(1) We have the precedent set by the Apostle Paul, who moved from one major city to another planting the gospel. (2) Our movement has a heritage of urban ministry among the poor, represented by John Wesley and Methodism, William Booth and the Salvation Army, and evangelism by the early American holiness movement. (3) There is no limit to the potential spread of the gospel and growth of the church among the enormous populations in the city. (4) Urban dwellers are less bound to tradition, less controlled by a previous culture, less prejudiced, and more open to new ideas. (5) Effective, wide-spread evangelism and revival have most often occurred among the poor. (6) Cities are where new movements and ideas either win or lose, determining whether or not they penetrate the society. (7) Mission fields are represented in the cities so much that a person could stay busy for a lifetime ministering to almost any foreign nationality in almost any major city.
A business consultant remarked, “My grandpa used to say, ‘It doesn’t matter if you have great bait or a flashy new lure, you have to go where the fish are.’” He continued, “That lesson applies here [in the commercial scene] as well.”
It’s also applicable to missions. We are to be “fishers of men,” so where are our “fish” located? Fifty-four percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, and that percentage continues to grow. In Guatemala, an EFM field, just 25% of the population lived in cities in 1950; by 2030 it will more than double to 61%. In Egypt, where Cairo is the second largest African city, those percentages are 32% in 1950, growing to 54% in 2030.
Many of us remain in small towns and rural areas because it feels more comfortable. Perhaps it’s time for us to think less of our comfort and more of Christ’s commission and go where the fish are.
A friend recently commented, “I wish my GPS had a feature to avoid the bad parts of the city.” Most people have that view of the city - it is a place to avoid. It is all too easy for most of us to do just that. We have no economic, political, or physical reason to go there – no shops that we need to visit, no work that we need to do – and “those people” seemingly have nothing to offer us.
I believe that our paradigm needs to change. We need to see cities as opportunities to be seized, not areas to be avoided. Millions of people from different backgrounds and cultures call the city home. Reaching them will increasingly mean going to urban places, and we will have to approach that “missionally,” finding creative ways of planting the church and making disciples. If we love the people whom God loves, avoiding cities is not an option.
The city: The heart of national life. As goes the city, so goes the nation. The concentration of eternity-bound people is found in cities. Yet for the most part, we have abandoned urban arenas across America. Many have lost the vision for seriously winning the lost in our cities. We nostalgically love to focus upon “the little white church in the wildwood” that we can “come, come, come” to. How are we going to reach the masses except that we penetrate the cities? We must “do missions” in the cities! The principles of cross-cultural ministry are applicable to urban areas [yet little recognition is given to the importance for missions principles in rural settings as well!] because one is confronted with cultural issues, leadership development, etc. The opportunities for ministry are immense in both small and large cities. Often we conveniently ignore the fact that the Apostle Paul travelled to and planted churches in cities…where the masses live!
Over 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Cities offer to the would-be missionary a concentrated number of people, souls for whom Christ died. A small army battalion was surrounded and outnumbered by the enemy. The leader of the underdog group bravely instructed his men, "We are surrounded on all sides by our enemies. Don't let one of them escape!" In the inner cities we are surrounded by teeming masses of needy people. Don’t let them be lost!
Cities also offer to the missionary a wide array of cultures from various regions of the world. Why not plant churches in America's cities with the strategic purpose of sending discipled converts back to their home countries as missionaries?
The inner cities of America are our "Jerusalems," of which Jesus spoke in Acts 1. Thus, we are commanded to go to the urban centers of our nation.
We can no longer ignore the ripe harvest field of our large cities.