff I Starred

After a few weeks addressing other topics, here’s a list of stuff I clipped into evernote, favorited on Twitter or starred on Google Reader.  It’s the 15th Stuff I Starred List:

  • Loved this post about hovering parents.  You know…the kind of mom or dad who is always there, never lets their kid try anything new, and probably makes the kid wash their hands.
  • Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • The pessimist complains about the wind; The optimist expects it to change; The realist adjusts the sails. – William A. Ward
  • I need one of these.  But I guess I’d have to jailbreak my iPad.
  • Brilliant post about why you should never retweet compliments.
  • Tim Keller writes about New York’s decision to ban churches from meeting at schools, effectively kicking out about 60 congregations. (A court issued a 10-day injunction yesterday, buying a little more time.)
  • Skye Jethani writes about Biblical masculinity.
  • “The best investment decision I’ve ever made is the decision to tithe.” – Truett Cathy, @ChickfilA. #2012TitheChallenge (via @jeffhenderson)
  • Scary study: Nearly half of seniors die with less than $10,000 in financial assets. money.us/AjWhtq @nberpubs
  • “It is all the same to me if a man comes from Sing Sing Prison or Harvard. We hire a man, not his history.” – Henry Ford #potsc (via @sarahcunning)
  • Wonder what happens to all those pre-printed championship shirts from the losing team?  Here’s the answer.
  • Jesus’ core team wasn’t exactly a crack squad of theologian-creatives. Pastors/planters, don’t idolize an idealized A-Team. – @jaredcwilson
  • To exceed a guest’s expectations, take time to see things from their perspective and go the “extra inch.” – @DisneyInstitute // I love the phrase “the extra inch”

Launch Another Service

If you only have one church service and you’re out of space, don’t build a building.  Add a second service.

Why You Should Start a Second Service

1. It’s good stewardship. Don’t go spend money on expansion until you are having as many services as you can in your current facility. We do four services on Sunday morning, and though it wears me out, I can rest the next day. I’m not spending money on bigger facilities only to use them 2 hours a week.

2. It’s better for your volunteers. People say they don’t want multiple service because it’s hard on volunteers. Umm…just the opposite is true. When you have two services, your volunteers can serve one and work one. You can also do away with administering volunteer rotations.

3. It gives people options. People that don’t go to church like options. People in general like options, which is why restaurants serve different things and they make 734 kinds of toothpaste. Some people like an earlier service; some people like to sleep in. Some people would rather go on Saturday night. Give people options, don’t make them cater to your preferences.

4. It forces you to a tighter schedule, and that’s probably a good thing. I’ve rarely heard people wish for longer sermons and longer services, so when you have to schedule things a little tighter, it really does help.

5. It’s not 100% more work, but it can make a 100% difference. You’re already writing a sermon and the band is already rehearsing the songs, so why not maximize your preparation?

When Should You Start Another Service

1. Before you think you need it. Yes, you can do this too soon, but in 90% of churches, a second service would help you be more healthy.

2. When school starts, in January, or just after Easter. Choose a strategic time of the year to launch your new service.

How Do You Start Another Service

1. Drip the vision to your leaders before you drop the announcement on your congregation. Ask key volunteers to go where needed, and let them know why it matters. Don’t just leave it up to sign ups to see where everyone will shake out. Divide on purpose.

2. Six weeks before you make the move, preach an entire message on volunteering and sign up a bunch of brand new volunteers. Preach on a passage like Acts 6 and ask people to make a commitment to serve somewhere. Take the next six weeks to get them the training they need and assign them to an apprentice.

3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Launching another is a big deal, so make sure you carve out plenty of time to communicate to the congregation. Don’t mix this in with three other big events.

4. Adjust the starting time for everyone. When you introduce a second service, ask everyone to make a switch. If you have one 11am service, don’t add a second service at 9am. Instead, opt for a 10:00 and an 11:30 service. Or go for 9:15 and 10:45. When everyone has to make a new choice, you’ll even out the audience a little bit and keep from people from an unhealthy ownership mentality.

What’s your experience with multiple services?  What have you learned?  Leave a comment and share with the community.

A Case For The City

A Case for the City
Why Christians Should Move to the City and Why We Must Start Churches There

Some say the world’s first cities emerged in the Fertile Crescent, situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Ancient Mesopotamia.  Archeologists have found other evidence for urban areas in the Middle East dating back to perhaps 8,000 B.C.  Cities have existed for a long time.

Cities came into existence for a variety of reasons.  Some were forts or trading centers that gradually increased in size.  Cities like Athens became cultural hubs, while cities like Rome were centers of commerce.  Others owe their importance to religion, being centers of worship. Many large cities today can trace their roots back to the industrial revolution, where factories provided jobs and attracted people.

In 1800, only three percent of the world’s population lived in cities.  Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. The United Nations says the world’s urban population is doubling every 38 years and estimates that three out of five people will live in cities by the year 2030.  For thousands of years, people have been congregating in cities; it appears that this trend is accelerating.

The Bible and The City

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, “Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:4-7

The Bible is full of concern for the city.  The above passage indicates that Jewish exiles in Babylon were actually sent there by God.  They were to live in the city, raise their kids in the city, and look to the welfare of the pagan city.  The city wasn’t the enemy – it was a crucial part of God’s purpose.  God’s people weren’t there to boycott or to separate, but to settle down, live life and influence the culture.

It stands to reason that if God-fearing people would live life intentionally in this urban environment, then the city itself would reap spiritual and physical benefits.  James Boice says that the single most effective way for Christians to be “salt and light” and a “city on a hill” would be for a large percentage of the nation’s believers to move into the largest U.S cities and live out their lives there.[1]

In the final words of the book of Jonah, God shows his concern for the 120,000 people living in the city.  However, the Bible also mentions the cattle.  In an agrarian and farming society, cattle were central to the economy.   Here, God is demonstrating his concern for the economy and welfare of the city.

Ray Bakke argues that Christians are the only people who can truly discuss the salvation of souls and the rebuilding of city sewer systems in the same sentence.   From Isaiah 65:17-25, Bakke says that when cities are filled with the peace of God, the result is:

  • Public celebration and happiness
  • Public health for children and the aged
  • Housing for all
  • Food for all
  • A strong family support system
  • An absence of violence
  • Meaningful work

These are not liberal or social justice issues – they are Biblical issues.  Christians and pastors should seek the welfare or peace of the city, actively seeking to meet needs, do justice, and benefit the general well-being of residents.

The city has a special place in God’s heart and God’s Word, with more than 1,200 references to the city in the Bible.  Of course, heaven is a city.   We know its dimensions and description, and we know that people from every nationality will be represented there.  The book of Revelation uses urban language to describe our eternal home.  If you’re biased against the city, then you might have a difficult time adjusting to heaven.

The Church and the City

With his disciples gathered around, Jesus told them that they would go into the world and be his witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem, extending to Samaria, and ultimately reaching the ends of the earth.  Those disciples were gathered in Jerusalem, the hub of Judaism.  Jews from all over the world would come to the city to celebrate Pentecost, and it was here that Peter preached the sermon recorded in Acts 2.   People from the countryside, heard the sermon preached in the city, and the church grew rapidly.

From their location in Jerusalem, these disciples took the message of Jesus throughout the world, primarily moving from city to city.  As people were converted to Christianity, they formed communities of faith.  In the book of Acts, you’ll notice that Paul planted churches in cities along major trade routes.  These were strategic and influential locations. The early church grew and increased in influence because it was an urban movement.  In contrast, the modern church is losing relevance because we are avoiding the city.

If we penetrate cities, the gospel will travel.   To borrow more language from Bakke, large cities act as magnets – drawing people into them, and magnifiers, broadcasting ideas into the surrounding areas.

Why Christians and Churches Must Engage the City

First and foremost, cities are populated. There are more than 500 cities in the world with populations greater than 1 million people.  There are twenty-one “mega-cities” – cities with a population of more than 10 million people.  Like never before, people are gathering and living in cities.

Seventy-five percent of the United States population lives in urban areas.  Nearly one in five Americans lives in one of the five largest metropolitan areas in the country.

New York has a population of 12 million people, with more than 20 million people living in the larger metropolitan area.  Just three percent of the city is evangelical Christian.  We send mission teams to foreign countries that have a larger Christian population.

It makes sense that if we want to go into all the world and make disciples, we should start where the majority of people live.  Like never before, people are flooding into cities.  The church must go there.

Secondly, cities are diverse.  Chris Clayman from All People’s Initiative[2] reports that there are over 500 language groups in New York City with significant population.  With many ethnic neighborhoods, you can minister to many groups of people in one city.  If you reach New York, you really can reach the world.  Cities tend to be more diverse than small towns, suburbs and rural areas.

Thirdly, Christians should be about the good of the city.  Jeremiah 29:7, a verse quoted earlier, shows that God’s heart for a city, even a wicked city like Babylon, should translate into Christian concern.  Simply put, God cares about the economy, the education system, and the political environment.  Daniel, Moses, Esther and Nehemiah are all Biblical examples of people who were raised in secular cities, who impacted their culture for God.

In Genesis, we see Abraham’s negotiation for the survival of Sodom based on the presence of ten righteous people living in the sinful city.  In Jeremiah 5, we learn that God indeed saved a city because of the presence of just one righteous person.

“There is a relationship always between the presence of the godly and the preservation of communities,” writes Ray Bakke in A Theology as Big as the City.[3]  If Christians took hold of the gospel, and lived out their faith in cities, we could see renewal and transformation.

Fourth, cities are influential. New York City is arguably the most strategic city in our nation and the most influential city in the world.  It is a hub of international finance, a leading center for the arts, and headquarters for the United Nations.   Cities like New York influence the beliefs and behaviors of the entire country.

Socrates said, “The country places and the trees don’t teach me anything; the people in the city do.” Cities shape us through their cultural influence. Cities are the epicenter of new ideas, trends, products, and innovation.  They influence towns, villages, other cities, and the world. Major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas can be a training ground for church planters and church leaders.  Churches in these cities can influence churches in surrounding areas.

 

Finally, cities need Jesus. The Church Multiplication Alliance[4] says 20,000 churches need to be planted in order for New York City to have the same population to church ratio as most southern states.   Millions of people live in New York, and when compared to other parts of the country, the city is underserved by evangelical churches.

David Claerbaut, in Urban Ministry, said, “Christianity has failed to make an impact on three major areas: The Hindu culture, the Islamic society, and the major cities.”  If we want to reach the country for Christ, we should start in the cities.

In saying this, I do not believe God is calling every Christian to live in the city and every church planter to begin a new work in the city.  However, I do believe that far too many Christians pursue comfort and safety, avoiding tough places along the way.

Children in the City

Some argue that large cities are not good environments to raise a family.  However, there are several reasons TO raise children in the city.

  1. Their faith will be challenged.  It’s not the job of a parent to protect their child from every bad influence, but to teach them how to respond and live.  Craig Groeschel says that it’s the job of the parent to transfer a child’s dependence from their parents to God alone.  Living as a Christian in the city is a great way for parents to train and equip their children to be followers of Christ.
  2. In the city, children are exposed to culture, art, and music. These powerful forces can shape education, hobbies, and faith.  Cities provide tons of opportunities that do not exist in other places.
  3. Children can have diverse friendships.  Though we have come a long way, we still have much to be done in the area of racial reconciliation.  Racism is a serious issue that cuts against the heart of the gospel.  It’s important that my children have friends from different races and faiths.  This can happen to a greater degree in the city.
  4. Kids can be missionaries, too.  Missionaries frequently serve oversees with their families, and they say their families are stronger because of it.  Serving Jesus, advancing the gospel, and being the church isn’t just a job for adults.  Children can and should be a part of the process.
  5. The city will teach them not to be intimidated.  I want my children to own their faith, and the city will help sharpen that.  But it will also help them learn to have conversations with people from all walks of life.

Christians Must Integrate Their Life and Faith with the City.

Bob Roberts, the Senior Pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas[5] discusses a model of ministry centered around the word domain.  Society is made up of several domains: Economic, Arts/Recreation, Medical, Government, Education, Science/Technology, Media, and Social.    Community transformation can occur when just a few Christians engage these domains with the gospel.   Bob argues that the Great Commission will not be accomplished because of pastors and missionaries (though they are valuable), but by the disciple of Jesus, who willingly lives, serves and works in his or her particular domain.

In this sense, one’s vocation is connected to one’s calling.  The ministry of the church is decentralized, but its impact is heightened.    Rick Warren captured the heart of this with his statement that “every member a minister.”  Christians must also come to see themselves as missionaries.  The Christian teacher doesn’t need to work in an exclusively Christian environment; in fact, she should teach in the worldly arenas where her influence is most needed.  The Christian businessman does not need to resign from his position to work for the organized church; he can conduct business guided by Christian principles and influence his colleagues with the gospel.

As Christians work in their respective fields, and live intentionally, God is honored.  This is the heart behind Christians engaging in whatever domain of society they find themselves.  It’s a model of ministry that’s reproducible and sustainable.

Churches Must Launch New Works Focused on the City

Starting new churches is a crucial component of the great commission, and it was the strategy of Paul in the book of Acts.  As Jesus was a church planter (see Matthew 16:18, we should work to spread the gospel through establishing local, contextualized churches around the world.  Tim Keller gives five great reasons to start new churches.

  1. The best way to evangelize a city is not through evangelistic programs but through evangelistic churches.  Nothing else—not crusades, outreach programs, parachurch ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes—will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.
  2. The best way to increase the number of Christians in a city is not through church renewal but through church planting. Transfer growth only moves Christians in a city around from one church to another; therefore, the only way to significantly increase the number of Christians in a city overall is by significantly increasing the number of new churches.
  3. The best way to renew the existing churches of a city is by planting new ones.  Congregations who engage in church planting efforts rarely suffer when it comes to attendance or giving.  In fact, existing churches often see renewal and revival that accompanies joining with God’s mission.
  4. The best way to reach the sheer diversity of the city is through new churches.  New churches are the best single way to reach new residents, new people groups and the younger generation for Christ.
  5. New churches are the only ministries that become self-supporting and expand the base for all other ministries in a city.  Because new churches bring large numbers of non-churched people into the life and work of the kingdom, church planting is by far the fastest way to grow the number of new givers to the city’s kingdom work. New church development, then, is the ‘tide that lifts all boats’ and offers the best way to help all the other ministries in a city thrive and grow.

Barriers to Church Planting in the City

Cost.  While this is not the most difficult barrier, it’s the largest one on the surface.  Many church planters are immediately turned off by the impossible task of living and doing ministry in the city.  New York is the most expensive city in the United States.  What costs $1 in Kansas City, costs $2.17 in New York City.  Housing is four times the national average, while income is only twice the national average.  Other cities are also expensive.[6]

However, once a church is established and growing, there’s a strong financial base for ministry.  What’s expensive on the front end can yield exponential return on the back end.  Churches from across the country must support churches in the city, to a greater degree than other places.  Cities offer the greatest opportunities for exponential influence.  Yes, the risk and cost are higher, but the impact can be greater.

Social Learning.  Language isn’t the only cultural barrier; one must learn the context of life and faith in a city, and this is drastically different from life and faith in the suburbs. The city is expensive.  It’s complex.  It’s mobile.  American Christianity has historically valued privacy, safety, homogeneity, sentimentality, space, order, and control…the city is filled with ironic, edgy, diverse people who do not value these things at all.  Pluralism and post-modern thinking are the norm.

Cultural adaptability is a critical skill for every church planter. When the church planter learns, he must learn more than facts and figures; often, he must learn a new way of life.   Like Daniel, church leaders must master the traditions (while often rejecting the values) of a culture and context.  When moving to a new city, Tim Keller and City to City strongly advocate the idea of a “year zero” – taking a year to learn the hopes, dreams, and fears of a city before launching public services.  Failing to contextualize properly will cause you to launch the wrong kind of church, and could ultimately lead to catastrophe.

Models of ministry that are effective in the south may not work in the northeast.  In fact, they can actually prove to be detrimental, to the church plant itself at to the witness of the universal church in the city.  It’s absolutely imperative for the planter to take time to understand the ethos of the city and do the hard work of contextualization.  A lot can be learned from books, blogs, documentaries, but a significant amount of time must be devoted to in-person intelligence gathering on the ground.

Many church planters do not have the staying power to weather the initial storms that come in the first few years.  When funding dries up or ministry doesn’t follow their preconceived notions, they move on to easier ministry opportunities.  Planters must be committed to learning, and act with patience, steadfastness and faithfulness.

High Turnover of People.  Tim Keller says, “The rapid turnover and high attrition rate of city dwellers poses a major challenge to the church planter seeking to develop committed leaders in his nascent congregation.”  Developing leaders and making disciples in the urban context is different from suburbia.  Discipleship, leadership development, and relational evangelism all face significant challenges due to the high turnover rate of people.

Conclusion

In North Georgia, there’s one evangelical church for every 750 people.  In metropolitan New York, there’s one evangelical church for every 40,000 people.  Though it’s expensive and difficult, we MUST find ways to plant a large number of churches in large cities.  When we do, we will see a trickle-down effect and regional influence.

Just like New York has become a hub for media, fashion and finance in this country, the city can become a training center and hub for church planting.  The gospel compels us to overcome the obstacles and respond in faith.  The mission is critical and the time is now.

Again, not every Christian should move to the city.  However, many more should.  We must be open to following God to difficult places, choosing to heed God’s call over our own comfort and safety.



[1] James Montgomery Boice, Two Cities, Two Loves: Christian Responsibility in a Crumbling Culture (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

[2] Learn more about the All People’s Initiative at www.bcnychurchplanting.org/uploaded_files/API%20Flyer.pdf

[3] Ray Bakke is one of the leading voices on urban life and ministry.  I highly recommend this book to everyone wanting to learn more about God’s heart for the city.  http://www.amazon.com/Theology-Big-City-Raymond-Bakke/dp/0830818901/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1296834244&sr=8-1

[4] The Church Multiplication Alliance is a partnership between the Redeemer Church Planting Center, The NYCLC, Concerts of Prayer Greater New York, 10 partnering denominations and the Churches of Greater New York.  The purpose of the CMA is to promote and pursue strategic collaborations to sustain an effective church planting movement in metropolitan New York City.

[5] Northwood Church provides training to church planters through a four-day module.  Learn more at http://www.northwoodchurch.org/glocal_ministry.php?id=13&tab=23.

[6] Here’s a simple cost of living calculator that will compare your current annual salary to what you need to make in a new city:  http://www.bestplaces.net/col/