Why Church Planting Isn’t Changing Cities and One Thing That Will

Why Church Planting Isn’t Changing Cities and One Thing That Will

We couldn’t see his face, but we could hear he was tearing up. His voice quivered over the phone line. Mark Harris was telling us his journey from isolation in ministry to embracing his place in the citywide Church.

His story moved us, but he was not the first (nor last) pastor we’ve heard recount a similar conversion.

Mark moved to Tucson to plant a church with the burning desire to change the city. In the first 10 years of ministry, his church of 100 people planted 18 churches of various denominations and in diverse communities. People were coming to Christ for the first time and more churches were being planted. But city statistics were worse off than before they came to Tucson. Murder rates, teen pregnancy stats and high school dropouts were all high. Bankruptcies were up and fewer people were interested in spiritual things. Every measure of city health was worse than when they started 10 years earlier.

Mark recalls: “I came to the disheartened realization that I wouldn’t live long enough using a church planting strategy to change our city.”

These feelings of desperation and disillusionment provoked a paradigm shift in Mark. His desire to see the city change remained. What he needed was a new strategy. The strategy, however, came at a cost.

“During that time, God changed my paradigm of what it meant to be salt and light in the city. I had been guilty of trying to make kingdom impact alone. God convicted me. If I was going to be a part of a biblical city transformation movement, I would need to repent and change my heart toward pastors and Christian leaders in the city who had reached out to me over the years, but to whom I had shown little concern. Truth be told, I believed they were part of the problem.”

We felt a somberness between pauses on the call. Mark’s vulnerability transformed a mundane conference call into a holy moment.

For the next 12 months, he met one-on-one with pastors in his city asking for forgiveness for his individualistic ministry mindset and methods. At the end of the 12 months, Mark received the lesson he had been seeking: If biblical city transformation is to take place, it will require the whole body of Christ, not just one pastor. Impact in the city will be in direct proportion to the willingness of Christians to become the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17).

Why does unity in the citywide church matter? Because it matters to Jesus. And, because it works—cities change when churches work together.

Like many popular ministry terms that are tossed around, there is more to “unity” than meets the eye. Unity is not cheap. Jesus purchased it for His followers with His own blood. It is often slow—too slow for many leaders. It can feel like an uphill battle wrought with misunderstandings and one too many no-shows. And yet, we are convinced that unity between churches in the city is the single most significant determining factor of the impact Christians have in their city.

Read Mark’s own words on his love for the citywide Church here. Or learn five must-have ingredients for strong church unity, click here.

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LizzieNg@churchleaders.com'
Lizzie Ng is the Analyst and Designer for the City Gospel Movements team at the Luis Palau Association. She compiles data from gospel movements to create resources which provide common language around gospel movements and helps leaders in key focus areas. The City Gospel Movements team exists to celebrate and accelerate collaborative gospel work in cities around the world. Visit citygospelmovements.org for articles, podcasts, and more.