Popular questions on gospel movements and our best attempts to answer them
What is a city gospel movement?
A united, holistic, sustainable effort by the citywide Church to seek the peace and prosperity of their city.
- United: the united Church in a city working together with other sectors of society
- Holistic: living out and proclaiming the gospel in word and deed
- Sustainable: long-term vision and commitment to the city
What are the characteristics of a city gospel movement?
We identify gospel movements by four key attributes, first articulated by our friend Rick McKinley, in Portland, OR:
- First, the movement is gospel-centered. By nature, the movement holistically proclaims the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through word and deed.
- Second, the movement is church-driven in that it empowers local churches to come alive and make a difference in their neighborhoods. Unity among those churches is reflected in their shared vision to be the Church, eagerness to lock arms in service to the city and desire to see one another succeed—not in identical programs or even theology.
- Third, the movement is disciple-led. A gospel movement grows out of the lived witness of thousands of Christ followers taking the gospel to into the city Monday through Saturday.
- Finally, the movement is city-focused, honoring the expertise of city leaders and working with them to collaboratively meet the city’s needs. The goal isn’t to fix the city—what a burden that would be—but to seek it’s flourishing to the best of our abilities.
Here’s a helpful article by Timothy Keller: Defining a Gospel Movement.
How can we create church unity?
Church unity does not happen overnight. In many cities church unity has taken years to develop. However, no unity exists without a few people believing it is possible and who remain persistent about creating unity.
At the core church unity starts with trust, and in order for trust to develop, there needs to be time invested. For some this looks like a monthly meeting to eat together and pray for one another without the pressure of ‘doing’ and without the agenda of promoting each other’s events and programs. Other times this trust is created through working together to put on a combined event like an all-city worship night, a night of prayer, or a city-wide service day. In Ft. Lauderdale, FL and New Haven, CT, groups of 9-12 senior pastors go on annual retreats to pray for one another and enjoy friendship.
One of the most important factors to be remembered with church unity is to not give up. If it feels difficult, don’t quit and don’t stop believing it is possible. We have heard from veteran pastors who suddenly ‘get it’ and say, “WE are The Church.” They realize the Church is more than just their congregation and it revolutionizes the way they view congregations around them, and engage in their city.
Take heart because church unity is also the desire of Jesus. As stated in John 17:23: “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
What are some of the best funding models for City Gospel Movements?
Funding for a separate city gospel movement can sometimes be tricky. For others, it is not hard because they have one or two individual contributors who are willing to fund the movement. However, this is rare and not as sustainable as building a reliable and consistent funding strategy. Here are a few models that we have seen to be sustainable:
- Offices/staff based inside a church. This is a great option to create a movement with a stable entity of a ‘parent’ church or churches. We have seen this be most effective when the group is called by a different name and when other churches are invited into the funding model.
- Funded by marketplace and church contributors. This model is often created out of great collaboration. When people are invited into a greater story they will be more willing to help fund. Marketplace and church leaders are more willing to fund the movement when they see the movement has a clear strategy and the movement leaders have shown they have the capacity to execute the plan.
- Marketplace-only funding. This model often looks like creating a board of advisors who are committed long-term to financially investing in a separate organization whose main goal is to seek the peace and prosperity of the city.
What are some risks leaders are taking?
City movement leaders are marked by taking risks, believing God for greater things, and not being afraid to fail.
In Detroit, Life Remodeled is committed to revitalizing an entire neighborhood through creating community centers and cleaning up city blocks. Over the last three years, more than $15 million of funds and in-kind gifts have been invested in under-resourced neighborhoods. In Omaha, Abide is taking responsibility for the city block-by-block with a goal of having a refurbished home with a trained missionary to move into the home and commit to seeing the Kingdom of Heaven come to that block. They are currently at 38 houses. In Tyler, Texas, The Mentoring Alliance enveloped the Boys and Girls Club. Now kids are hearing the gospel every day in after school programs, through summer camps, and summer school. In Ft. Lauderdale, 12 senior pastors committed to meeting with together for one year to develop genuine relationships, and pray and confess sins together. Now that trust is developed, city movement work is moving at an accelerated pace.
Dream about things that no one church could possibly accomplish alone. Believe your crazy ideas may not be crazy, but inspired by God. Get excited that when you cannot accomplish a dream on your own, God ultimately will get the credit for making it reality.
How do you engage marketplace leaders?
Marketplace leaders are critical to a successful city movement. Engaging them is simply relationship building. Sharing a narrative of what their city could be like IF—IF the church was more united; IF civic, marketplace and the church were all working together; IF the issues facing a city were seen as everyone’s issues. Prioritize building genuine friendship. In the words of Dr. Jim Houston, city movement work is about “building a city of friends.” In sectors where you have real friendships with leaders, you will likely see the greatest favor and collaboration.
Like-minded city movement leaders exist in every sector. The marketplace is no exception; it is just a matter of finding them.
It is also important to tailor the way you cast the city gospel movement vision when speaking to various sectors of culture. With most marketplace leaders it is essential to effectively communicate a clear strategy (5-10 years), and show that outcomes are being measured—how are you benefiting the city? If you are not in the city, what will the city lose?
What are the top 3 things necessary for a successful city movement?
After interviewing over 100 leaders around the world we see some strong consistencies amongst successful city movements. At the core is strong church unity. This does not always mean a large number of churches, but that the churches who are united have a deep level of trust. Secondly, we see that successful city movements have excellent engagement from marketplace and civic leaders. And thirdly, robust city movements have a sustainable funding model.
What are the best books about city gospel movements?
Here is a short list of books that are must-haves if engaging in city movement work:
- Center Church by Timothy Keller
Quintessential textbook for church engagement in urban settings
- A Theology as Big as the City by Ray Bakke
Most comprehensive book on city gospel movement theology
- To Transform a City by Eric Swanson and Sam Williams
Explains how city transformation takes place through helpful paradigms based in the story of a city gospel movement in Colorado.
- Unlikely by Kevin Palau
Tells the inspirational story of the city gospel movement in Portland, OR
- Good Cities by Glenn Barth
Explains conceptual framework for city gospel movements
- The Art of Neighboring by Dave Runyon
Describes one of the easiest onramps to community transformation—getting to know your literal neighbor
How do I measure our efforts and impact?
This is a tough one. For such technological times, this area is grossly underdeveloped when it comes to city movements. At this point there are very few dynamic metrics for determining effectiveness and impact. We have established a city movement self-assessment tool for cities to rate their efforts in 10 different categories from church unity and prayer to school partnerships and marketplace engagement. This is an excellent starting point to measure the areas of strength and areas of growth for a city movement.
When it comes to tangible ways to measure effectiveness you can certainly track number of volunteers, volunteer hours, and projects. In Detroit everyone has to sign in before helping with a project. At Love our Cities, they help to set up websites that are designed to track city projects and volunteers. In the UK, the Cinnamon Network is doing Cinnamon Faith Action Audits which are taking data from the communities and showing the cities the financial impact that the faith communities are having in their city.
How do I keep school partnerships consistent? How do you keep churches engaged for the long haul?
We have some school partnerships that have longstanding history, but this is often not the norm. Either a school changes administrators, or people who were passionate about the partnership switch churches. One of the most effective ways we have seen school partnerships work is through a model School Connect in Arizona established. They have created a model which teaches the schools how to engage their communities so the churches are not always having to push into the school but that the school is reaching out to the churches as community partners.