On KEZs, Urban Church Planting and the CRC


I recently wrote an article for Christianity Today’s This Is Our City on how Reformed leaders are working to bridge the gap between Grand Rapids and Detroit, particularly in the area of church planting. It's called What has Grand Rapids to Do with Detroit?

I have to admit that when I first heard that the CRC/RCA’s Church Multiplication Initiative had plans to develop a Kingdom Enterprise Zone in Detroit, I was excited but also very anxious. Excited because I think the Reformed perspective can speak so well to the city’s culture and needs, yet anxious because the very idea of a Kingdom Enterprise Zone seemed a little sketchy to me. Maybe it’s the name (I think that for a majority of people, the term “enterprise” brings up visions of business people in suits looking for profits… that or rental cars) or maybe it’s because I felt like a denominational church planting campaign makes us seem like we think we can just walk into any city or town, plant a church, and be embraced by the local community.

But after I had the opportunity to sit and talk with the people actually involved in the effort, I gained a new appreciation for their mission, vision, and commitment to the local leaders and initiatives already working for the good of the city. I think God is going to do great things through the plans he has laid on the hearts of leaders in both Detroit and Grand Rapids.

But there are some lingering questions in my mind about this whole idea of planting churches.
I’ve included a few below. I think I know how I would answer them, but I wanted to throw them out there to see what kind of conversations we could start.

- What makes us think that we can roll into a city with a history of racial discrimination and division that is deeper and more visceral than we could ever imagine, especially when we struggle with our own history of discrimination and a very real lack of diversity in our congregations and current leadership?

- Are we really ready come in and partner with what God is already doing in the city, regardless of the denominational affiliations at play? I attended the This Is Our City kick-off event in Detroit and was struck by real spirit of collaboration that was in the air. Pastors and leaders from across the theological spectrum were there to celebrate what God was doing in the city and share how they have been working together to bring hope to a somewhat hopeless situation. But when I think of our strengths as a denomination, “collaboration” doesn’t come to mind.  Can we really play nice?

- How does all of this talk about Reformed theology speaking in a new way to the people of the city sound to all those non-Reformed pastors and church leaders who have been serving the city for decades? 

- Have we thought about how these efforts will affect gentrification? If we start planting targeted churches in the growing areas of the city, how do we honor the communities we move into without being seen as another just another institution serving the newcomers, the artists, and middle class, the young professions, etc.?  

Again, these are just a few of the questions I’ve been kicking around since writing the article. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Perhaps you’ve wrestled with similar questions in your own area. Or maybe you have a few more to add to the list. Or perhaps you have some answers you’d like to throw out there. Feel free to post away!

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Thanks Derek for raising great questions and for a wonderful article in CT. 

Last week I had the honor of gathering with the RCA in Detroit as we talked about a general strategy that the RCA is taking in urban church planting. The questions you raise are the questions being struggled with.  While we did not come up with ready answers I can say that we are stepping in to Detroit and other urban areas knowing we need to have great humility. We are learning who is already there (for instance the percentage of conservative, evangelicals in Detriot is far higher than in other cites -- including Grand Rapids), how we don't first of all collaborate, but instead first of all learn and seek wisdom, and then we move foward in partnership with others. 

This is truly a time when we are painting a different picture of the CRCNA and its connection to the cities of North America (another city we are investing in is Montreal, that's another story worth telling). As the world moves to the cities we need to go there as well--but recognizing that we have much to learn.


Thanks Larry. 

I think you express it well when you say that "This is truely a time when we are painting a different picture of the CRCNA and its connection to the cities of North America." My hope is that we (by we I mean our denominational leadership and agencies here in Grand Rapids) will be able to look to the work being done in Detroit and other KEZs, as well as in other congregations across North America, to see how these questions are being answered in all sorts of local settings... because I think the answers are out there and the stories to come can shape how we do ministry across the demonination. 

Like you mentioned, we have much to learn. But I'm looking forward to seeing how we grow (in our thinking and approach, not just in numbers) as a result.