As someone who assesses cultural trends, demographics, and global movements, it is not easy in today’s shifting world as a visionary and trainer.
One of the hardest aspects for “early adopters” is translating what you see coming and then getting others to invest in that vision. For the most part, only a small percentage of people are early adopters of vision and even a smaller part are vision casters.
The Reality of Inner City Churches
It’s amazing how we view the works of Schaeffer, Wagner, or McGavran with deep regard (at least some, do), yet when they were writing, the church didn’t seem to pay attention to them. But, their words have become somewhat prophetic as the church leads into the 21st century. We see before our eyes the proofs of global movements, urban areas, and immigration.
If you’re a church planter or pastor and haven’t heard the term diaspora, you will. If you want to know what is coming to urban churches then you need to become a student of diaspora movements (and immigration).
One of the major shifts in global population is the flowing dispersion of immigrant people groups. God is sovereignly moving people around the globe like never before. As a church planter to the military, I purposefully see the reaching, equipping, and sending as an identifiable diaspora-like movement.
If we couple the influx of hipster urbanites, gentrification, and urban renewal, it’s a massive powder keg awaiting implosion within inner-city churches.
Because most of our inner city and suburban older churches are not prepared for what is coming. The reality—these churches will die out. With the movement of refugees—either fleeing persecution or temporary visa status for work—they’re coming to cities all over the world.
What Immigration Tells Us
Western churches in urban areas will be forced to reach people of ethnicity. It’s not that urban churches haven’t always tried to reach ethnicities—but cities will be more ethnically and culturally diverse than ever. We should know that immigration to the United States is the only cause for population growth.
And, where do most immigrant groups go? Cities.
Without immigrants (legal), the United States would not be growing in population—but plateauing or even declining. Just to clarify, if you’re linking immigration with the Hispanic culture, let me help you. Currently, Germany and Ireland are the top two countries with diaspora peoples coming to the U.S.—Mexico is third, but only by a small portion of one percent, compared to the United Kingdom (4th).
How Does This Change Urban Evangelicalism?
Immigration and diaspora models play a major role in engaging urban areas with the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20). As well, the combined hipster, gentrification, and urban renewal (for taxation) models will come into effect.
I’ve heard it said, “We need to stop mega-churches from “gobbling” up old city churches for satellite campuses because they know nothing about the people in the city” or “we already have ‘churches,’ they just need more people in them.”
Supposedly, as the theory goes, mega-churches and Anglo church planting in urban areas won’t work because both are viewed as outsiders looking in. The theory suggests that anglo planters and megachurch models do not understand an inner-city culture, and will not be able to engage the people.
This erroneous theory is caused by thinking Anglo church planters cannot reach African Americans, which are the prominent majority of the urban population.
This argument suggests that Anglo planters and mega-churches should solely invest in small “indigenous” churches, working with and alongside already existing minority inner churches—but not create new spaces of worship. While I may have agreed with this model ten years ago (for outreach purposes)—it’s as archaic as the tape cassette—well, maybe the CD.
Within the next five to ten years, domestic churches and church planters will be forced to reach across the cultural lines of socio-economic barriers, engage ethnic diversity evangelistically with E–2 to E–3 evangelism, and evaluate demographic and ethnic data. If a church doesn’t know who is in its neighborhood, it cannot reach it.
Research any recent urban demographic data and compare it to fifteen years ago. However, census.gov reports won’t provide a true picture—as many people groups within a city, either fail to report their true identity or will not report at all (mainly because of privacy, legal issues, or fear). Think about the major influx of Islam—in just fifteen years this people group has surpassed caucasian and evangelical reproduction.
Do you know how many mosques are now within your city?
While I devoutly pray that brothers and sisters in Christ would no longer view skin color, race, or religion as barriers—the fact is—immigration is a game-changer!
Even the inner-city African American culture will be melded into the many ethnic cultures already here and those arriving in the future. To reach an entire city the church must yield to a concerted effort.
Most cities are becoming more and more ethnically diverse: Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European. To think that things are going to stay the same, especially in light of gentrification (even though I disagree with it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening), are antiquated and ignorant. Urban churches wishing to survive must engage foreign people groups.
The Good News
First, we have the ability to know, study, engage, meet, and communicate with every people group within our cities. Major mission organizations are working side-by-side in mapping the nations within cities. This information is available and can assist churches and church planters in engaging urban areas with the gospel.
Second, nationalities within city-limits sometimes have unreached people groups (UPGs) among them. Many of the refugees will one day desire to go back home—so, what better way to engage missions than to have UPGs return to “go and make disciples” in their own homeland.
Lastly, churches should be working together, collaboratively, as kingdom workers to reach every city with the gospel. However, this is going to take a multi-pronged approach. Existing mega-churches should find ways to purchase dying empty church sarcophaguses—keeping these “kingdom properties.”
Targeting areas of resurgent growth and ethnically diversified areas with house churches works well, too. Strengthening and revitalizing churches, which can be saved, and churches within lower socio-economic areas are a must.
As well, traditional style church planting (having a sending church) and more innovative church planting techniques (parachuting) must be implemented.
We’re all on the same team—let’s reach our cities and the peoples of the world.
Throughout God’s story, there have been many biblical “heroes.” Men and women of seemingly great renown—great courage and incredible resolve.
Men like David, warriors in battle, leading men to victory against insurmountable odds. Or women like Jael, an apparently ordinary wife with remarkable fortitude and bravery—launching a tent peg through the sleeping enemy (Judges 4:17–22).
Everyone loves stories. Especially stories about overcoming adversity—they’re the feel good, sort of chicken soup for the soul, stories.
When I reflect upon my life, I know my story. I know that it’s filled with defeats, trials, and sometimes, some wins. I also know that I’m not a hero. In fact, Jesus is the hero of my story. And, if I’m even more transparent, I’ve had way more failures in my life than victorious triumphs.
But as I’ve written before, Failing is Not Failure. When we learn from our failures and use them for success, those failures can become victories.
They Didn’t See That Coming
One of my recent devotional readings led me to Joshua and the battle of Ai (Josh. 7, 8). Joshua spies out Ai and organizes a small battalion of 3,000 Israelites to go up to battle against them. However, because of Israel’s hidden sin and idolatry, they flee in defeat.
The people of Israel didn’t see that coming! Their sin was revealed, but the people took action and repented. They refocused and centered their lives upon God.
Afterward, the Lord then encouraged Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land.” This time, Joshua used defeat to bring victory.
As in the previous battle when the Israelites fled, Joshua engaged the city of Ai. Once again, the same troops, same battle plan (sort of), so battle looked like defeat.
Joshua had the men flee—but—only to draw the enemy out from the city and into the open. The plan worked.
Again, the people of Ai thought that they were routing the Israelites, but as soon as they were outside of the city, Joshua had his men sneak in and burn it to the ground!
The people of Ai didn’t see that coming! Joshua had the enemy surrounded—drawing them out into the open—there was nothing hidden and nowhere for the enemy to go.
Using Defeat for Victory
One thing that I have learned in life—when pride sets in it blurs my vision. Whenever I’m facing defeat, I have to ask probing questions: is there any hidden sin that I’m not seeing? Am I trying to do things in my power, or for my own glory? Am I trusting in God to be my “dreaded warrior”? How can I use this defeat for success? How can I honor and glorify God with my defeat? What have I learned?
Maybe I am building my empire and not God’s? Those are just some of the questions I think about. I also ask the Lord to “cleanse my heart,” to “search me and see if there are any wicked ways within me.”
When we confess our sins, our pride, and our motives, it brings the enemy into the open. Our adversary no longer has “ammunition” to use against us. To the enemy, on the outside, we may look the same, but internally, we have been renewed through repentance, probing, and reflection.
God is now able to use our defeat for victory. As Joshua used defeat for victory, we too can use our failures as springboards to victory. But, the central focus must not on us, but on the grace of God given through Jesus Christ.
What have you learned about your situations lately?
One of my professors suggested that our doctoral cohort study culture and trends—something I was already inclined to do, but he offered a website that provides great insight. While the site, Faith Popcorn, doesn’t provide much analysis, it provides provoking thought and reflection. Reading the predictions through gospel lenses allows me stay a step ahead of culture.
I realize that this title may sound somewhat Orwellian, but humanity has arrived in the twenty-first century technological age. There are no flying cars, yet, or humanoids; however, not unlike the twentieth century we are still—perhaps even more so—engaged in an age of fear, anxiety, and paranoia.
Faith Popcorn predicts, “people will want guarded homes, there will be ways to filter your water, maybe bullet-proof houses, working more at home, not wanting to travel, armored communities where you will swap privacy for the privilege of living in a safe bubble.”
While some fear may be substantiated, Popcorn noted that “74% of Americans fear ISIS,” so the trends of tiny techno chips and fully disclosing our lifestyle seem to be the writing on the wall.
What do these future trends reveal?
Living With Full Disclosure
Does living within an armored city sound appealing to you? What about having all of your emails, phone calls, texts, and social media updates viewed and scrutinized—for the good of the community?
I see something grander at work here than protection or information gathering. I believe if people swap their privacy for safety something radical may occur. A community may accept sin as normal and justifiable.
Man will always desire to gratify himself. Sin feels good, tastes, good, and looks good. So, to think that an armored community would halt this would be naïve. Since the fall of humanity, man quests for pleasure, while also longing to hide the sin (inject Cain and Abel story, here). While armored communities may sound somewhat attractive at first, the realities of having every near-thought recorded and dissected will inevitably change how we will view sin.
If this future trend of walling ourselves in and being monitored by the thought-police occurs then we will inevitably be encountering some way to moralize or justify sinful behavior. Basically, no sin will be hidden from prying eyes, so to justify one’s actions; acceptability of the sin becomes normal. The community’s hearts become seared and accept sin.
Armored communities could easily become modern Sodom and Gomorrahs, not necessarily in a sexual sense, but in the sense of Ezekiel 16—following vanity and self-gratification.
The Fitbit Frenzy & Fear
Fitbits are probably some of the neatest gadgets manufactured. To think that this Star Trek-like accessory can sense our heart rates, fitness activity, record calories, receive text and call alerts, play music and wirelessly sync with our smart devices is pretty amazing. Newer technology trends are being developed to alert us if someone is strapped with C4 explosives or some type of dirty bomb.
I know, you’re probably thinking, how does this reveal the need for the gospel? A bomb sniffing Fitbit is just a man-made device created to help protect humanity—that’s good, right? Sure it is. But it is also revealing. It’s not the Fitbit itself that is so revealing; it is the reason for the ability’s design and demand. Why would people demand such a device? Surely, Apple would not create a product that people wouldn’t purchase—so, what does this tell us?
How These Trends Reveal and Plead For The Gospel
These two future trends reveal the hearts and minds of fearful living. The gospel’s power delivers people from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13–14). Paul asserted, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).
There’s nothing wrong with protected neighborhoods, many well-known pastors live within them, and nothing wrong with an explosive-sniffing-micro-chip—don’t misunderstand me, but the fact that we live in a society where these are good things, detects more than bombs—it detects man’s bondage to fear, lack of love, and trust in God—something which only exists in the gospel.
The art of neighboring seems to be long gone. Both of these trends spell out what the church will be faced with in the coming future—fear and paranoia. But, we, as gospel-centered people, must strive to boldly proclaim man’s redemption from sin, God’s graceful gift of joy, and the freedom from the bondage of fear, to the world. We are ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation, as God makes his appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:17–20). Trends of fear should be countered with gospel-saturation. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).
This article originally published in January’s Church Planter Magazine, you can get it here and read many other articles relating to the field.
People broadcast their resolutions every year, only to hear them muffle into the everyday noise of life. As church planters, we can spend a vast amount of time in preparation for a launch. We pray, fast, seek, and preach about the vision that God has entrusted to us in serving and making Him known within the community.
However, somewhere along the journey, we lose focus of the mission that God provided. Maybe it was the launch, perhaps seeing growth, or reaching a different people group? Maybe it’s the sermon preparation time, endless service projects, or the bi-vocational work? Regardless—whatever it is—a year has gone by and we find ourselves drifting from our missional mooring.
It’s time to refocus, regain, and reignite.
It’s time to turn around and go back home—at least for a visit.
I love being with God in the streets. It seems that the Apostle Paul did, too (Acts 16, 17). As many church planters do, claiming kingdom property begins with prayer walking in the streets—trekking urban terrain with the Spirit of God. It doesn’t seem long ago that we spent countless hours in prayer or day after day looking to talk with one single person. Let me ask you: when was the last time you did that?
The streets are where we meet people. Remember the old Sesame Street song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood”? Maybe that’s before your time—Google it. The point? As planters, we moved into a neighborhood to interact and build relationships with people. The intention was not to become comfortable, but to make God known.
Whenever I am away from home, I miss my family. I’m not a fan of hotels. But, when I return home my wife and daughter give me giant hugs and refresh me in the reality of being a dad and a husband. I think when planters fall into mission drift they forget their urgent sense of calling to a neighborhood, community, and even, to Christ. As the start of a new year has begun, return back to the core of the mission—return home—be refreshed in the reality of your calling.
The Apostle Paul was once named Saul, a law-abiding Pharisee. Saul served God diligently and with passion (Phil. 3:5–6). As someone who studied the Scriptures with zeal, it seems that works, desire, and accomplishment blinded Saul. Even though he was attempting to serve God, Saul had extreme mission drift—he lost complete sight of what the Scriptures were trying to reveal. God met Saul on the road to Damascus and caused physical blindness (Acts 9). It wasn’t until three days later that Saul regained his physical and spiritual sight.
I often wonder about the thoughts that went through Saul’s head. Here he was serving God with passion—perhaps he thought of himself as a modern day Phineas, saving the people from a plague of God’s wrath (Num. 25:6–9)—only to find out that he was persecuting Him. It seems that sometimes God has to step in to our world to help us regain our sight.
Vision is imperative. As the Message conveys, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves” (Pro. 29:18). That was definitely true in my first church plant—I practically did everything wrong. Originally the vision was clear, but the motives and actions blinded the mission.
As you read this it’s the beginning of a New Year; make sure that you’re still casting the vision. Mission drift is preventable. Maybe it’s time to have the scales fall from your eyes—to regain your sight and refocus on Christ.
As redeemed people, our passion and zeal for God come to us as gifts of faith. With that stated, anytime that I try and become more holy, I fail—miserably. One thing I know to be true—that when I devote myself back to God—to soak in His presence—He ignites my soul.
I love the Psalmist’s reflection, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke” (Ps. 144:5). Maybe it’s just me, but I yearn for the presence of God to be with me. I want to feel the glory of God in my life—that I may glorify Him. I feel like Moses, “If your presence will not go with me … ” (Exodus 33:15), well, you can fill in the blank.
Reigniting our devotion to Christ is essential. From time to time we lose focus and sight of God’s mission and need to spend valuable time with Him. The New Year brings new opportunities. In seeking new opportunities, this should compel us to seek more devoted time—more reading, more prayer, and more spiritual disciplines. As Martin Luther proclaimed, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
So, to begin your new year right, set aside time to refocus the mission, regain the vision, and for God to reignite the soul.
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” was the voice from Captain Jason Dahl and then another voice came over the plane’s loud speaker, “Ladies and gentlemen: here the captain. Please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit.” That was the voice was Ziad Jarrah, one of the hijackers from the United Airlines flight 93 on September 11th, 2001. While this was such a tragic and mortifying event and hardly one comparable to churches that are “hijacked,” the fact that churches are sabotaged may have the same mortifying feeling to the church planter or pastor.
Whether you’re a mega-church pastor or a church planter with a small core team, there will always be other believers who will come in, as the Apostle Paul put it, “to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus…” (Gal 2:4). Perhaps their intentions are not as severe as to bring in damnable heresies, nor with malice to destroy and kill; nonetheless, when transfer growth occurs within a core or within a thriving church, believers can even subconsciously, attempt to hi-jack the vision of the church. From experience, let me list three ways to protect the vision of your church.
Be Very Observant
My wife and I once belonged to an Acts 29 church plant. At the time, I was in my early seminary years and should have been listening more than I was thinking and talking, but one essential that I noticed, was the way that the pastor soaked everything in. He was a hawk. He knew who everyone was and when a visitor came in, he made sure to ask where the visitor came from, if they belonged to another church, were unchurched, visiting, or seeking a home. At first, I thought this was a little intrusive, but one day we took a long ride to a conference and along the way he taught me an invaluable lesson about vision and people—especially other believers. It’s no secret to many pastors, but I was young and inexperienced—that when believers leave a church, they tend to bring their problems, concerns, and soon-to-be corrections, with them. Basically, they want to make your church their perfected home. This is when believers can hijack your church’s vision.
For some smart church planters, they may employ a policy of “no believers,” and while I have never taken things to that extreme, I do ask all of the right questions. The need to have the hawk eye is for the purpose of protecting the vision and the flock. Other believers who “know” church may have good intentions, but they may not understand what you’re trying to accomplish for the kingdom. Over the few years of building a church from a core of 20 to over 120, one of the main aspects I focused upon was conversion growth. I have become very proficient at spotting church hoppers and believers seeking out a new church to fit their mold. When I’m told that they’ve come from another church, I try to ask why they chose not to attend it that particular Sunday. The observant eye and ear can pick up on body language, tone of voice, and content/context of words. Sure, it takes discernment, but the last type of person that you want coming into the fold is someone who is already bitter, holding a grudge, and a sewer of discord. Inevitably, that person will eventually sow the same discord, division, and bitterness into your church. As well, the visitor may be very well intended, but completely miss the vision altogether—this is when they want to be hands on in everything, or perhaps an arm chair quarterback (i.e. you should do this, you should do that, etc.). Be observant of people.
Be Ready To Introduce People To The Door
I read a quote recently accredited to Tyler Perry, which stated, “It doesn’t matter if a million people tell you what you can’t do, or if ten million people tell you no. If you get one YES from God, that’s all you need.” That pretty much sums up the fortitude that a pastor needs to have. While people are surely important and we love them (regardless), those who come in with their own agendas need to be shown the door—the quicker the better. I realize this sounds harsh, but for some believers, they are coming “to” church instead of being the church, and while that, too, may sound cliché, they just won’t fit in with how your church is following its intended vision for growth and outreach. In the end, it will be better for all to part ways. You may be able to help them find another church in the community, which is more suited for their beliefs, but be polite. There is a time when this becomes apparent and the use of discernment is vital.
In another church, I once had someone join and then after a few weeks make ultimatums and demands of change, none of which were aligned with the vision that was designed for that church (note to self: make sure you go over the reasons for joining and the candidate understands the vision). And yet, through many conversations, this person just couldn’t understand what church planting was about and how we were reaching people. It was time for me to spell it out for them—“this may not be a good fit for you, I’m sorry.” Did they look surprised, yes—but it was for the best. Does it hurt? Yes, it definitely doesn’t feel good, but just like Moses had the vision to lead the people towards the Promised Land, those few men who spied out the land did not follow that vision, nor believe that God was capable to achieving it through them. In return, it took Israel a lot longer (40 years) to achieve the vision and mission that God had for them.
Be Prepared to Lose Income
Sometimes, not all of the time, but I have definitely noticed the fickle nature of people and the dark side of vengeance, that when things don’t go a certain way, people become jaded. I once had a good friend when I was a kid. We played all kinds of sports together—you name it, we played it. However, if we picked teams and he didn’t like how the outcome was going, he was taking his ball and going home—no joke, he did. My other friends and I were stuck to face the music. Eventually, we came to play with a back-up ball, we learned from our mistakes. Sometimes, we just need to realize the fall of humanity, that some believers are not going be a good fit for the vision of the church. But when this occurs, do not be surprised for them to tell other people rumors, half-truths, or made up stories, in an attempt to have them leave too. And by the way, they’re taking their wallets with them; so don’t shout out, “Mayday! Mayday!”
Whatever you do, do not be intimidated by a wallet. Some believers actually think that their money matters (or that it is actually theirs); that God is not in control, but instead, the Bank of Bob Smith. This can be especially true for the small church planter who has only 20-30 people and one person with the deep pockets. That one person, if he or she is not gospel and Christ-centered can fracture a core if they do not get their way. For this reason, do not ever allow the offering of one person to be so significant that you lose your focus on the mission and vision. That doesn’t mean that you ask someone to give less, it means to become less dependent upon their offering—maybe put some away in a separate fund, and use a certain amount for general funds. Either way, Christ comes first, every day, all day.
If you always have this mindset, you are essentially preparing yourself for anything that comes along. However, let’s be honest, this scenario intensifies when the church grows to about 80-100 and the church plant takes on some debt or a pastor’s salary (like yours!). Now, all of a sudden the real anxiety filters in. In the restaurant business, we use to say, do not bite your nose off to spite your face; meaning, you never wanted to wash dishes, so you were careful about what you said and how you treated the “dishdog.” But once his work was done, then it was ok. Don’t be like that. You’re sending a false signal that money trumps vision—it doesn’t. A true authentic move of God happens when obedience and surrender to God are present. This doesn’t mean that there will a gravy train of money flowing in when Daddy Warbucks leaves town; no, it may just be that God will bring you through a difficult stage for later understanding. We don’t always need to be in a growth stage. Remember, there are seasons of planting seeds, growing, cultivating, and harvesting.
So, I believe that if you apply these three things: being observant, ready to release, and prepared to lose income, your vision should remain intact and passionate. And that is the main goal that Christ is always glorified and His mission is met with full unity, accord, and love: “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1-3 ESV). God bless.
 “Summary of Flight 93″. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Retrieved June 23, 2008.
 Hirschkorn, Phil (April 12, 2006). “On tape, passengers heard trying to retake cockpit”. CNN. Retrieved June 23, 2008.