What is the Future of the Church in the City?

John ArmstrongThe Church

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 www.citychurchsf.org.

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.