My latest column at Christian Week:
Most of us, if we’re part of a church, are focused on the growth of that church. I’ve become increasingly convinced that we need to continue focusing on our individual churches, while also developing a concern for something much bigger. We need to develop a vision for a gospel movement within our area, and ultimately in our country as a whole.
Let me give an example. I pastor in Toronto, and I have my hands full just trying to stay ahead of the challenges in my own church. But no matter how well my particular church does, it will never be able to have the kind of impact that’s needed on the entire city. Toronto doesn’t need one or even a dozen churches to do well. It needs all kinds of churches from all kinds of movements to revitalize existing churches and to start new ones. This means we need to be working together a lot more than we would if we’re focused only on our own churches or our own movements.
We all need to learn from others. We’re used to learning from big and successful churches in other countries. It’s much more effective to learn from good churches in our own contexts. That means that I can probably learn more about effective ministry in my city from other churches in my city, and places like it. The resources I need may not be found within my own movement, but within churches that belong to other movements.
We don’t just need more and better churches. We need gospel movements in key areas of our countries. There are some steps we can take to get there.
We can all begin by praying for our own areas. Rather than praying for our own churches only, or even our own denominations, we really need to begin praying for the gospel to advance in our city or town. For instance, I’m hearing of groups in my city meeting to pray for the city as a whole, and all of the churches in it. This is very encouraging.
We can also begin to build networks outside of our own denominations. I’ve become friends with some key pastors in other denominations. Two are in new churches. Two are in churches that have relaunched. Two of us are from established churches. We have lots of minor differences, but are united by a common theological core and a concern for our city. We’re beginning to look for ways to work together.
This group has helped me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. We feed off each other’s energy and vision for our area. This is good, but even this isn’t enough.
As we began to look for ways to work together, we became aware of Tim Keller’s teaching on gospel ecosystems. Keller envisions movements within cities that go beyond one leader or one denomination, in which the percentage of Christians is in the city is growing in relation to the growth of the population. Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship teaches that when the Christians in a prison reach 10% of the population, the entire prison changes. The same is true, Keller says, in neighborhoods and in cities.
How do these movements get started? At the core, they begin with an effective, contextualized way of communicating the gospel to residents – particularly city-centre residents in major cities. Around that core, Keller says, cities need a number of church planting movements from within various traditions. Finally, cities need a number of supporting systems and networks, such as specialty evangelistic and mercy and justice ministries. When these are in place, movements will hit a tipping point.
I was a little overwhelmed hearing what has to happen, but I think Keller’s right. We definitely need to be thinking of kingdom growth rather than just church growth. We don’t just need movements of people between churches; we need the percentage of Christians to grow in relation to the population. This will take our best thinking and efforts, and lots of learning on the way. We can all start by praying and networking and go from there. Let’s start thinking about more than the growth of our individual churches. Let’s pray, and work toward, a whole lot more.