Because I have just enjoyed several wonderful days (March 19-21) with the pastors and pastoral interns of City Church San Francisco I have been thinking a great deal about the future of the church in the city. Is the only model for a growing church in North America the suburban maga-church model? I think not.

City Church began ten years ago last month when Fred Harell moved to San Francisco from a ministry to collegians (RUF) he led at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Fred is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and an impressive teacher, evangelist and apologist. One would normally, however, not have imagined a guy with Fred’s ministry background coming to San Francisco to plant a church right in the heart of this bustling post-Christian city.

I met Fred Harrell only a few months ago through the friendship of teaching pastor Scot Sherman, who previously served as senior pastor of a church in Atlanta where I have also ministered in the past. Scot and I met several years ago through the mutual friendship of Timothy George.  Scot’s recent addition to the City Church pastoral team, along with the important work of executive pastor Michael Hayes who joined the staff two and a half years ago, have added great strength to Fred’s unfolding pastoral vision for City Church. (They have a vision to plant many more churches in the coming years and already have planted several congregations in the region.) Along with several other pastors and interns these three godly and well-prepared leaders are allowing the Spirit of God to shape and form the future of City Church in very dynamic Spirit-driven ways. The worship on Sunday was warm, contemporary, Reformed and liturgical, an all too rare modern combination. It was also Christ-centered in the best sense and full of deep joy and creative energy. Rarely have I have been part of a more reverent, but happy and encouraging, service. 

What is even more impressive than the gifts that God has given to Fred Harrell are his leadership and team building skills. He is a visionary who is comfortable within himself, has nothing to prove to make a point, and relates easily and humbly to all types of people, a must for fruitful ministry in a city like San Francisco. Fred came to the West in 1996 with a vision for this great city, one that few evangelicals would dare to pursue with such obvious faith. The fruit of his labors, quite frankly, is nothing short of amazing. The church reaches nearly 1,000 people each week and directs a vast network of ministries including city groups, mercy and justice ministries, and wide ranging teaching and church planting ventures. You can check out the ministry of City Church SF at

City Church describes itself in this way:

City Church is a worshipping community that seeks to spread the “gospel” (literally, the “good news”) first through ourselves and then through the city by word, deed, and lifestyle to bring about personal change, social healing, cultural renewal through a movement of churches and ministries that change San Francisco, and through it, the world.

We want to see San Francisco become more and more a place where Jesus Christ is known, honored, and served. Our name comes from two beliefs: (1) That God has a special concern and love for cities, and (2) That people cannot reach their fullest potential unless they enjoy a relationship with God and know Him personally.

High ethical standards, profound intellectual insights, and unleashed creativity are not enough. The classic Christian message, called the “gospel,” is that it is possible to have such a relationship with God though Jesus Christ.

I will tell you plainly that I believe City Church, under God’s grace and provision, has an incredible future. The way these pastors and people interact with the religious and civic leaders of this city, the way they continue to humbly learn and move toward a clearer missional vision, and the way they embrace and accept all people incarnationally, deeply impress me. If there is to be a strong and vibrant witness to Christ in the cities of America in the coming decades, especially among the rising young population that is flocking into many of our major cities, then I believe City Church San Francisco will be a major part of that kingdom growth. I look forward to seeing how God uses the friendships I enjoyed this weekend at City Church for the wider growth of Christ’s church in North America. This kind of weekend is what I live for in terms of my own call to ministry.

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  1. Reformissionary March 21, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    John Armstrong: Church in the City

    John Armstrong has a good post about his experience visiting City Church of San Francisco for a few days: What is the Future of the Church in the City? Here’s his final paragraph…I will tell you plainly that I believe

  2. Mike Abrahams March 24, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Your are right about City Church. It is a great Church. As a middle aged, inquiring non believer, I showed up there one day four years ago. Some month afterwards, I was baptized and not long later found myself teaching adult ed with one of our elders. Fred, Iron and Mike have done an incredible job bringing Christ to well educated, urban people who are often very wary of evangelical Christianity. As you have mentioned, they have shown as well incredible initiative and support in Church planting, including ours in Marin County, Grace Church. I hope you visit us someday.

  3. Victoria March 26, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    I see you discovered City Church. I live in the area and used to sometimes go as a kind of second church home (my membership is elsewhere). The music and sermons always inspired me and taught me. I always connected with God there. They are growing because they are teaching the plain Gospel and reaching out to the lost. God honors that.
    May He continue to bless City Church and bring the lost and hurting to Him.

  4. Eero March 24, 2007 at 6:29 am

    I need plenty more belief, plenty more power of prayer and more Holy Ghost with me. Please pray also that God gives me gifts of God’s grace.

  5. John H. Armstrong March 28, 2007 at 8:01 am

    I prayed for you this morning. I urge you to read Luke 18:35-42. Note that in verse 40 the text says, “Jesus stopped.” I prayed that you would earnestly cry out like the blind man and that Jesus would stop to heal your soul and give you sight to see his kingdom with all its glory and power.

  6. Jon Barry September 14, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    I think God is trying to tell me something today. I haven’t been to a church of any kind in over a year, and every church I have read about in the past I have nitpicked something wrong with. Not only was there nothing I could find about this church other than how amazing it it, but they also have a presentation in TWO days on what their church is all about. God’s timing was so dramatic for me that I nearly laughed at loud. It was like God shouting from a loudspeaker “FIND A CHURCH AGAIN!”. I think I shall pay it a visit on Sunday night.

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