Reach Cities to Reach the World

At the 2010 Lausanne III, Tim Keller of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church made a case that if Christians want to reach the world, they must reach the cities. Christianity won the 1st century Greco-Roman world because it won the cities.

Today, half the world’s population is urban.  According to the United Nations, almost all the world’s population growth in the next 15 years will happen in the cities, increasing from 3.6 to 5 billion by 2030.

God's Plan & Cities

In the Old Testament, Jerusalem was to become “joy of the whole earth” (Ps 48:2) to showcase a redeemed society under God. The prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh because God had compassion for its multitudes. When Israel was exiled to Babylon, they were instructed to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city”, and serve the common good even in their captor’s land.

In the New Testament, Jesus preached throughout the towns and villages, but His mission culminated in Jerusalem, where the Church was birthed when multitudes gathered from around the Mediterranean at Pentecost.  They heard the message and believed.  Upon returning home, they spread the Good News from Rome to Mesopotamia, and from Asia Minor to North Africa.

The 1st century world was largely rural. But Paul’s missionary strategy took him from city to city.  He spent extended time in the key metropolises of the Roman Empire: 18 months in Corinth, the commercial center; 3 years in Ephesus, the cultural center; and his final years in Rome, the center of political power.  Mission for the Early Church was essentially an urban movement.

The story of God’s redemption that began in a garden will end in a city—the New Jerusalem. Here a great multitude will gather from every nation, tribe, people and language to worship before the throne and the Lamb. 

Urban Neglect in 20th Century Missions

But for a good part of the last century, cities were neglected by the American Church.  As she withdrew from urban centers to the suburb, she lost influence in the important cultural capitals and overlooked the significance of cities in God’s redemptive plan, both locally and globally. 

Following the inland missions movement of the last 150 years and in answer to the call to reach the unreached peoples, the Church’s resources have been focused on rural and tribal missions, which are important and yet to be completed, especially in reaching the ethnic minorities in every nation. But we must wake up to the challenge of fast growing urban centers around the world—the megacities of our time.

21st Century Cities & Urban Missions

Urbanization driven by economic migration is a global phenomenon, especially in the 10/40 Window.  Home to 2/3 of the world’s population and 85% of the world’s poor, their cities are white for the harvest.

In order to reach the next generation, we must go to the world’s big cities; young people love the energy of urban life and flock there. To reach influencers, who shape culture and public opinion—people in media, the arts, entertainment, business, and education—we must engage them in the cities. Migrant workers from rural and minority areas as well as new immigrants in search of a better future are moving to the cities.

City life is chaotic and stressful as people vie for resources and opportunities; so people have a keener sense of their alienation and need. In order to survive the city’s diverse cultures and complexities, urbanites are generally more open-minded. Emigrants to the cities, now removed from the constraints of the social structures and traditions of their home cultures, are also more open to new relation-ships and new ideas, including the Gospel. Finally, the density and proximity of people in their homes, work places and cultural institutions could translate to greater accessibility and impact by the Church.

Tentmakers & 10/40 Megacities

Tentmakers are needed to reach the 10/40 megacities because most of their countries do not issue missionary visas and forbid church-planting.  However, the great majority of them are developing countries that welcome the tentmakers’ business and professional expertise that would benefit their development.  So with the right skills and credentials, missional professionals can enter these countries, make meaningful contributions, and earn the right to be heard.

The tentmakers' work gives them a legitimate place in the marketplace and life of the cities. City people typically work 50 or more hours a week; so they have many natural contacts with the local people. When tentmakers display a strong work ethic and do a good job, they gain respect and shine. Where the workplace is dark, as is frequently the case, people will see the light ever more clearly.

The Spirit’s Movement in Our Time

The movement to reach cities for God is gathering momentum.  Rick’s Warren’s Saddleback Church is planting 12 international churches in strategic locations around the world to serve as base camps to reach the nations for Christ.  Tim Keller is leading the Redeemer City-to-City initiative to facilitate gospel movements in global cities.

As the Church focuses on reaching cities to complete the Great Commission, the role of tentmakers in the 10/40 megacities is all the more vital with opportunities to serve in strategic ways. They can reach influencers at the top echelons of society and serve the needy urban poor.