Our world is changing. The way people live, work, play, and worship is changing. For the first time in history, the world as we know it is 50 percent urban. An estimated 5 million new people a month move to a city. Some have projected that by 2050, 75 percent of the world’s population will live in a city. While the implications of our changing landscape are vast, one thing is clear: God seems to be moving the world towards cities. Could it be so they can hear the gospel?According to the church planting team at Redeemer City-to-City, a leadership development organization founded by Timothy Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, N.Y., “God designed the city to release human potential, to shelter the weak, and to compel spiritual searching. In cities you have more image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world.”
A domestic missions priority
As people amass in cities, they blend together. People from different races, socioeconomic brackets, spiritual orientations, vocations and ethnicities all fuse together to form residents, employees, congregants and fellow produce shoppers. In the city there is diversity of rich and poor, young and old, creative and professional, elite and immigrant. In this new urbanized reality, it is becoming increasingly possible to reach the world at once.
“Because the world is on its way to becoming 75 percent urban, we all need a theological vision that is distinctly urban. Even if you don’t live or go into the city…make no mistake, the city is coming to you,” explained Keller.
Cities have one primary export: culture. Asking tomorrow’s questions today, cities are a powerful proving ground for the gospel. And South Florida is a strategic region for this kind of Kingdom advancement. Boasting the highest proportion of foreign-born residents of any major region worldwide (59%) with a high proportion of residents who speak a language other than English at home (75%), South Florida is the forth-largest urbanized area in the United States. Yet it ranks among the most unchurched region in the country. As such, ministry in South Florida today will impact ministry everywhere tomorrow.
South Florida’s new kind of church
South Florida may already have plenty of churches, but it is starved for the gospel. Our region doesn’t simply need gospel-believing churches but gospel-centered ones where the gospel is faithfully preached and lived out for the common good. Churches whose doctrine is biblically sound and applied to the culture’s questions, where believers are edified and skeptics welcomed. Churches whose disciples apply their faith to their work and to the poor. Financially sustainable churches that are generous in mission. Churches that further the depth of collaboration and pool their resources in unity with and for one another.
The exciting thing is that these types of churches are springing up across our urban core — specifically, in and around downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Among the first of a recent wave of churches planters in Downtown FortLauderdale, Brad Schmidt, pastor of CityChurch Fort Lauderdale, chose the Flagler Village neighborhood because, he said, “I believe downtown is… typically the center of influence for a city or region. It’s where the creatives come to create, where commerce and industry happen and a place where society takes its cues. It’s also where the poor and marginalized find refuge. It’s a dynamic place for Gospel ministry and for the church to fulfill its calling.”
CityChurch is one of close to a dozen churches located in and around downtown Fort Lauderdale; however, Schmidt is more focused on collaboration then competition. “Collaboration with other cultures is essential, especially in a society that no longer assumes cultural Christianity. There was a time perhaps when a church could define itself against another church, i.e. ‘We’re not like that church over there.’ Those days are long gone. Now the church must define itself up against the culture itself, which has no categories for the various denominations, let alone insider-church competitiveness. The way to do that is through radical unity across our differences,” he said.
Just a few short blocks away, Ross Middleton, pastor of Southcoast Church, which holds services at Cinema Paradiso where their slogan is “Love God; Create a Movement,” shares a surprisingly similar view: “Collaboration with other churches is something that is important and necessary for the body of Christ to be effective in reaching this city and region. We will collaborate in different ways and at different levels with different churches because everyone has something unique to bring to the table. I have a deep conviction that different types of churches reach different types of people. No one church is going to reach an entire city or region. Its pretty much that simple for me. We need each other.”
Influence Culture Church
It’s just another short walk to Influence Culture Church. Started just two years ago by Pastor B.J. Johnson, Influence Culture meets at C & I Studios and is regularly involved in outreach at the area’s monthly Art Walk events. When asked how he views collaboration with other nearby churches, Johnson enthusiastically replied, “I love to collaborate! I think I’m from a new generation of church planters that view working together as true kingdom work. In my mind collaboration is essential, not optional. We want to change Fort Lauderdale, and I know we won’t do that alone.”
Downtown Harbor Church
John Garippa, executive director of the Downtown Harbor Church, which currently meets at the Museum of Discovery and Science, is among the newest congregations to call downtown Fort Lauderdale home. “We want to see other churches succeed,” said Garippa, adding, “Aren’t we all in this together?”
Downtown Harbor Church recognizes that “people move downtown because they want to be immersed in what happens here in the heart of the city,” explained Garippa, “so let’s enjoy it.” With that in mind, he said they don’t plan to put on their own events expecting people to come to them but rather get involved with what’s already going on in the city.
Attracting the unchurched
It is logical to ask, aren’t these new churches taking members away from existing churches? However, the opposite is true. New churches best reach the unchurched. Statistics show the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from people not attending another church. These new churches then become “evangelistic feeders” for an entire community, often producing many converts who eventually end up in established churches. Beyond that, new churches produce leaders and equip many people in the city whose gifts would otherwise not be utilized. These new leaders benefit the churches across an entire city.
When churches from different traditions and denominations find common space in which to partner, the work of the Church as a whole has a greater impact. At RENEW, we believe this region won’t be reached by a singular church or tradition on its own. The cross-pollination that comes with cooperation strengthens the larger Church and better equips each tradition by introducing a broader view of what God is doing across South Florida.
Cities incubate revival. Christianity spread like wildfire as the Apostles journeyed to city after city, training up leaders, establishing churches and leading people to Christ. This blueprint continues on today in cities all across the globe. Many historic revivals and great Christian awakenings have begun in and through the city. Fort Lauderdale is only a glimpse into what God is doing in South Florida. Perhaps our cities of our region and throughout the globe are once again pointing the world towards Christ. Let’s continue to pray that God will ignite a new movement of the gospel through the local church.
“And the One sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:5 NLT).
Pictured: Influence Culture Church worships at C & I Studios in downtown Fort Lauderdale.