Seven Qualities of a City Church
Churches of Christ have historically been a rural movement. During the twentieth century, many churches were located in small towns scattered throughout the South (maybe you grew up in one of these, like me). Congregations started popping up in suburban areas as new bedroom communities formed and people moved out of urban areas. In the 1980s and 90s, urban ministries began and churches for the poor were planted among inner-cities. But now, in the twenty-first century, as people move back into the city, there is a need for churches that are not rural, suburban, or even “inner-city,” but what I would call “city churches.” Almost ten years ago, I began to minister at a church located just south of the downtown area in a large metropolitan city. This church has sought to minister faithfully within its urban context over the past couple of decades. As we have been on this journey, I have noticed that our congregation has had to deal with certain issues in trying to minister within the city: issues that are often very different than the suburbs or a rural environment. This has caused me to contemplate the key characteristics of a “city church.” What does a church look like that is seeking to adapt to its urban context and to bring the gospel to bear upon its urban neighborhood? Below I offer seven qualities that we are seeking to develop at our congregation and may be a starting point for what constitutes a “city church.”
Multi-cultural – Cities are areas that are full of diversity in many forms. City churches, while possibly retaining a certain cultural rootage, should welcome and embrace different cultures, races, ethnicities, and even ideologies. They are going to look more heterogeneous, similar to the city in which they reside.
Place of mercy and justice – The division of rich and poor is in every location, but in a city it is more pronounced. Well-built homes can be nearby homeless persons sleeping under a bridge. City churches wrestle with this dichotomy and seek to be places of mercy for the poor and work for justice among urban inequities.
Flexible – Cities are very fluid, versatile, and even chaotic places. There are a lot of noises and activities. People are everywhere. City churches learn to adapt to constant change and high levels of mobility and activity by being flexible. They look for new models of ministry that fit the culture and offer grace in moments of chaos rather than rigid judgment.
Creative facility use – Real estate is very important in a city and because of that, the price can be quite high. Property that is only used an hour or two a week is detrimental to city and neighborhood purposes. City churches look to use their facilities creatively. They seek to be hospitable with their facility for the neighborhood or seek to combine their facility usage with other entities.
Grace-filled conversation – Cities are places of ideas. Educators, artists, and culture-shapers are located in urban areas. City churches offer an outlet to process new ideas through a Christian worldview. They do not shy away from tough topics but welcome honest conversations about relevant issues as a means for spiritual formation.
Family perspective – People are often lonely in cities. A mobile society often creates urban environments where families live separated from grandparents, young adults from parents, and elderly from children. City churches recognize the value of community. They seek to offer mothers and fathers for young adults, grandparents for young families, and children for the elderly as a part of the body of Christ.
Discerning leadership – The constant change in cities and the need for churches to adapt necessitates a different kind of leadership. Organizational leadership that focuses linearly by assessing a problem, brainstorming options, and selecting a solution does not always work. City churches demand leaders who attend to God’s leading, rely on his Spirit, and take risks in following God’s call.
More could be offered on what issues churches in the city deal with. But as our world moves from rural to urban and cities build up their urban core, there will be a need for more conversation on what is a city church. What does it look like for the people of God to live faithfully within the city?