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March 2, 2017

Ministry in the Urban Revolution

By Daniel Im

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Life and ministry in the city, for most of the world’s population, has or will become the norm. According to the UN (United Nations), today over 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas; and by the year 2050, it is predicted that 66 percent of the world’s population will live in cities.[1]

Even those outside the city limits are or will eventually be impacted by the city. Ray Bakke, a scholar on urban studies, notes, “The city is a media stage prop in this cybernetic era, and its presence will impact everyone eventually. So, even in places far from large cities, banks, businesses and families are linked up to urban centers.”[2] In other words, with cities being the central hub of civilization, they affect many individuals, families, and entities outside their boundaries. Thus, whether people like it or not, urbanization is here to stay.

But what makes an area urban? According to many like Bakke, size, density, and heterogeneity (diversity) are the various elements that constitutes urbanization. In fact, Tim Keller writes, “A human settlement becomes more ‘urban’ as it becomes more a) dense and b) diverse in its population.”[3]

When it comes to the realm of missiology today, you cannot address the study of mission without addressing it in the context of urbanization—or at least for most of the world. But why is understanding an urban context important for effective mission? This is a question that I recently discussed with Dhati Lewis, Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, GA. During our time, Dhati explained that urban ministry—ministry among a dense and diverse population—is much different than the suburbia ministries of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s that implemented more of the homogenous unit principle. To effectively reach cities (urban areas) today, there’s no one size fits all approach. In other words, there’s no cookie-cutter ministry models that will accomplish the missional mandate of making disciples within urban contexts. Therefore, according to Dhati, churches will need to do at least three things.

First, churches will need to adopt a neighbor missiology.

It’s not enough to identify the different races, ethnicities, and socio-economic classes that live within one’s community. After identifying the diversity, it will require an intentional reach, which requires a neighbor missiology. A neighbor missiology is reflected in the parable of the good Samaritan. Not only did the Samaritan identify a beaten man on the side of the road, he intentionally went to him, cleaned and bound up his wounds, and brought him to an inn where he could recover. In short, a neighbor missiology requires personal touch and interaction.

To read the final two points and to watch to the entire Behind the Scenes segment with Dhati Lewis, click here.

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[1] http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects-2014.html.

[2] Ray Bakke, A Theology as Big as the City (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic), 12.

[3] Tim Keller, “A Theology of Cities,” cited from, https://www.cru.org/content/dam/cru/legacy/2012/02/A_Theology_of_Cities.pdf.


  • Over 50% of world’s population live in urban areas; by 2050, it is predicted that 66% of the world’s population will live in cities.
  • With cities being the central hub of civilization, they affect many individuals, families, and entities outside the city.
  • What makes an area urban? Size, density, and diversity.
  • “A human settlement becomes more ‘urban’ as it becomes more a) dense and b) diverse in its population.” @timkellernyc
  • To effectively reach cities (urban areas) today, there’s no one size fits all approach. It begins by developing a vision from burden. 
  • “To effectively reach cities will require churches to adopt a neighbor missiology.” Dhati Lewis.
  • “Churches must guard from disconnecting their activity from their identity. Identity drives our activity.” Dhati Lewis

Additional Resources:


Daniel Im

Daniel Im (@danielsangi) is the Director of Church Multiplication for NewChurches.com at LifeWay Christian Resources. He is a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville. He is the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry, and co-author of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply (2nd ed) with Ed Stetzer. He also co-hosts the New Churches Q&A Podcast, the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, and a brand new podcast with his wife on marriage and parenting called the IMbetween Podcast. He has an M.A. in Global Leadership and has served and pastored in church plants and multisite churches ranging from 100 people to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. Visit Danielim.com to learn more.


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