An Urban Developer
Taking the gospel to America’s spiritual deserts
Influence magazine spoke with Steve Pike, president of Urban Islands Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the presence of the Church in every North American urban center.
Influence: What’s the state of American cities in general?
Steve Pike: Generally, the actual urban core of most cities is experiencing positive population growth and positive economic trends. At the same time, however, they have become spiritual deserts — as the density of the population increases, the presence of churches decrease.
Why is it so hard to define “urban”?
So many variables affect the definition of urban. Population density is one variable. How many people per square mile qualifies as urban? Another variable is cultural. Are tight-knit neighborhoods of people from the same ethnic background or ethnically diverse zip codes clustered around a central business district urban? What about crime and creativity? Is urban characterized by lots of gangs or lots of entrepreneurs and starving artists? The result is that it’s tough to find a definition of “urban” that everyone agrees on.
What is Urban Islands Project doing to multiply in urban centers?
We complement the efforts of sending organizations (denominations, churches and church-starting networks) to support church start-up teams who are working in the same city at the same time. We facilitate the formation of a real-time peer learning environment composed of church planters and their families.
As the density of the population increases, the presence of churches decrease.
We use urban-tweaked metrics that allow us to accurately measure the progress of a church start-up team and coach them toward healthy missional momentum. We are currently working with 17 projects inside the city limits of three major American communities — Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and New York City.
What kind of person are you finding is the best fit to plant churches in these cities?
Urban starters must be tenacious, patient and full of faith. They need to be able to work cross-culturally. And they must be effective at building redemptive relationships with people who are not Christians.
How do urban churches look different from suburban or rural churches?
Surprisingly, in some ways urban churches have more in common with rural churches than they do suburban churches. Urban churches tend to be neighborhood-focused and typically have a lower average number of attendees than their suburban counterparts. The costs of living and doing church in the urban context tend to be higher than in either a suburban or rural context.
What difference do you think the church can make in America’s largest cities?
Proverbs 14:34 says that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” City centers tend to be the gathering place of the influencers who are creating the culture and crafting the philosophies that will eventually become the dominant trends in the general culture. In other words, what happens in the city impacts what happens in the suburbs and rural communities. When the voice of the Church becomes part of the conversation that is taking place in the heart of our cities, the benefits of righteousness will be a blessing to everyone.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2017 edition of Influence magazine.