Sunday School curriculum in the 60's and 70's often portrayed the Church as a building with a steeple. Today, if you open the doors of the building, you may not find too many people. Cities are filled with many archaic church buildings that serve a small handful of parishioners.
At the heart of the struggle is a tension between the local church functioning as a parish ministry, or as a regional center serving a larger number of mobile people. A parish church focuses primarily on the demographic needs expressed in the area or neighborhood that it is part of. A regional center also focuses on a demographic group that can travel to the building where the church meets.
As cities grew outward and the money went to the suburbs and bedroom communities, so too the church traveled. There are many, well-structured and finely managed suburban and regional churches. They are usually ineffective at reaching the poorest and least mobile in their communities.
To those who would go into the urban core to plant new churches, they will often find higher real estate costs, zoning limitations and a lower income scale of attendees.
So how does an urban church find suitable location(s) from which to minister?
Some favor developing home cell groups and a rented hall for corporate gatherings. While this approach often sounds like the early church model of meeting from house-to-house, it falls short on the communal end of the definition. For the most part, urban Christians in Canada do not visit daily in each other’s homes. Most do not sell their possessions and give the money to the church to meet the needs of the poor.
Many urban dwellers live in smaller apartments and homes that do not comfortably facilitate a group of 12 meeting for Bible study, prayer, food and fellowship. And if the attendees have children, there is a struggle to know how to integrate them into cell life. It often means providing another location, or babysitting, or not attending. Add to that the hectic, changing schedule and you have a weak foundation to build home cell commitments on.
Some are able to develop a strong base of ministry through cells while others do not. The key to finding the right place of ministry is finding meaningful ways for the church to meet.
The limitation for those who buy or build urban properties is seeing a sizable portion of their budgets go to maintaining mortgages and building costs rather than into ministries.
It is the task of the local church to go into the community and seek out those who are not seated at the King’s Table. Then, they are to be invited in to the feast that is being provided. Jesus parable of The Great Feast demonstrates that we are to call the least mobile and most disadvantaged to His Table.
Finding place is all about access. Once you have a place to meet, the real work is compelling people to come in.
Around the world city planners are focused on creating urban villages. In the midst of thickly populated cities, neighborhoods are being designed and retro-fitted to provide everything you need within a few blocks of walking. Money has been moving back downtown with the gentrification of old neighborhoods. Somehow, real estate for churches is often overlooked by planners. Entrepreneurial church planters need to find more ways to integrate and influence these newer communities.
In these instances, the least mobile have chosen to live without cars and if they go to church, they will walk or take a short ride on public transit.