Reaching the City

Even in a culture as fluid as America, sociologists seem to agree on at least one thing: urbanization is here to stay. The latest trends indicate that 80 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by the year 2030. Faced with this “brave new world” of urban societies, church planters are scrambling to find strategies for reaching cities. But developing a holistic vision of urban renewal is not straightforward. Many city churches wind up being representative of a single demographic, leaving many of us wondering how to translate Jesus’ call to seek the kingdom into our church planting efforts.

Church leaders are becoming aware of the need to bring people from various neighborhoods, industries, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds to a common table. An emerging strategy that addresses this need is the City Parish model.

The City Parish Model

The model envisions one urban church community consisting of several neighborhood churches that network together for the common good and renewal of the city. Because it represents a whole city instead of an isolated demographic or area, the City Parish church is diverse, uniting women, men, and families from various backgrounds across a major metropolitan area.

Every six weeks, all neighborhood churches come together for one citywide gathering to tell the story of God’s grace to the city at large. From these gatherings, the harmony of worship offered by so many different people allows a holistic vision of urban renewal to emerge. These citywide gatherings also leverage influence, steward momentum, and display unity to the city.

Neighborhood Churches

Each neighborhood church has its own elders and senior leadership team who provide spiritual direction for the congregation. Neighborhoods also have their own structures for pastoral care. They share centralized resources with each other, such as student, workplace, family, and artistic ministries. They also share a counseling center and citywide mercy projects.

A neighborhood has the freedom to contextualize its weekly worship gatherings to the culture of its neighborhood; communities meeting in areas with many families may focus on developing a thriving children’s ministry, while a gathering in a neighborhood full of artists may include interactive, creative elements in its worship.

Missional Focus

The heart of each neighborhood church is a network of missional communities: medium-sized groups (30–50 people) that meet throughout the neighborhood and provide the ideal environment for building relationships. To join a missional community is to enter into the journey of Christian discipleship. It keeps the church small enough for everyone to have a real identity and be involved in ministry.

Missional communities cultivate partnerships with schools, organizations, and business leaders who love their city and want to make it a better place to live. They leverage those partnerships to implement projects aimed at redeeming and renewing their neighborhood.

Facilitating Intimacy

Missional communities are comprised of several lifegroups—smaller groups of 6–12 people. Lifegroups cultivate vulnerability through committed relationships. They often meet over a meal in the home of a fellow member. These small groups allow believers to walk together through shared spiritual disciplines: prayer, the study of Scripture, fasting, and accountability. The communal life deepens as members learn to bear with one another in love.

Triads—groups of 2–4 people of the same gender—are the smallest unit in the church community. These are usually close friends within a lifegroup who know each other well. Triads provide a framework for confession, accountability, encouragement, prayer, and support—the smaller environment allows for greater vulnerability.

The City Parish model enables churches to remain small enough for each member to be known intimately, and to involve every person in ministry while maintaining a kingdom-sized vision for renewing the city. Our sincere hope and prayer is that this model—by combining the best practices from several emerging church structures—will serve as an important contribution to God’s work of renewing our urban centers.1

  1. Adapted from Catalyst Space, Copyright 2011. Used with permission. []

Jon Tyson is the lead pastor of Trinity Grace Church in New York City. The church is composed of four neighborhood churches, following the City Parish model.

Missional Small Groups will help you see beyond the borders of your small group and into the lives of those around you so that you can make a difference. It's filled with practical suggestions for becoming intentionally involved with your community and bringing Jesus' message and healing to a hurting world.

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