By Dave Arnold
In the mid-1800's, Charles Dickens wrote a historical novel in which he
compared and contrasted London and Paris. The opening line, "It was the best of
times, it was the worst of times" is one of the most famous in literature. I
think it's fitting for church planting as well. Church planting, I have found,
has been both exciting and challenging.
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) understands both the opportunities
and difficulties of church planting. NAMB also understands the importance of
church planting in cities in North America as strategic mission fields. Cities
such as New York, San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore and Toronto are where
the nations intersect.
What a challenge we face as we consider our ever-changing urbanized
continent. How can church planting change the world and create a movement of
the gospel that sweeps across North America, from coast to coast, seeping into
every town, suburb and city along the way? Countless stories exist of church
plants that are changing their world. Mosaic Manhattan, Epic Village in Atlanta
and Bridge City Church in Chicago are three church plants making a difference
in their communities. Planted in three very different cities, each has its own
stories, adventures and challenges. So sit back, relax and enjoy a tale of
three churches changing the world.
Cities, it has been said, are microcosms of the world. From cities flow
music, fashion, education and the arts. No city creates more of this culture
than New York. You can feel its energy as you walk the streets; you can get
lost in the glitter and lights of Times Square and Broadway.
Church planter Gregg Farah, a native New Yorker, moved his family from the
West Coast back to Manhattan after 9/11 to start Mosaic Manhattan, only a few
blocks from Ground Zero. Their presence there has given them many opportunities
in the community to reach those affected by the attacks on the World Trade
New York City is indeed a mosaic of the world. Gregg believes church
planting there has a global impact. "Cities are places of influence. People
either run to them or from them," he says. Mosaic Manhattan exists for those
who run to the city, focusing on 20- to 40-something professionals.
Their busy work schedules, priorities and lack of spiritual interest make
these young urban professionals "a forgotten mission field." So, Mosaic puts a
high value on using creative communication and the arts to be relevant to this
Mosaic also is helping New Yorkers understand that church is not like what
they've seen on television or the church grandma took them to. Rather, it's a
community of people-regardless of race, age or economic status-committed to
living out faith in Christ in a tough and complex urban setting. The name
Mosaic came from the idea that as human beings, we're broken and incomplete;
but through Christ, the Master Artist, we can heal and change and become
Five years after Gregg's return almost 200 people meet in a New York City
public school for worship at Mosaic. The church has helped a community begin to
heal after terrible loss, but they didn't do it alone. "I can't imagine
planting a church without Southern Baptist Churches as partners," says Gregg.
"Without question, we wouldn't be where we are today without Southern Baptist
Churches partnering together saying 'we're in this together.'"
Although ministering in the city can be daunting, Mosaic Manhattan is an
example of a church changing their world. For if a church can impact New York
City for Christ, raising up disciple-leaders who are working in the arts,
business, education and journalism, then it can certainly impact the rest of
The city of Atlanta is one of the fastest growing cities in America. In
southeast Atlanta, in the neighborhood of Kirkwood, God has raised up workers
who have answered the call to this ever-changing city and strategic mission
field. Traditionally, Kirkwood has been a working-class, crime-ridden
neighborhood. Now, however, the new urbanites are moving in: artists, gays,
punks and liberal, activist 20-somethings who sip their lattés and ride their
mopeds. Todd Briggs, a 44-year-old church planter, accepted God's call and
moved his wife and two daughters from the Detroit area to Kirkwood to reach
these new urbanites.
He calls the church plant Epic Village. "We're creating an expression of
Christianity for a lost people group-the educated, artsy, liberal people who
are escaping suburban Churchianity," Todd says. "Churchianity" is Todd's term
for the experience of those who grew up in the church, or who've had some
religious background, but have been hurt by Christian institutionalism. Many
escape this by moving from the suburbs to the city. Kirkwood, it appears, is
full of such people. Residents of Kirkwood don't even have church on their
For Epic Village to reach these new urbanities, they've adopted some key
values that make up their DNA. First, they believe in relational community to
proclaim the gospel. "People in this neighborhood have a postmodern mindset,"
Todd says. "They view truth through relationships." Simply put, people need to
see the gospel lived out, in the context of community, where they feel
accepted, loved, challenged and valued.
Epic Village also is committed to authenticity. In order to show Jesus to
these new urbanities, you have to be real. Recently, Todd met Tom, a Swedish
man who moved to Atlanta with his wife and three kids a few years ago. Tom used
to be in a punk rock band that was big in Europe, and now he is a foreman at a
Harley Davidson shop in Atlanta.
Tom is a seeker who sees something in Todd and his vision for Epic Village.
"He's been burned by the church," Todd says. "Tom needs to see that Christians
are real and that we can admit when we're wrong." Through their relationship,
Tom is starting to ask more spiritual questions and is interested in having a
small group meet in his home.
Epic Village also places great value on making disciples. Discipleship isn't
about taking a class or having a lot of head knowledge; it's about doing life
with others, showing them the love of Jesus and introducing them to a healing
community where people can feel safe to ask questions. Todd's long-term goal is
to open up an art gallery/coffee shop where people in the community can display
their art work, enjoy a cup of coffee, hear live music and be around missional
disciples who are intentional about connecting with them and will listen to
The Epic Village is an example of a missional church plant that is
urban-centric and focused on seeing lives changed by the gospel.
Another issue facing the urban landscape is immigration. Thousands upon
thousands of new immigrants pour into major urban centers every year. A friend
of mine says, "Chicago's not just a city, it's a small world." And he's right.
After Toronto, Chicago is the most ethnically diverse city in North America per
capita. On the north side of the city (where I live) one out of three people is
Jesus told His followers to "go and make disciples of all nations"-well, for
us, "all nations" live across the street. Bridge City Church, our church plant
in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago, exists to make disciples of the
nations that live there.
After living in my neighborhood for a little bit, I've come to the
conclusion that what's important in church planting is discipleship and
investing your life to see others become fully devoted followers of Jesus. The
goal, then, isn't necessarily starting programs or putting on attractional
services to get lots of members. Rather, it's going to where people are, where
they live, where they hang out and not expecting them to come to us. Churches
like ours, Epic Village and Mosaic Manhattan, have a go-to-the-people
mentality. It's not about going to a building on Sunday mornings; it's about
being the church.
At Bridge City Church, we go where the people are-on their turf, in their
homes-rather than expecting them to come to us.
One of the ways we make disciples is by practicing hospitality. Hospitality
has taken on different meanings in our day and age from how it was viewed and
practiced in the ancient world. Hospitality tends to be viewed as something
reserved for a hotel concierge or a Starbucks barista. Paul, on the other hand,
says that hospitality is a biblical requirement for elders (see 1 Timothy 2).
Peter tells the believers to "be hospitable to one another without complaint"
(1 Peter 4:9). Clearly, hospitality is important and should be practiced by
Our strategy is following Jesus' church planting method: "Whatever house you
enter, first say 'Peace to this household.' If a son of peace is there, your
peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same
house, eating and drinking what they offer… Don't be moving from house to
house." (Luke 10:5-7).
Jesus ate in people's homes, visited them and served them. We realize that
finding a person (or family) of peace and developing relationships is a
long-term process. Our prayer is that they'll become disciples who then reach
out to others through their natural networks of relationships and disciple
them. This is more of an organic or natural approach of discipleship. It gets
into the lives of people with the purpose of investing your life for the sake
of the gospel.
Our church leadership team constantly asks, "What does the good news of
Jesus look like to our neighborhood, to the people we're trying to reach?"
Because we're working with a lot of refugees and immigrants from Africa and the
Middle East, one of the ways we've attempted to reach out to them is through
soccer. We've developed some great relationships with lost people just by
playing soccer every week. To bring good news to these people, we need to go to
them, on their turf, and share the love of Jesus.
In order for church plants to change their world, it's important to know
what kind of world you live in. America is drastically changing before our
eyes-we cannot (we must not!) continue to do church the way we've done it for
the last 50 years. We need to re-think, re-imagine and re-shape what the church
is and be the church in Atlanta, New York, Chicago and your own hometown. We're
called to change our worlds.
The reality is, whether it's in the city, the suburbs or the country,
"church" needs to move beyond the four walls, beyond hyped-up programs and
formula-driven sermons, beyond a come-to-us mentality, and move out to where
the people are, being salt and light that seeps into every home, apartment,
condo or high-rise. Jesus said a city on a hill cannot be hidden. We are to be
that new kind of City-the people of God-who shine brightly, getting out and
reaching the new urbanites who are escaping the institutional church and
religion, like in Atlanta, or the arts community and urban professionals, like
Mosaic Manhattan, and the oppressed, the alien, the refugee and the
international student at the university, like we're attempting in Chicago.
Dickens ends his classic, A Tale of Two Cities with this line: "It is a far,
far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…" As it relates to church
planting, it's a far better endeavor than I ever could have imagined or ever
done. It's both adventurous and daunting. But when you consider the calling we
have as believers-a calling to live on mission and change our world-it's a far
better thing than anything this world could offer.
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