Do We Really Need To Plant More Churches in the Inner Cities? Yes, but …

In the course of evangelical trends, it seems that church planters are the new front line ninja, guru, jedi master, seal team six, hip, cool, people to be. There is a lot of resources being put into planting new churches in large cities in the USA, UK, and Australia. And let me say, that this is a good thing. Planting more Christ-centered and Bible-preaching churches is a must for the growth of the church in major urban centers. It is also something that is needed especially in areas with new residential developments on the outskirts of cities and in places where few churches currently exist.

However, I wonder if this vision to keep planting more and more churches in these urban centers is somewhat overstated  in importance.

In Melbourne, Australia, there are three major church planting groups: Geneva Push, Acts 29 Network, and City to City. And that is not even counting the efforts of other Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Anglican churches involved in denominational church planting projects wholly apart from these networks. Now these are good organizations with godly ambitions and with good people (including many of my current and former students). But is this a bandwagon that too many people are jumping on and will there be enough room on the bandwagon for all these new churches?

I can’t speak for other places, but Australia has more churches than primary (elementary) schools. In my experience, the inner city areas are not lacking churches per se, though there can be a dearth of evangelical churches in some areas. What is more, and I say this with some degree of trepidation, I’ve come across many young men who seem to think they have some kind of destiny to become the next Mark Driscoll or the next Tim Keller. They have a church planting strategy from the movie Field of Dreams. Remember the motto of that movie: If you build it, they will come. But the reality is a bit more complex as church planters are not just battling against a secular culture, but competing with existing churches in their area and even competing with existing church plants. In addition, many church planters are abandoning their denominations to plant these new independent churches, leading to a kind of righteous remnant mentality, cultivating a very low ecclesiology without historic bonds to the past, and looking down disparagingly on pastoral leaders who decide to keep working within their existing denominations.

In fact, similar concerns are raised by my good friend, Rev. Josh Dinale, an Anglican Priest of an evangelical church in Brisbane, Australia. Read his post here. He raises five points of concern about the new church planting movement and I think he makes some legitimate points.

So I’m wondering, without disparaging church planting efforts, if we need to focus more on church rejuvenation over church planting in areas already well served with churches.

 

  • revdrdre

    very interesting! I planted a church in Brooklyn, NY and then later in Washington, DC. Now I’m the relatively new pastor of a young congregation (10 years old). I agree with your piece in that there has been a “bandwagon” mentality of late. I have seen churches come that cater to the up-and-coming, youthful segment of society and I would not really call these churches “inner-city” churches. They have only a peripheral concern for the poor and marginalized of the city. They are bigger on glitz.

  • Mark McDonald

    Very interesting insight. There are so many churches in Melbourne that will close in the next ten years if they don’t get good leaders. Whilst the trend is towards church planting and “doing my own thing” we need people trained and equip to continue ministry on our established churches. Ministry is very different when you get to start from scratch but we need to equip ministers to sow into established churches without “doing their own thing”. Perhaps good old fashion servanthood and apprenticeship is needed. I personally feel called to serve in the established churches so that their proud 100 year history can continue beyond the next decade. I hope continuing a legacy built by some else becomes a trend amongst theological students and ministry trainees.

    And I hope God keeps calling church planters too.

  • Mez

    Great points couldn’t agree more and I am a church planter seeking to work among the poor in the UK (although uninterested in being the next Mark Driscoll).

  • Roland Lowther

    I suspect the real problem is not the number of churches ( though that may the problem in some cases), but the attitudes and motives of leadership: leadership of traditional churches unwilling to extend their paradigm to encapsulate those ‘not like them’ and an unwillingness of the young enthusiastic leaders to persevere in a tradition that ‘appears’ to limit their scope. Both kinds of leaders need the grace to move out of their own ‘comfort zone.’

  • Hans Kristensen

    And here is my response to Josh http://learninginthegripofgrace.com/?p=1469

  • hamoncan

    That last line… Eureka!


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