Changing the City With the Gospel Takes a Movement Changing the City with the Gospel Takes a Movement

When a church or a church network begins to grow rapidly in a city, it is only natural for the people within the ministry to feel that God is making a difference in that place. Often, however, what is really going on is "Christian reconfiguration." When churches grow, they typically do so by drawing believers out of less vital churches. This can be a good thing if the Christians in these growing churches are being better discipled and if their gifts are being effectively deployed. Nevertheless, if this is the key dynamic, then the overall body of Christ in the city is not growing; it is simply reconfiguring. Reaching an entire city, then, takes more than having some effective churches in it, or even having a burst of revival energy and new converts. Changing the city with the gospel takes a movement.

When a gospel city movement occurs, the whole body of Christ grows faster than the population so that the percentage of Christians in the city rises. We call this a movement because it consists of an energy that extends across multiple denominations and networks. It does not reside in a single church or set of leaders or in any particular command center, and its forward motion does not depend on any one organization. It is organic and self-propagating, the result of a set of forces that interact, support, sustain, and stimulate one another. We can also call it a gospel ecosystem. Just as a biological ecosystem is made of interdependent organisms, systems, and natural forces, a gospel ecosystem is made of interdependent organizations, individuals, ideas, and spiritual and human forces. When all the elements of an ecosystem are in place and in balance, the entire system produces health and growth as a whole for the elements themselves.

Can we produce a gospel city movement? No. A movement is the result of two sets of factors. Take for example, a garden. A garden flourishes because of the skill and diligence of the gardener and the condition of the soil and the weather. The first set of factors---gardening---is the way we humanly contribute to the movement. This encompasses a self-sustaining, naturally growing set of ministries and networks, which we will look at in more detail below.

But the second set of factors in a movement---the conditions---belong completely to God. He can open individual hearts ("soil") to the Word ("seed") in any numbers he sovereignly chooses. And he can also open a culture to the gospel as a whole ("weather"). How does God do this? Sometimes he brings about a crisis of belief within the dominant culture. Two of the great Christian movements---the early church of the second and third centuries and the church in China in the twentieth and twentieth first centuries---were stimulated by crisis of confidence within their societies. The belief in the gods of Rome---and belief in orthodox Marxism in China---began falling apart as plausible worldviews. There was broad disaffection toward the older "faiths" among the population at large. This combination of cultural crisis and popular disillusionment with old ways of belief can supercharge a Christian movement and lift it to greater heights than it can reach in a culture that is indifferent (rather than hostile) to Christians. There can also be catastrophes that lead people of a culture to look to spiritual resources, as when the Japanese domination of Korea after 1905 became a context for the large number of conversions to Christianity that began around that time.

In short, we cannot produce a gospel movement without the providential work of the Holy Spirit. A movement is an ecosystem that is empowered and blessed by God's Spirit.

What is the ecosystem that the Holy Spirit uses to produce a gospel city movement? I picture it as three concentric circles:

First Ring --- Contextual Theological Vision

At the very core of the ecosystem is a way of communicating and embodying the gospel that is contextualized to the city's culture and is fruitful in converting and discipling its people, a shared commitment to communicating the gospel to a particular place in a particular time. Churches that catalyze gospel movements in cities do not all share the same worship style, come from the same denomination, or reach the same demographic. They do, however, generally share much of the same basic "DNA": they are gospel centered, attentive to their culture, balanced, missional/evangelistic, growing, and self-replicating. In short, they have a relative consensus on the Center Church theological vision---a set of biblically grounded, contextual strategic stances and emphases that help bring sound doctrine to bear on the people who live in this particular moment.

Second Ring --- Church Planting and Church Renewal Movements

The second layer is a number of church multiplication movements producing a set of new and growing churches, each using the effective means of ministry within their different denominations and traditions.

Many look at cities and see a number of existing churches, often occupying building that are nearly empty. It is natural to think, "The first thing we need to is to renew the existing churches with the gospel." Indeed, but the establishment of new churches in a city is a key to renewing the older churches. New churches introduce new ideas and win the unchurched and non-Christians to Christ at a generally higher rate than older churches. They provide spiritual oxygen to the communities and networks of Christians who do the heavy lifting over decades of time to reach and renew cities. They provide the primary venue for discipleship and the multiplication of believers, as well as serve as the indigenous financial engine for the ministry initiatives.

Third Ring --- Specialized Ministries

Based in the churches, yet also stimulating and sustaining the churches, this third ring consists of a complex of specialty ministries, institutions, networks, and relationships. There are at least seven types of elements in this third ring.

1. A prayer movement uniting churches across traditions in visionary intercession for the city. The history of revivals shows the vital importance of corporate, prevailing, visionary intercessory prayer for the city and the body of Christ. Praying for your city is a biblical directive (Jer 29:4-7). Coming together in prayer is something a wide variety of believers can do. It doesn't require a lot of negotiation and theological parsing to pray. Prayer brings people together. And this very activity is catalytic for creating friendships and relationships across denominational and organizational bounderies. Partnerships with Christians who are similar to and yet different from you stimulates growth and innovation.

2. A number of specialized evangelistic ministries, reaching particular groups (business people, mothers, ethnicities, and the like). Of particular importance are effective campus and youth ministries. Many of the city church's future members and leaders are best found in the city's colleges and schools. While students who graduate from colleges in university towns must leave the area to get jobs, graduates form urban universities do not. Students won to Christ and given a vision for living in the city can remain in the churches they joined during their school years and become emerging leaders in the urban body of Christ. Winning the youth of a city wins city natives who understand the culture well.

3. An array of justice and mercy ministries, addressing every possible social problem and neighborhood. As the evangelicals provided leadership in the 1830s, we need today an urban "benevolent empire" of Christians banding together in various nonprofits and other voluntary organizations to address the needs of the city. Christians of the city must become renowned for their care for their neighbors, for this is one of the key ways that Jesus will become renowned.

4. Faith and work initiatives and fellowships in which Christians from across the city gather with others in the same profession. Networks of Christians in business, the media, the arts, government, and the academy should come together to help each other work with accountability, excellence, and Christian distinctiveness.

6. Systems for attracting, developing, and training urban church and ministry leaders. The act of training usually entails good theological education, but a dynamic city leadership system will include additional components such as well-developed internship programs and connections to campus ministries.

7. An unusual unity of Christian city leaders. Church and movements leaders, heads of institutions, business leaders, academics, and others must know one another and provide vision and direction for the whole city. They must be more concerned about reaching the whole city and growing the whole body of Christ than about increasing their own tribe and kingdom.

When all of these ecosystems elements are strong and in place, they stimulate and increase one another and the movement becomes self-sustaining.


This article is an excerpt from Tim Keller's new book, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, released today by Zondervan.

Tim Keller is the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, New York. He is also co-founder and vice president of The Gospel Coalition. For more resources by Tim Keller visit Redeemer City to City.

Five Stages of an Apostolic Movement

Five Stages of Growth of an Apostolic Movement


By Floyd McClung


One has to look no further than the Book of Acts to find a pattern of how apostolic movements evolve and develop. The five stages of growth described below are based on the assumption that just as there are natural stages of growth for us as human beings, so God has designed movements to evolve and growth through natural growth stages.  Each stage of growth is intended by God to teach us certain life skills and character traits that prepare us for the next stage of life.

Each new stage is preceded by a crisis, and if that crisis is seen as an opportunity and not a threat, the movement can successfully navigate the crisis and move into the next stage with fresh understanding and wisdom.

It is possible for movements to grow unequally, that is, they can move from one stage to another without learning all the lessons that should be learned in the previous stages. This “uneven” development is quite normal in human development as well. An adolescent can have the physical maturity of an adult, but the emotional maturity of a child.

However, if an apostolic movement is to survive, it will have to assess it’s strengths and weaknesses on a regular basis, and adjust accordingly. Wise movement leaders draw on the wisdom of others from outside their movement.

Stage One - Creativity – Acts 1-5 – Jerusalem

This stage is characterized by creativity, fresh life, new initiatives of advancing the gospel, and a strong sense of God’s presence and blessing. There is happy chaos in this stage of new beginnings, but the new life and blessings are so great that they overshadow the weaknesses of the movement.

Leadership presence and style in the first stage in Acts was strong, active, directive, but non-hierarchical. This allowed the apostles to serve the fresh move of God’s Spirit, but not to the extent that they created dependence on them as leaders. The spontaneous growth of the churches meeting in homes was encouraged. These house churches were holistic in that they integrated all three major components of church: worship, mission and community. Disciple making was not confined to a structure but a spontaneous way of life in the church.

Challenge to move into next the next season: The Challenge of Re-structuring

To move into the next season of life in the church there was a great need to release new leaders, create more systems & re-structure to respond to the challenges of a growing church movement. That included delegating leadership, helping existing members/leaders find the right role and place for their gifts, and continuing efforts to preach the good news of Jesus far and wide. In one sense, the creative stage of growth and the building stage, described below, are complimentary and essential for the church to move into the third stage of reproduction. Failure to encourage creativity, and failure to build systems and structures to serve the movement, will inevitably lead to slowing down the growth and to eventual death of the movement.

Stage Two - Building – Acts 6-12 – Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria

This stage of growth requires re-structuring to accommodate growth, and in most instances, suffering and sacrifice to advance the gospel. While restructuring, to meet the needs of a growing church movement, the apostles in the book of Acts continued to preach the gospel. Don’t relent in apostolic thrust during seasons of alignment and restructuring or the momentum of apostolic mission will be lost. Acts 6:5-7 are key verses. Some of the men chosen to carry out the practical work of the church were also apostles. The goal of building/restructuring must always be reproduction. Those in management roles should carry the DNA of the movement with just as much fervor as those in senior apostolic leadership.

Challenge to move into the next season: Challenge of Releasing

To release your best people, trust God to multiply more leaders. Releasing leaders involves first of all prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit, then choosing to trust God for more leaders to take their place. If you hold on to them, you will lose them.

Stage Three - Reproduction – Acts 13 – 28 – Antioch, Asia, Europe, Africa

In the third stage, a movement hits it’s stride as a rapid multi-generational growth takes place. The mother church is no longer the sole center of mission in this stage. There are multiple mother churches and centers of mission that are growing and reproducing. Senior leaders cannot control this life, but they can and should serve it through discipling leaders, teaching, visiting, writing, and speaking into the life of leaders of new “movements within the movement”.

Senior leaders must continue to model the values and vision for the movement to reproduce the same DNA. This may call for key leaders to move out in new pioneering initiatives, leaving behind the comfort of established roles of leadership. It will definitely require all the leaders to be hands on in making disciples among the lost. Paul and Barnabas, pastoral leaders in the church in Antioch, led new church planting initiatives and mission trips to regions beyond, and thus reenergized the church in Antioch, but also impacted the movement in Jerusalem.

Challenge to move into the next season: Challenge of Maturity

New life means new problems. The vision and values must be strengthened and deepened in multiple cultures and locations as a movement grows. Traveling teams of visiting pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelist and apostles are needed.  Some of the challenges to be overcome include nationalism, parochialism, false teaching, leadership compromise, loss of vision, and conflict.

Stage Four - Coordination – Acts 15 – Jerusalem

When movements are growing rapidly in multiple locations, one of the challenges is maintaining doctrinal purity and leadership purity/integrity. Such challenges must be responded to promptly, but without over-reaction. The apostles and elders did not over-react to doctrinal crisis in the early church, nor did they create unnecessary rules and requirements to choke the movement’s growth. They met, listened, debated, and then communicated their decisions promptly, wisely, clearly, and personally. The crisis of doctrinal conflict brought the leaders of the early churches together, it did not separate them. Every apostolic movement will face similar crisis if it is growing rapidly. Senior leaders in the movement would be wise to do what the apostles did in Acts 15: listen, debate, understand, and submit to wise senior leadership, like that of James when he summarized the essence of the issue they faced, and then gave clear direction for moving forward in unity. If necessary, call in such leaders from outside the movement to help it overcome the crisis, but make sure such leaders carry the similar apostolic DNA.

Challenge to move into next season: Challenge of Kingdom Collaboration

Leaders in movements and apostolic networks must reach out to one another and build across network and movement lines to share resources and lessons learned from strategic breakthroughs. This will require a willingness to not take credit for breakthroughs, not brand the movements they serve, and see themselves as under leaders, not over leaders.

Stage Five - Kingdom Collaboration–Acts 20-28 Romans 15-16 Rome, Spain, Africa

Every movement must be reborn in every generation. Church must continually be re-imagined and re-invented. The way this happened in the book of Acts was to continually start new church planting movements, and to provide training and fresh beginnings within each movement as it plateaued. New movements are born out of the same values but in with different emphasis and different expression, and often, in different locations. There is a temptation in existing movement for the new apostolic leaders to turn their apostolic fervor and creativity inward, and not outward toward the lost. If the apostolic gifts of the church are not directed toward church planting, the creativity of those gifts are often dissipated on creating more programs that do not lead to disciple making outside the church walls. Apostles will pioneer! The challenge is to pioneer new churches in places where the gospel has not yet gone.

Challenge to move into next season: Release and Encourage Emerging Apostolic Leaders to Start New Church Planting Movements