Lessons from the poor inner city: Why it’s a lonely place for church plants

Streets of Phoenix at Night in HDRThe inner city I’m speaking of, our church area, is the poor inner city, not the hip, not the revitalized…it’s where most churches go and die.

1. A church planting business plan will never place you in the inner city.

It’s a stupid idea if you are trying to grow a church. I’ve seen numerous churches (a few per year about) come into our neighborhood and then leave when the reality of poor urban ministry smacks them in the face, heart and perhaps most significantly…wallet. Demographics research will necessarily lead you elsewhere, that is unless your research is looking for the lost, hurting and destitute.

2. It’s a terrible place to start a vocational ministry career

If your goal is to have vocational ministry success you don’t want to start in the poor urban area. All the fancy church growth models you attended all those conferences to hear about and strategize over, they don’t play here. This isn’t a good place to be seen by ministry god fathers. You aren’t going to have the impressive growth metrics that get you conference invites.

3. Conventional church planting wisdom will have you try and export the suburban experience into the urban

Whether it’s spoken or unspoken, conventional “wisdom” says you can impact the poor urban areas in greater(read safer) ways by staying on the periphery and exporting your goods, whether they be service related or financial, rather than investing your heart, life and church in the area. As my pastor wisely noted, this perspective turns these people into projects, charity beneficiaries, not brothers and sisters in Christ who need a church family to do life with and an environment to grow and minister in. Weekend getaways and programs may convince those of the need to change and maybe even some practical techniques to address sin behaviors, but a church family gets in the trenches in every day life and administers the gospel in the dark and mundane where the deep work of the Holy Spirit happens.

Church planter, if you ignore the conventional wisdom and plant here, beware, it will expose you and test you in ways you never thought. You’ll fail at many things and want to give up. But if God’s called you and your heart is here, you’ll see victory and success in ways you didn’t imagine. It probably won’t be meeting a fundraising goal for your next big building, but it might be spending all you have to minister to a family across the street. And by the grace of God maybe 5 years later they are serving the church in unseen ways and reflecting the gospel and genuine love for the lost. Victory. Success.

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