The Changing Fads of Church Involvement in the City

Culture is interesting. It is the repetition of ideas, thought patterns, and habits that become ingrained within a society. What is interesting is that for most of us we simply assume that our culture or tradition has always been in place. For example, we don't think twice about living an automobile-oriented lifestyle. The assumption is that's the way cities have always been. Cities have been around for a good 6,000 years and yet a car-centric lifestyle is at best 100 years old. In the history of cities it is an anomaly even though it has left an indelible mark on the shape of cities. But many of us cannot conceive of life in the city or anywhere else beyond cars. It is not only a mode of transportation, but has woven itself into the culture and ethos of our nation.

The point is, when ideas or habits become reinforced or repeated over and over it simply becomes part of the norm of life and society. The same goes with the church. This can range from how and where churches gather on Sundays to what the role of a pastor is to be and so on. Pastors have transitioned over the past century from chaplains to modern CEO-types to now start-up entrepreneurs and social media darlings.

When it comes to the role of the church in the city there are certain trends or even fads that dominate. Usually some well-known pastor will advocate something and within a few years churches across the land are doing the same. But for many when the question is asked, "how should a church be involved in the city?" the answer most often defaults to something related to homelessness. Within the spectrum of city involvement has recently evolved in the past decade other trends such as foster care, adoption, and human trafficking.

All of those ministries and endeavors are worthy of our time, money, and sacrifice.

The point here is that fortunately or unfortunately most of our involvement still tends to be trend or fad-driven. Once a new one crops up churches will transition away from such endeavors as foster care, adoption, and the like to jump headlong into this "new one." New books will be published and new prominent voices will arise advocating for this.

So what is the point? The point of this article is not a backhanded slap at the church's involvement in the city. Instead, it is (a) an attempt to bring to light that we all are pushed and pulled by trends and fads. Sometimes that is good and sometimes it allows us to simply be lazy. (b) The end goal is for you to learn to think more deeply and holistically about the city, the activities within, and creative ways to be involved beyond the ... "we feed the homeless" or "we're involved in foster care."

In no way is any of this meant to be mean-spirited nor a sneaky way to advocate for churches to stop what they're doing. What I do want to communicate is that we're too narrow in our involvement and as a result we default to doing what we see others are doing. We're following the trends of the age within the church. But I want you to uncomfortably wrestle more deeply than that. You don't get a hall pass on this one. Your city needs you. Maybe this means getting involved in affordable housing, safer streets for children to walk or bike to school, job growth and attracting new industries, better performing schools, and so much more.

The most important question then is: what does your city need?