Why should we plant churches in the city?

The how and why of meeting the evangelistic challenge of today's great cities.

Chad Carlton is a seminary student at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

I don't know how to plant churches in the city. I have had absolutely no experience. I am merely a seminary student with just two years of pastoral experience. How could I even think about such a challenge? And yet I want to try it.

I pour out my heart in prayer. "Lord, how can I do it?" I ask. The answer comes, "Trust Me. Believe Me."

It's time for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to focus more particularly on urban ministry, to emphasize once again the great needs of the cities. It's not that we have never done anything in cities before or that nothing is going on now. It is just that our focus needs to change if we are ever going to match the challenge of massive urbanization taking place worldwide.

Missiologist Roger Greenway says, "In view of the rapid growth of cities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the internationalization of cities in Europe and North America, it is no exaggeration to call cities the new frontier of Christian missions."1 Seventh-day Adventists must focus on cities if we are going to faithfully fulfill the gospel commission.

But how should the Church reach these sprawling giants for Christ? In brief, new churches need to be planted. Russell Burrill has shown that Adventism began as a church-planting movement and needs to regain that focus.2 Indeed, the most productive evangelistic strategy is planting churches. Groups of disciples must be formed to provide fellow ship, equipping, edification, and ministry training so that the work of Christ can be moved forward.

Postmodernism and the cities

The need for urban evangelism becomes more acute in the face of the challenge of post modernism. Postmodernism is not a minor philosophical curiosity or a passing phenomenon. It is the most significant thing to strike Western Civilization since the Enlightenment. Postmodernism looks at the world, reality and meaning in a fundamentally different way.

Postmodernism is open to all things spiritual. People have probably not been this open to the spiritual world since the Middle Ages. Although the postmodernist looks at spirituality in terms of the concerns of the present, we can take advantage of such aspirations. We need to plant Adventist churches of biblical integrity that demonstrate to postmodern urbans the true spiritual understanding of the universe—in the context of a Creator-Father God who is even bigger than the God placed in today's rational box. We need churches that are able to show people convincingly that the Bible answers their questions relating to humanity's past, present, and future—the very answers postmoderns are seeking.

Perhaps the greatest felt need of postmodern urbanites manifests itself in the arena of relationships. Understanding this, we should plant churches that value authentic biblical community and highlight it as an asset. Church members should see themselves as ministers willing to do the sometimes difficult but meaningful work of entering into people's lives. They should spend time in building relationships with struggling people, sharing their traumas and celebrating their joys.

But this can only happen if we are willing to actually go where the people are. That means we should plant churches where people are and encourage members to live in their midst, work with them and enter into meaningful relationships with them. Only then will the postmodern urbanite be willing to listen to the gospel. Only then will the secularized city dweller even consider embracing the alter native of Jesus Christ. They must see the power of the gospel demonstrated in the lives of Christians who are truly their friends. "To be effective and successful in urban ministry, the worker must build genuine credibility. This can be achieved only through involvement with people individually and communally."3

Ellen White and the cities

Toward the end of her life, Ellen White increasingly became burdened with the dilemma of the cities. She wrote numerous letters encouraging church leaders to work in the major metropolitan expanses. At one point she became so disturbed with the lack of emphasis being placed on cities that she refused to grant the General Conference President an interview!4 This is especially significant because of the respect she held for church leadership. She became increasingly aware that the church needed to make major adjustments in order to change the way it had been doing things.

In 1906 she wrote, "The cities must be worked. The millions living in these congested centers are to hear the third angel's message. This work should have been developed rapidly during the past few years."5 In later years she continued to feel that the efforts being focused on the cities were still inadequate. "At the present time there is not a thousandth part being done in working the cities, that should be done, and that would be done if men and women would do their whole duty."6 She said, "I appeal to our brethren who have heard the message for many years. It is time to wake up the watchmen. I have expended my strength in giving the messages the Lord has given me. The burden of the needs of our cities has rested so heavily upon me that it has sometimes seemed that I should die."7

The focus of the Church

Does the church today view the cities of the world with the same priority and significance? Are we willing to give our lives for the cause of the cities? Did Mrs. White's words bring about the results she longed for? Did the Adventist Church become a church focused on warning the cities? Sadly, our priorities have not shifted that easily.

It is true that Ellen White argued strongly for country living. She is, of course correct in saying that such a setting is ideal. But it is also crucial that missionaries willing to risk the dangers, move into the cities to build credible relationships, communities of faith and churches that will reach the urban person who would other wise never hear the gospel in the setting of the three angels' messages.

Many are currently working in and for the cities. Global Mission has designed creative programs to boost the work in unreached urban areas. Many churches already exist in these areas. African-American, Hispanic, and ethnic congregations are growing rapidly in some North American cities. Recent Net Evangelism efforts have targeted major metropolitan areas. While appreciating these efforts it is time to do more to intentionally plant new churches in the metropolitan areas.

God sent Jonah to warn Nineveh that it would soon be destroyed. Jonah resisted this call. God is sending us to the cities again today. What is our response?

1 Roger Greenway and Timothy Monsma, Cities: Missions New Frontier (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1989), xi.

2 Russell Burrill, Rekindling A Lost Passion (Fallbrook, Calif.: Hart Research Center, 1999), 245-246.

3 Greenway and Monsma, 249.

4 See Gilbert M. Valentine, The Shaping of Adventism: The Case of W.W. Prescott (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1992), 208.

5 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1974), 35.

6 Ibid., 29.

7 Ibid., 34.

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Chad Carlton is a seminary student at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

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