Is Urban Church Planting the Best Way to Go?

In case you haven’t noticed, cities have been a hot topic of conversation recently, especially for evangelicals. We hear about the importance of “the city,” the need to support urban church-planting strategies and the reality of urban renewal. If demography is destiny, then the future is urban. If evangelicals want to reach people in the culture, we have to think strategically about where the people are—and the destination for many is increasingly “the city.”

Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard believe cities matter to God and to the culture, and that’s why they ought to matter to the church. To make their case, these pastors have authored a book, Why Cities Matter (Crossway 2013), which serves as a primer on the why behind city engagement.

What is a City?

First off, what is a city? Um and Buzzard respond:

“This is the essence of cities: Cities emerge when people choose to live, work and play in close proximity to one another.”

In other words, cities are places of dense populations, and because of the number of people, they are centers of power, culture and spirituality.

Why Do Cities Matter?

So why should we care about cities? One reason is the culture-shaping power of urban areas:

“Cities shape the world. What happens in cities doesn’t stay in cities. What happens in cities spreads—as the city goes, so goes the broader culture.”

It may seem like the authors believe cities matter primarily because of the cultural influence that comes from cities. But as the book goes on, they make clear: Cities matter because that’s where the people are. In other words, because people matter to God, cities should matter to us.

Why do cities matter to the greater culture? Three reasons. They are magnets, amplifiers and engines:

1. As magnets, cities attract all types of people.

2. As amplifiers, they provide an environment for the flourishing and sharpening of their citizens.

3. As engines, cities take the collective talents, skills and creativity of their citizens and translate them into world-driving technology, industry and cultural development.

Along the way, Um and Buzzard debunk the false notion that the Bible views the city negatively. They make a convincing case for seeing cities as part of God’s original intent, even though they admit that, due to the fall, the city amplifies the wickedness of humanity.

So, cities matter because people matter, but cities also matter because culture matters, and cities are where culture is shaped.

“Culture is established in cities—the places where diverse people are most densely congregated together to live, work, worship, create, learn and play. Scripture calls us to align our lives and talents with the missional heart of God by contributing to our culture’s common good—by making a serious contribution to our city’s art, business, music, law, literature, education, medicine, finance, etc.”

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Trevin Wax
Trevin Wax is first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ. Trevin currently serves the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. He has been a regular blogger since 2006 and regularly contributes articles to publications such as Christianity Today. He authored two books, "Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals" (2010) and "Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope" (2011).