God’s Most Effective Strategy
Traditionally, missions were referred to as the hinterlands, the rural areas of the world. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution people began moving to the cities. But while the world has been changing in dramatic ways, missionary agencies have only begun to prioritize reaching urban areas in the past few decades. While the world’s population has been migrating to the cities, missionaries have continued to gravitate to the small towns, especially with church-planting efforts in the United States. This change in priority is slow, partially because the sending church still conceives “real missionary work” as work in the tribal areas. Fortunately, this view is changing. Ray Bakke stated it well when he said, “Missions is no longer about crossing the oceans, jungles, and deserts, but about crossing the streets of the world’s cities.”1
Much can be gained by studying the missionary work described in the New Testament. The greatest example can be found in the life of the Apostle Paul who was well prepared for his mission. Born and raised in the Gentile city of Tarsus, Paul was a Roman citizen. He understood the Greek culture, Roman law, Gentile society, and pagan religions; he therefore knew profoundly the people to whom he had been called to minister.2
Most of the theology that we have came from the Pauline Epistles. It is time that we begin patterning our mission strategy after the strategy that Paul followed. As he planned his mission trips, Paul simply plotted the larger cities and moved from one to the next, planting churches everywhere he went.
The entire ministry of the Apostle Paul was focused on cities. He spent most of his second missionary journey in Corinth, the largest city in Greece with 600,000 people. In his third missionary journey, Paul spent three years in Ephesus, the largest city in Asia Minor. Paul went from city to city and spent most of his time in the largest metropolitan areas. Apparently his strategy worked. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of the population of the Roman Empire were Christians and were established in major urban areas.3
Why would an all-wise God choose the city as the most effective place for missionary work? Cities are best suited for missionary work for several reasons. First, Christianity spreads better in the city because of the personal openness of urban people. People are more open to the gospel in the city because of the rapid change that is a part of urban life and the personal turmoil that is part of the urban experience. Therefore, evangelism, humanly speaking, is easier in the city. Second, cities are best suited for missionary work because of cultural influences. The city is the place where culture is formed. It is the seat of power for the media, education, academia, the arts, and literature. Thus, as the city goes, so goes the nation. The third reason cities are so well suited for missionary work is because of global connection. The city is the place where many nationalities and ethnic groups come together. The spread of the gospel in the city automatically moves Christianity into many ethnic people groups and thus into dozens and scores of countries. The fourth reason that cities are so well suited for missionary work has been taught by Missiologists for many years: Immigrants experience their greatest period of responsiveness to the gospel in the first five years of their migration. They are more responsive because they have often broken ties with their friends, family, and religion in order to come to their new country.
1. Bakke, Ray, A Theology as Big as the City, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997, p 13.
2. Linthicum, Robert C., “Networking, Hope for the City”, Harvie M. Conn, Editor, Planting and Growing Urban Churches, From Dream to Reality, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, p 167.
3. Stark, Rodney, Cities of God, New York: HarperCollins, 2006 Luasanne Statistics Task Force headed by David Barrett, Ph.D, p. 6, 13-14, 60.
(This excerpt comes from chapter 2 of Urban Impact)