Mission Strategy Bulletin, Old Series, Volume 1, Number 6

Eight Keys To Church Growth In Cities

Wendell Broom

A pith-helmeted white man walking down a jungle path -- the stereo-type of the foreign missionary. Yet the data shows that if the population of the world is to be won, much more than half will have to be won in urban settings. Most missionary training and thinking is still done in terms of villages and rural populations, or worse still, in terms of American population and culture.

In Understanding Church Growth (pp. 285 ff.) Donald McGavran lists "Eight Keys to Church Growth in Cities." The following is excerpted and summarized from those pages, with the recommendation that you read the original and see if any of these keys might unlock your metropolitan centers of population. As Dr. McGavran says, "Anyone who would use them must modify them to fit specific homogeneous units and sponsoring Churches. They are offered in the hope that church growth thinkers will carry the process further, and describe more exactly the keys which will unlock specific conurbations in which the Church is commanded to bring many sons to glory."

1. Emphasize house churches. The most common method of providing meeting places for new churches in urban areas is for the missionary to buy land and put up a meeting house. Widespread experience indicates that house churches may be better. Because of naturalness of surroundings, accessibility, financial feasibility, and intimacy in fellowship, house churches were important in New Testament growth, and they may be the key to "Rome-size" cities in our world evangelism.

2. Develop unpaid leaders. Phenomenal urban growth in Latin America has depended heavily on non-missionary, local church leaders who carry spiritual ministries along with their earning their own livings and keeping their places in the community mainstream. Training such men has always been the secret of their stewardship, and the history books of missions are ripe with good plans for such training.

3. Recognize resistant homogeneous units. "The city is not a homogeneous whole,bu~ rather a mosaic made up of hundreds of segments of society, a few responsive, many indifferent, and a few highly resistant. The obedient and intelligent steward of God's grace recognizes this and plans his work in the light of it." Jesus' instructions to shake off the dust and go on to the next village demands evaluation of "when they will not hear you." In urban clusters of several hundred thousand, the unit of rejection is not a Palestinian size village, but a homogeneous group of people within the city. The whole city has not rejected, but this cluster of associated people have. Look, then, for the responsive cluster and by-pass the resistant ones until the Lord cultivates them some more by Providence.

4. Focus on the responsive. Learn how to recognize these different clusters of city-dwellers so unlike each other (homogeneous units). They may be the recent immigrants from rural to urban living who are unsettled in spiritual life. "For a generation, or so, these are villagers at heart. Unless they live in unusually tight ghettos, they are hungry for community and are forming all kinds of new associations....City congregations that multiply establish a personal and corporate life that satisfies far better than the old cults and rituals did...."

5. Multiply tribe, caste, and language churches. "In some circumstances, building tribe, caste or language congregations is a key to growth. Part of the fe~ling of lostness in responsive homogeneous units in cities comes from the fact that the immigrants are not at home in the standard language used in the city. Even when they learn to speak it after a fashion, it never sounds as sweet to their ears as their mother tongue. They like to get together with those who worship in their own language....When discipling of the responsive homogeneous units is advanced, shifting into the national language and broadening the base to appeal to 'the Gentiles also' is desirable and, indeed, inevitable."

6. Surmount the property barrier. If urban churches demand million dollar real estate, they will not multiply adequately. "Unless some way is found for new congregations to get a place to worship, the multiplication of Christian cells becomes increasingly difficult." The solution may be a shack on an unused back lot, renting a hall or saloon, house churches--unacceptable in middle class America, but in crowded Hong Kong or Buenos Aires a real haven for hungry souls. "A church which has found a way to communicate the Gospel, where the number of baptized believers is constantly increasing and the smell of victory is in the air, eliminates the building bottleneck in cities much better than a Church which is not growing. A Church which grows greatly often thereby solves its building problem."

7. Communicate intense belief in Christ. "The prime ingredient in the patristic capture of the great cities of the ancient world was an intense, fervent faith....The spread of Christianity throughout urban populations is due to no more human appeal to dissatisfied groups of men. It is rather that believers submit themselves to God, believe His revelation, accept His Son as Savior. receive the Holy Spirit and press forward as new creatures, ...and they shall reign forever and ever." A casual faith will not win busy cities. Burning faith will.

8. Provide the theological base for an egalitarian society. "The Christian faith as it spreads throughout Afericasia has not usually consciously provided a theological base for that new world of the common man whose dim outlines loom through the mist. Yet everywhere, though in varying degrees, it has done so unconsciously. The Afericasian revolutions of the twentieth century have many causes. One of the more influential has been the concepts of self- government and justice which arose in Eurica....Christianity would be recognized as the religion which provides the bedrock for urban civilization."

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