Inner city ministry has its comforts but it’s far from easy

We had Steve Timmis, from Crowded House and Acts 29 at the recent Geneva Multiply conference. One evening Steve spoke on the topic of 'reaching the unreached' and had an extended rant about how far too many church planters are going for trendy, inner-city, latte-sipping hipster church plants. Who is reaching the new immigrants? The rural areas? The housing estates?

There was a good point here. We need to go beyond the familiar and the comfortable and the convenient. We need to be reaching out beyond those who are just like us, to reach those who are different than us, beyond those who are close to those who are far off. I like that very much.

There are some clarifications:

  • The vision to reach the unreached is a burden that lays on us all as a community, not on the shoulders of each individual church planter. Some will go to trendy inner-city areas, some will go to comfortable leafy suburbs, some will go to harder areas. The challenge is on a strategic level and a communal level.
  • Of course if anyone is going to go to harder areas we need to challenge everyone. So we need rants like this one from Steve regularly.
  • The difficulty of caring for some parts of society is a deep and ingrained social issue. It's not just a Christian issue. Or a trendy church planter issue. Or an evangelical issue. Our entire society struggles to know how to reach and care for some groups of society. Of course we should strive to be on the cutting edge of these challenges. But the radicals among us mustn't kid ourselves that we can definitely find a 'solution' to the social 'problem'; and the rest of us need not assume guilt for failing to either.
  • Properly speaking, the suburbs are the comfortable place, not the trendy inner-city. The inner-city culture is often hostile to Christianity and alien to Christian cultural values. Planting a church among pluralistic, libertine, post-Christian young professionals is hardly the comfort zone for conservative evangelicals.
  • Although there may be physical comforts associated with inner-city ministry and less gritty and demanding social problems to navigate, the trendy inner-city ministry often has a greater hardness of heart than some other areas. So the discouragement and spiritual opposition is actually harder.
  • It's just not true that it's easy to plant a church in the trendy inner city. I've seen some trendy inner city churches grow quickly from strength to strength. But I've seen others struggle in the 20s, 30s or 40s average attendance for years. The inner-city brings some big obstacles to establishing a church:
    • very high transience makes it hard to build a critical mass and establish leadership
    • when people get to a more stable phase of life, they often buy and move to the suburbs
    • high costs of living, hiring etc

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