If you asked me of all the places I love to travel, what’s the place that gets my blood pumping, somewhere that I could go time and time again and even reside in for an extended period of time, New York City would be the place. From 2004 to 2007, I served as a summer missionary with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) two different times, helping to serve alongside church planting efforts in the city following 9/11. I had aspirations of serving on a church planting team upon graduating seminary, but God redirected my steps to UBC while still allowing me to help lead our Body in church planting efforts with Boulder.
What got me excited about NYC and still keeps me passionate about that city is the influence that New York has on the world. The largest city in the United States is the influencer of finance and fashion and has all 196 countries represented among its five boroughs. This city and other cities all over the world carry with them a unique opportunity as they impact and influence the way culture thinks and acts.
As we consider the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Week of Prayer kicking off Sunday, March 1, as well as the strategy of NAMB to plant churches among 32 strategic cities, the question is often asked ‘why cities?’. Even for our own church planting efforts in Boulder, I am often asked how we landed on Boulder. The reason for church planting in cities, and even specifically in Boulder, is because cities carry influence and an influx of people.
Fifty-one percent of the world population lives in cities and more than 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in our major metropolitan cities. Every day, 165,000 people are moving to cities, and it’s said that by 2050, 75 percent of the world population will be populated. It’s not just that cities are populated by people and shape the rest of the world, but they often are where the greatest lostness can be found. The more densely populated a metro area, the less unchurched you usually can count on it being.
That’s where church planting is the most strategic way to evangelize our cities and have Gospel impact that will extend to the far reaches of the globe. In 2010, 943 churches were planted and by 2012, those churches had a 91 percent survival rate. Those same churches had a 20 percent membership gain, as well as one baptism for every 12 members. Most SBC churches have a baptism ratio of 1 to every 50 members.
The goal of the North American Mission Board is to see 150,000 churches planted by the year 2022, which would be an average of 1500 a year. Right now the rate of church planting isn’t keeping up with the population ratio in addition to the fact that 800-900 churches close each year among the SBC. Most of the cities in which NAMB is engaged are 5 percent or less evangelical. It’s not just going to take church planters and church plants to help push back the lostness, but also supporting and sending churches. Right now only less than 4 percent of churches are engaged in church planting efforts.
It’s out of seeing the need in darkness throughout cities, and specifically in Boulder, as well as with a desire to be intentionally engaging least-reached places across North America, that we partner with NAMB in the SEND: Denver efforts of church planting and most strategically for us in Boulder.
Where we live in Arkansas, there is one church for every 1,922 people. In Colorado, there is one church for every 13,411 people. The need is HUGE to see the people and places like Boulder reached with the Gospel through Gospel-centered, Christ-proclaiming churches being planted.
The Front Range area (from Ft. Collins to Colorado Springs) is home to 4.1 million people, of whom 2.5 million have no religious affiliation. The Front Range area has a 90 percent lost rate. There are 201 zip codes in this area with 109 having no SBC presence among them. The impact and influence of this area is huge as we consider reaching the world for Christ, as 131 different languages are spoken in the public school systems.
As we consider even the impact and influence a city like Boulder has, it is a home to Colorado University, a major university among our nation. Boulder also prides itself as one of the top happiest cities, fit cities, healthy cities, places for artists to live, places to raise a healthy kid, and a great place for food!
So the darkness of sin and lostness abounds; the impact the Gospel can have on cities is even greater! Let’s give sacrificially, and pray for and engage with fervency in our cities across North America and particularly Boulder. May we be cities on a hill shining with the message of Christ until we reach that lasting City, whose architect and builder is God, and whose residents represent people of every tribe, language and people worshipping Jesus, who has built His church in cities to point us to Him.