Winter 2015

Why Cities Matter

. . . and why the EFCA has something distinctive to bring.
by Kevin Kompelien and Mike Edwards

Around the world, nearly 5.5 million people move into cities every 30 days—the equivalent of the population of the entire San Francisco Bay Area.1 By mid-century, according to authors Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard in Why Cities Matter, “the world urban population will likely be the same size as the world’s total population was in 2004.”

The scale of this global urban increase is unprecedented in human history.2

In the United States we are also seeing a demographic inversion—the rearrangement of living patterns across an entire metropolitan area, all taking place at roughly the same time. In The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City, Alan Ehrenhalt explains that newcomers and minorities are locating farther outside the city center. At the same time, commuters of the past, mostly the middle class, face financial challenges with the increased price of fuel costs, so they are moving closer to their workplaces. The effect is a shift in the living pattern of people in the cities of America.

Why should that matter to us?

In many cases, both here and around the world, people who do not know Christ are moving into the places where most others do not know Christ. That should matter to us.

In Why Cities Matter, the authors describe cities as influential centers of power, culture and worship—radiating outward a worldview that is felt even in the most rural of places. Viral social media only accelerates the process. This should also matter to us. What happens in our cities has an impact on every one of our communities—whether cultural shifts or the heat of serious social issues such as immigration and race relations.

It’s crucial to grasp these cultural and demographic shifts. Yet equally important is to understand God’s heart for people—evident even in cities that do not acknowledge Him. Nineveh was one of these cities. In Jonah 4:10 we see God’s compassion toward a confused and lost city: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?”

God calls Jonah to the city and (eventually) the Ninevites respond by turning from their evil ways.

“Cities have more of the image of God per square inch than any other place on earth.” — Tim Keller

Cities are important to God because of the sheer mass of people gathering in them. Tim Keller describes this in Center Church: “God ‘has compassion on all He has made’ (Psalm 145:9). But of all the things He has made, human beings have pride of place in His heart, because they were made in His image (Genesis 9:6, James 3:9).

“Cities, quite literally, have more of the image of God per square inch than any other place on earth. How can we not be drawn to such masses of humanity if we care about the same things that God cares about?”

People matter to God. Cities are increasing as people flood into them. We cannot step away from this opportunity. We must strategically and intentionally take the gospel into the cities of the world.

To be clear, this is not an issue of focusing on cities at the expense of ministry in suburban and rural areas, but rather something that is “both/and.” We need vibrant and growing churches in rural towns, suburban communities and cities.

This is not a request for everyone to move to the city. We must follow our calling; that’s where the gospel will flourish. But we should also ask God to give us a passion to pray for and provide practical help to those who are called to the city. The EFCA is needed in the city.

With all the strengths and beauty we foster as the EFCA movement, we must be a presence in our nation’s cities.

What does the EFCA bring to the city?

Currently, the number of EFCA churches in large U.S. cities is small in proportion to our suburban and rural presence. Yet with all the strengths and beauty we foster as a movement, we must be there.

Consider these foundational truths of our movement and how they enhance the city:3

  • Where stands it written: The urban world is creating a belief system dominated by the idea of tolerance toward a diversity of beliefs; urban dwellers compromise truth to get along together. This calls for an anchor point in sound biblical truth—something that’s always been a cornerstone of the EFCA movement.

  • Preserving the core (beliefs), while stimulating progress (mission): We hold fast to core beliefs yet have the liturgical freedom to allow a wide range of church expression—diversity needed to reach diverse people. We are also nimble without bureaucratic structures, which allows us to act quickly, with freedom to be creative.

  • Significance of silence: Our firm belief in holding fast to theological “majors” while more loosely adhering to “minors” prevents us from falling into defining “who is in” and “who is out.” We can deal with diversity and not get lost in minor points.

  • Relationally strong: We have a relational warmth that is critical to the impersonal culture of the city. EFCA pastors and leaders also support one another well—an important aspect needed in facing urban challenges.

  • Concern for all people: People matter to us—all of them—and we’ve made it integral to our mission to value and pursue diversity. Cities are, therefore, a perfect fit for this passion: It will take all kinds of leaders to launch all kinds of ministries and multiply all kinds of churches to reach all groups of people in cities.

  • Kingdom-mindedness: We possess drive and passion to multiply the church, yet we desire to do this in collaboration with other churches and organizations. If we have Jesus in common, that’s far more important than a shared logo, as collaboration is critical to having impact in a city.

  • Historically interdependent: We recognize how working together allows us to do far more than working alone. In fact, a significant result of the EFCA movement’s 1950 “merger” was a strengthening of our domestic and international missions. Reaching cities calls for more of the same interdependent efforts.

  • Holistic expression of the gospel: Cities cry out for practical solutions to real problems. We hold fast the truth and proclamation of the gospel while intently expressing it with practical action.

What should we do?

First, we need to pray. The forces of spiritual darkness are at work. Through concerted prayer, God will show us how to reach His cities with the gospel. And it is only through prayer that a genuine spiritual awakening in cities will be possible.

Second, we must come face to face with our own feelings about cities. Far too many Christians seem willing to leave them alone to reap the consequences of their moral decay.

Third, we must work together. Cities are complex—the needs are too great and our resources too small to try to go this alone. Without question, that means finding more ways for local EFCA churches, districts, national and international ministries to work together. But at the same time, we must build relationships with ministry partners outside the EFCA who share our biblical and ministry values.

The world is moving to cities, and cities are influencing the world. The gospel needs to be there. The EFCA needs to be there. Let’s take the gospel into the cities of the world.

1Why Cities Matter, by Stephen T. Um and Justin Buzzard.

2For more details on urban population changes, download the 2014 World Urbanization Prospects (Highlights).

3Many of these distinctives were articulated by leadership consultant Will Mancini during meetings with EFCA national leaders in 2010, then articulated in “The EFCA in 10 Words or Less” in the spring 2012 issue of EFCA Today.

Kevin Kompelien is president of the Evangelical Free Church of America. He previously served more than 20 years as a local pastor in the EFCA, and then nine years as international leader of the Africa division with EFCA ReachGlobal. He and his wife, Becky, are members of Hillside EFC in San Jose, California.

Mike Edwards is a leader in EFCA ReachGlobal in Berlin, Germany. He previously served for 10 years in an EFCA church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Mike is a life-long student of the city.