What is City Reaching and What Constitutes a City Reaching Initiative?
City reaching may be defined as “the ongoing process of mobilizing the whole body of Christ in a geographic area to strategically focus its resources on reaching the whole city with the whole gospel, resulting in the blessing of the city and its societies.”
The definition includes three fundamental components of the city reaching strategy: the whole church, the whole city, and the whole gospel. Dedication to mobilizing the whole church requires the initiative be inclusive of every believer in its approach. Commitment to the whole city requires that the initiative be comprehensive in its scope to include all peoples, problems and conditions that affect community life. The whole gospel requires methods that are holistic in nature requiring a balanced integration of proclamation and incarnation. A city reaching initiative by definition must be inclusive in approach, comprehensive in scope and holistic in nature.
City reaching is not a synonym for every kind of ministry. It is not a modern day equivalent for the Great Commission. City reaching is a technical term referring to a new and highly specialized ministry approach that has at its core a strategy to mobilize the Church to spiritually and socially bless its community.
We must be clear on what city reaching is so we can do it intentionally and effectively and we must choose approaches that, if successful, will actually lead to the intended effect upon the community. My experience is that many citywide initiatives are not city reaching initiatives at all because the approach is not designed to be inclusive of the whole church, or it is limited to some part other than the whole of the community and its needs, and it frequently fails to use an integrated and balanced approach to words and works. Foggy thinking and limited approaches will not get us to our destination. The approach we employ to reach cities must be capable of doing that, and not every approach that gets passed off as city reaching is.
Foggy Thinking Regarding the Use of the Term Transformation
Critics argue that the conditions of sinlessness or perfection that transformation implies are unbiblical and impossible. They remind us that employing an agenda that has as its goal the Christianization of our cities and nations in a desire to impose biblical values on others is equally unbiblical.
None of this is meant by those who use the word. Transformation is a reference to two points of time in a city’s history: where the city is now and where it once was.
When I became a Christian my life was transformed. I was not perfect or without sin, but I had been undeniably transformed. I moved from spiritual death to spiritual life and my lifestyle was changed dramatically. I was transformed. Since then I have been transformed again and again. There have been other experiences and periods in my life where the work of God has brought such dramatic and profound change that transformation remains the only word that could possibly describe the degree of change. And I, like you, hope to be transformed again and again as our lives are increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.
Deep and profound change is possible in human beings and is equally possible for the social organisms that we call cities and communities. George Otis concludes that it is less important where a city is on the transformation continuum than where it is compared to where it was.
Confusion Arising Out of the Two Primary Approaches
The first approach emphasizes divine visitation and revival. In visitation, God acts apart from the church. He acts on the church bringing revival and acts on society bringing spiritual awakening. When God visits a community, he comes in a swift and powerful way that invades every corner of community life and results in broad and far-reaching societal change. He produces a level of change that no human effort could produce.
The second approach emphasizes the church’s obedience to its missional responsibility. The church is an apostolic people with an apostolic mission toward the peoples, places and the culture within which it lives. This approach emphasizes not divine visitation, but divine partnership. God works not apart from the church but through it in a joint effort to heal pain, end suffering, release captives from human and spiritual forces, and to infuse culture with the power and presence of God. This partnership produces incremental change that compounds over time.
The first approach calls the church to pray for visitation while waiting for His coming. It is internal in nature and calls people to purity and sanctification. It is a matter of personal devotion and spiritual preparedness for visitation. Let’s pray and wait, they say.
The second approach calls the church to plan for change and go with God into the harvest field to secure the fruit of its prayerful efforts. It is external in nature and calls people to create structures for change and commit to selfless service. Let’s plan and go, they say.
Each is right. We must pray and wait for divine visitation but we must also plan and go in divine partnership. The problem comes with the tendency to do one or the other. If we only pray and wait we are disobedient to our call to mission. If we only plan and go we are oftentimes disappointed by limited results that do not fulfill our desire for change.
George Otis agrees that these two approaches are not two ends of a continuum that compete with and are in conflict with one another, but rather are two rails to the same track. They are two components that must be married into a single, cohesive and dynamic approach that can produce change in our communities.
As we experience spiritual and relational health with God and one another, as our hearts are awakened to God’s urgent call to the city, as leaders are empowered who have the credibility and competency to weave the church community together around common vision, as we gather information that helps us accurately understand the condition and resources of the church and the needs of the city, as we commit to discovering and utilizing the most effective models that will genuinely make a difference in our citywe will see progress and change.