I recently ran across a quote I would like to share concerning the significance of global cities in the mission of the church. It is from Jared Looney, who wrote Crossroads of the Nations:
While it is unlikely that this status will remain static, global cities such as New York City, London, Tokyo as well as Paris, Toronto, Sao Paulo, Houston, and many other key urban centers are of strategic importance for the present and future church. Such cities are centers of global influence and points of connection between nations and cultures. As the Gospel moved along the Roman roads through the cities of the Mediterranean world and people gathered at wells in ancient villages, global cities are now nodes in a global network and are of strategic importance for the mission of the church (Looney, Crossroads of the Nations).
There are two or three things I want you to see in this one. First, certain cities are rising to a new level of significance for the Great Commission. Looney compares these “global cities” to the significance of the Roman roads for the spread of the gospel. Honestly, I think he is right.
If you are not familiar with the idea, there are several reasons that many historians credit with the explosive advance of the church in its first two or three centuries. The church grew at a rate that really makes no sense outside the divine providence of God and the power of the Spirit washing over a people. And, ultimately those are the reasons the gospel spread throughout the known world in such a manner.
That said, historians recount a number of things that facilitated this work of God. One of these was the Roman road system throughout the empire. Travel from province to province was easier than it had ever been or would be after the empire’s fall for hundreds of years. This allowed for very high levels of migration and commerce from city to city. Easy transfer of goods, easy transfer of money, easy transfer of ideas. As Christians traveled those roads, so did the good news they carried with them. A network of urban commercial centers made for the rapid spread of the gospel.
Today, a similar network exists. The idea of the global city was first espoused by Saskia Sassen, and he points out that a growing numbers of cities are participating in a global commercial and informational network. These cities drive the global economy, and they are more connected than ever. These cities are increasingly important, magnets of migration because of the opportunities they afford people, and super-diverse. Looney, along with others, picks up on this advanced network as a Great Commission opportunity. Just like the Roman Empire of the past, with its network of roads, these cities exist with a network of global connections that make spreading ideas easier than ever.
Looney goes on to point out that these global cities house many people from many places with no access to the gospel. They are cultural communities connected to their home country and to a global migrant network from their culture. Take Nigerians for instance. Houston, one of the cities Looney outs as a global city, has the largest collection of Nigerians in the world, outside of Nigeria. This large community maintains its connection both to Nigeria and to other groups of Nigerians the world over. Of course, these connections are virtual Roman roads for the spread of the gospel.
However, we must realize an important truth for these networks to advance the spread of the gospel. They require us to reimagine how we do missions and church planting in our own cities. Normally, we would want to try some strategy to reach people from these groups by having an event where we bring them to our church. Maybe, if we were a little more culturally sensitive, we would try to create a Sunday School class or small group just for them, so they can be disciples and worship in their own culture. However, what is needed to take advantage of these groups are specific cultural manifestations of the gospel in each of them. In other words, we need to be trying to engage them in such a way that leads to churches in their own culture.
If we desire the spread of this gospel message through these networks, then it needs to be inculturated into these networks. By establishing a wide range of diverse churches in the actual cultures of these groups, we maximize the ability for this message to travel back across these networks. They will not export a Western Christianity with any effect to their global networks.
Looney is right, there is a fantastic opportunity in front of us. We must, though, realize that it requires a change in gears concerning our methods.