Urban Church Planting
A while back, the Church of the Lutheran Brethren’s Eastern Regional Pastor Warren Geraghty began talking with Pastors Matthew Buccheri and Kevin Foss about planting new churches. As a result of these discussions, at the beginning of 2013 a cluster was formed of seven interested pastors, representing five churches in the Eastern Region. The goal was clear: Plant new churches.
As we gathered for discussion and planning, this cluster felt a pull towards starting churches not just anywhere, but specifically in urban environments. What would it look like if the Church of the Lutheran Brethren (CLB) started planting in the heart of major cities? The idea was exciting, but clearly beyond us, right? So we talked and planned and prayed. We met with regional leaders to discuss our thoughts. We talked and planned and prayed some more. We determined that planting in cities was beyond us, but it was not beyond God. So we made a decision: We would facilitate a church planting movement specifically focused on cities. We’ve titled it, “The Fifth Act.”
As we’ve begun unveiling our vision, people have asked plenty of questions. For starters, they’ve wanted to know, “Who are the members of the Fifth Act?” There are eight pastors all together: Kevin Foss (Peace Christian Church), Andy Olsen and Kristian Anderson (59th Street LBC), Andrew Foss (Hope Community Church), Brad Hoganson and Bruce Hillman (Hillside LBC), and me, Erick Sorensen (Bethany LBC). Helping us get off the ground is Matthew Buccheri, former Assistant Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
The Fifth Act?
OK, but “What’s up with the name?” Some scholars have compared the structure of the biblical story to a five-act play. Act One: Creation. Act Two: The Fall. Act Three: Israel. Act Four: Jesus as the Climax. Act Five: The Church. During this “Fifth Act,” the Church is in a unique place living between two historic events: Jesus’ ascension and his return. It is during this time that we find ourselves led by the Holy Spirit to carry on Jesus’ mission. One important facet of this mission is church planting.
What about my church?
Is there really even a need to start new churches? After all, doesn’t the CLB have plenty of churches already in existence that could use more resourcing? Sure. As a pastor of a long established church (Bethany LBC in Staten Island), I understand the sentiment. But the fact is, if we don’t plant new churches, then we are merely trying to maintain. And statistics tell us that if we are not at least planting 1% (and some say as high as 5%!) of our denomination’s total number of churches per year, then we’ll inevitably decline. Consider Tim Keller’s words, “….New congregations empower new people much more quickly and readily than older churches. Thus they always have and always will reach new people with greater facility than long-established bodies. This means, of course, that church planting is not only for ‘frontier regions’ or ‘pagan’ countries that we are trying to see become Christian. Christian countries will have to maintain vigorous, extensive church planting simply to stay Christian!”
Missiologist C. Peter Wagner put it this way: “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”
Probably the main question we’ve received about our effort is, “Why just cities?” It’s a good question. The answer’s pretty simple: That’s where the majority of people are. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 52% of the world’s total population currently lives in cities. That number is expected to increase to 60% by 2025 and to a staggering 70% by 2050! North America is no exception to this rule: For the first time in over 60 years, my city (New York) saw more people move in than move out! Data like this prompted Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to comment: “If the Christian Church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must call a new generation of committed Christians into these teeming cities. As these new numbers make clear, there really is no choice.”
As if the mass migration of people into cities weren’t enough of a reason, the Fifth Act also sees a very strategic reason for urban churches: Wider cultural influence. Whether we realize it or not, all of who we are, all of what we do, all of who we’re becoming begins in cities. What happens in cities doesn’t stay in cities. Culture (media, education, art, music, finance, politics, technology, etc.) flows out from the cities into other cities and beyond. So, if we want to effect change in this world through the power of the Gospel, cities have to be a big part of the plan!
Want to help?
Considering all of this, we’ve targeted six North American cities in which we hope to plant CLB churches: New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Toronto. You may have just read that list of cities and found yourself thinking, “That’s impossible!” If we’re just talking about what we “naturally” can do, we’d agree with you. But we’re not talking about anything “natural” here. We are talking about, praying about and dreaming about God accomplishing this massive Kingdom-sized goal through us working together. In light of this, we have made strategic partnerships with Redeemer City to City for resourcing and funding of these churches. We have also set up a program with Gateway Leaders to help assess potential pastors. But as great as these partnerships are, the fact is we need you! We want you to come alongside this vision and help support it through your prayers. We want you to consider whether you might be one of the people or pastors who will be involved in planting one of these churches. We’re asking you to consider giving of your time, money and resources to watch this impossibly awesome goal come to fruition. By God’s provision and grace it will!