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April 5, 2017Church Planting

City Reaching: A Conversation with Three Leaders about a Gospel Movement in South Florida

Church United is a partnership of local churches across denominations joining together to transform South Florida.
City Reaching: A Conversation with Three Leaders about a Gospel Movement in South Florida
Image: Wikimedia

Ed: Why are you interested in city-reaching movements?

Rob Hoskins: Serving the Global Church through OneHope, I've seen that there's a natural growth and traction around local missiology. How we reach our city is cropping up all over the world. With globalization, localization becomes more important. We're seeing churches rising up to say, "How do we unify not just around our theology for the sake of unity, but for the sake of mission?” This is a trend I see happening all over the world.

Alan Platt: In South Florida, we've adopted a model to simplify our missional engagement by focusing on three areas: the spiritual, the social, and the cultural. We ask three questions: What is the lostness of the city? What is the pain of the city? What is the brokenness of the city? After we begin to get answers, we challenge the churches that are part of the unity movement to have common outcome goals. We focus on shared outcomes, not shared activity.

Ed: What would some of the outcomes look like?

Alan: Typically, in the spiritual area, we find a baseline in terms of the Evangelical percentage and then ask the question, What is the percentage that we'd like to trust God collectively for? In the social area, we see that we might gravitate in some regions to family, so we measure certain components of divorce, juvenile delinquency, the foster system, etc. All of these elements reflect the pain of the region.

When we talk culture or brokenness, we've gravitated towards education and the next generation. We ask, How can we help failing schools? How can we invest in the educational space in each context?

Ed: Why do you focus on these other things? Why not just make them all spiritual metrics?

Rob: We believe that the gospel is not just in our proclamation and measuring the spiritual condition of who we are internally in the Church, but that Jesus, as a missionary, cared very much about the condition of the culture and society.

We've seen this sort of bifurcation in American Evangelicalism between word and deed. We feel like the holistic gospel for our generation really is a gospel that meets not only the spiritual needs of the individual, but that it should impact society and life as Jesus did in His time.

Ed: How does it work on the ground, Eddie?

Edwin (Eddie) Copeland: The centering point for churches on the ground is a firm belief that the Church is the hope of the world. We center on the spiritual, cultural, and social elements because we believe the gospel is best expressed in a unified voice that works in partnership with the city. We want to see churches become the first responders to the tangible needs of our city to demonstrate the heart of God and to demonstrate the reality of the gospel to the watching world.

Only a few months back, we had a tragedy at our airport. It was a mass shooting incident. Within 24 hours, Church United had written a response that we posted on our website condemning this horrific act of violence. We put the statement out, which said that what happened at the airport went against what we stand for and value as the Church.

Because we don’t just value unity for unity's sake, but unity for the sake of mission, we asked, What would it look like to mobilize the Church and to ask how we can best physically and tangibly respond to this brokenness? Within 48 hours, we decided to pay for the medical bills of all 54 people who were affected by the tragedy. We connected with the CEO of Broward General, who put us down line to all the staff.

In 48 hours, we had raised double of what we needed to respond to that tragedy. As a response, the CEO called our office and asked, "Why did you do this?" We answered, “We wanted to demonstrate that the Church truly is the hope of the world and the hope of Broward County here locally."

He asked us to write a letter that he would then send to all 54 patients on hospital letterhead about why we did what we did. We were able to send a letter saying that we were paying their bills in Jesus' name, as a unified Church, and we hoped they would be blessed by that.

Ed: Alan, you're in kind of the beginning stages of city reaching. Five years from now, what's your hope?

Alan: We're thrilled that we can be, as Eddie said, first responders in crisis moments, but we need to see further than that. We're looking at shifting the needle in certain baseline transformational engagements.

Right now, we're in a process of orientating church leadership to understand the paradigm and to take a long-term view. In that view, we're trusting God that we will see significant change within the context of spiritual, social, and cultural transformation of this region. We want this region to become the place where people say, "We want to go there. We want to raise our kids there. We want to start businesses there. We see that there's a good quality of life there."

There is something of the life of Christ being evident in this region. That's why we responded to the airport the way we did. We said, "That does not reflect who we are. We believe this place is something else."

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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