Alpha Cities: How Willing are we to Work Together?

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Premise: the vast majority of our church planting resources need to be invested in planting churches in Alpha Cities. If this premise is true then we need a way in the CRC to come together (churches, classes, agencies, synod, and our partners) and discern how to create a church plating movement that focuses on Alpha Cities.

CRC Home Missions is part of a group called the Church Planting Leadership Fellowship (CPLF). This group comes together a couple of times a year and studies trends in North America in the area of demographics, church planting, culture shifts and more. The last gathering was held last week. The focus of this gathering was on Alpha Cities. Alpha cites are cities that have great influence worldwide in shaping culture, values, and life. They are the frontier of new ideas and innovation. As Tim Keller said at this gathering, “Cities are the place where culture is formed, therefore, if you care about how human life is lived, you need to go to the city.” 

Alpha cities are more than simply places where culture is formed, they are the place that people are moving to live. This is especially true among younger people. While many people obviously live outside the city the appeal of the city, the life of the city, and all that can be found there is gaining ascendency.  The books that are reflecting this change have been coming out steadily in the last couple of years. They have titles like, The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City, The End of the Suburbs, Triumph of the City and Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. 

Given the vast movement of people to cities and the impact they have on the world at large (some have argued that the day of the city-state is beginning, while the day of the nation-state is in decline), a central theme of this past CPLF was the need for the church in North America to focus its efforts on Alpha cities. The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is focusing most of its resources planting churches in the 32 Alpha Cities of Canada and the U.S. Groups like City-to-City are similarly focusing their efforts on Alpha Cities. While both of these organizations believe we need to plant churches everywhere, they hold that we need to focus our attention on Alpha Cities. 

Part of such a focus is a focus on diverse church planting.  This diversity is of age, gender, ethnicity, race and also nationality. The nations are coming to our cities from a strong Nigerian community in Houston, Texas to a large Haitian Community in Montreal (The largest immigrant population in Canada is Asian, the largest immigrant population in the U.S. is Hispanic.). To enter into this world of Alpha Cities means entering into a world of great diversity that we both celebrate and in which we need to learn how to live.

The CRC has long been a rural/suburban church. We have been more apt to leave cities than find ways to engage them. When we’ve been involved in church planting over the past decade the focus has been church plants that spring up locally through churches and classes. CRHM’s main role has been providing support, training, coaching, and some financial resources. We have not imagined in the past coming together as churches, classes, and regions and thinking about what the most strategic way we can plant churches to impact North America and beyond.  Is it time to do just that: to come together (churches, classes, regions, partners) and dream, think, strategize and plan about how to impact Alpha Cities through church planting? Or is the CRC:

--too deeply imbedded in our rural/suburban place to engage the city?

--too fragmented and focused on our own areas to have a bi-national strategy to plant churches?

--too fearful of the cities to deeply engage them?

--too unwilling to make the sacrifices financially (it is very expensive to plant in the city) and culturally to engage Alpha cities?

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Great thoughts on reaching the "Alpha Cities" in North America. I agree whole-heartedly. Population in North America is increasingly urban, so that's the place to focus our resources, IMHO.

 

However, when you visit the NAMB website (http://www.namb.net/cities/), the source of the Alpha Cities focus, one other MAJOR trend is seemingly ignored, the Latinization of North America. As a Texan, I noted some really strange Texan cities missing from NAMB's map that are in the top 20 population centers in America (Houston-#3, San Antonio-#7, Dallas-#9, Austin-#11, Forth Worth-#16, El Paso-#19), as well as Mexico City, which is the biggest city in North America. What do all these cities have in common? Loads of Latinos and loads of Spanish-speakers. Are we scared or ill-equipped to reach this demographic?

I think, in addition to focusing on cities, we need a couple other focii:

-Regearing & reloading to reach post-Catholic and post-Christian Latino populations, which doesn't fit with many of our financial-sustainability or education-laden church planting models

-Breaking down the walls between international church planting & domestic church planting. For instance, Mexico has 9 of the top 25 most-populated cities in North America and there are lots of English-speakers there, as well as Spanish-speakers. That's true of urban centers all over the world, which is why many American mega-churches now have satellite campuses in foreign countries. We've got impressive networks all over the world we could be leveraging in this direction and co-learning with them.

Contributor

Thanks for starting the conversation, Mark. I agree that there is a strange lack of southern plants in the NAMB site.  I wonder if it because the SBC has so many churches in those areas.

Participant

I do certainly agree with the "Alpha Cities" approach.  I've been struggling in the rural setting for the past number of years seeing that they are by in large disconected from the more populated communities. It's true that cities set the culture.  That's probably why rural and even suburban communities can be years behind the cultural trends oblivious to how the majority of the nation is viewing the world and changing it.

I don't know what to do about the rural church situation though.  The communities and churches are shrinking because kids are moving away, farms are being taken over by larger corporate operations, and there are fewer career opportunities for people.  It's an inevitable slow death from what I can see.

While we shouldn't send these churches out to pasture, I fully agree that we need to be planting churches where they will make the greatest impact.

We are launching the Chicagoland KEZ in our region.  We have a training program that Tim Hoekstra and Pedro Avilles lead to develop church planters for the city of Chicago.  We also have a cluster in NW Indiana that is working towards a multi-ethnic, urban church plant in the greater Gary Region.  We're all in!

Mark, I too am surprised Columbus, OH made it and not one Texas city. :-)

Great article Larry. And thanks for the comments about Texas cities Mark. As a planter and cluster leader in Houston, the fourth largest metro area in the US, yet with only three established CRCs, the challenge often feels massive and overwhelming. Yet, God is good and we're building momentum with three new plants with a fourth on the way. We're also praying for Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin as well. Will others come and help? Will you respond to God's call to help transform some of the country's most influential cities with more and more people moving here each day? There is a saying in Texas that I've grown to love... "I wasn't born here but got here as quick as I could!" Mark and I and the rest of the Texas crew would welcome any help or partnerships from our CRC family. Show Texas the love folks :--)

The Alpha model must be a US invention!  The map ignores Mexico (does not even show it) and considers 'Canada' as a whole.  The classifications (North East etc) is US only.  To us 'west' is Alberta, BC,  Mid West is Sask, Man, Central is Ontario and Quebec, with the rest of the provinces 'East'.  Anything called North is the Yukon, North West Territories and Nunavit.

Church Plants used to be chosen by places where Reformed Christians were living or moving to.  World Shaking mandates were also given to Christian Organizations in education, politics and labour. 

Now that we have come of age and wish to plant churches where any US and Canadian person is moving to (that is growing cities) we need to work together with any church planting initiatives of any denomination, not to overlap, and not be too quick to discount small beginnings, or are we to assume that the alpha cities are big enough, and that we can do our own thing without regard to anyone else?

Contributor

Thanks to all the comments.  Just so there is clarity, the map of Alpha cities that is being referred to is the one used by the North American Mission Board of the SBC. It is not the defininitive map, just theirs.  I gave it as an example of what one denomination is focusing on.  Redeemer's City-to-City in their work with Alpha cities focuses on cities both in and outside North America. The question of our work in Alpha cities is not first of all where they are, but whether the CRC should begin to engage these cities in a more systematic and focused way i.e. is this a time for us to come together (churches, classes, and other partners) to design a strategy to reach into Alpha cities?

Community Builder

Larry and all,

Very exciting conversation, and germane to many issues and questions now percolating in the CRC....  shaping and training urban leaders, diversity, interagency strategies, World Missions/ Home Missions conversations, how to encourage and equip existing suburban and rural congregations while shifting strategy to urban, what should our structure look like....  and lots more besides.   I hope Home Missions will be one of the lead agencies to convene the big conversations we need to get going!  This challenge has been around since the sixties, and we've dabbled at it.  It's high time to be "all in"!   

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