Church Planting Essentials – Urban Church Planting Part 2

The following guest post is look at how urban social structure requires us to rethink our methods for church planting and church planting movements.  David Broodryk is a South African church planting strategist and a partner in ministry.  Hope you enjoy.


David Watson
from Beirut


re-thinking urban church planting

In a previous article, I explored the issue of urban people not living in traditional communities.  I mentioned that urban people relate to one another through linear networks.  In other words, they may know a lot of people, but those people do not necessarily know one another.  As we explore the make-up of urban dwellers, we discover more and more contrasts between them and typical rural dwellers.  This affects church planting and disciple-making in the urban context.

The primary social units of rural dwellers are the family, the extended family and the cultural or ethnic group.  These give the rural person a sense of community and belonging.  But as people move into cities, these communities begin to break down.  The social structures in an urban environment are also very different to those in a rural environment.  Urban people relate to one another through a much more complex matrix of social institutions.  The social institutions that exist in a rural environment, such as family and extended family, have often been broken down or do not exist in urban environments.  Families are more complex, consisting of single parent families, adopted families, child-led families, gay and lesbian families and families made up of unrelated friends living together.  Extended family is often non-existent, so most related families are small, isolated units.  People often do not relate to their physical neighbourhoods, but to their social networks.  The matrix becomes even more complex in Western cities where cell phone and internet technology is used to build virtual networks.

This does not mean that urban dwellers do not group.  But the nature of this grouping is very different to the large rural extended family or clan.  Urban dwellers most often group together within the work environment and inside social or religious institutions.  It is important to study the nature of these institutions, because they are the holding cells of the people we want to reach.

A social institution can be defined as “Groups of persons banded together for common purposes having rights, privileges, liabilities, goals, or objectives distinct and independent from those of individual members.”

These social institutions form community in an urban environment. In a typical city or suburban town they would include community interest groups, community service organizations, educational institutions, government and legal institutions, health care institutions, intellectual and cultural organizations, market institutions, political and non-government organizations, gangs and religious organizations.  These are the “kingdoms of this world” in an urban environment.  They are the fabric that holds society together.  They are also the prisons that hold people captive and apart from one another.  I have a feeling that they are related to the “Principalities and powers” mentioned in Ephesians 6:12.  People in the West are not as independent as they like to think.  They form worldviews and behavioural patterns that conform to the social institutions they belong to.  Social institutions are not neutral gathering grounds.  They take on personalities under the control and influence of demonic entities.  These are often the entities that work to “blind the minds of unbelievers” (2 Cor. 4:4).  It is not uncommon to see people’s personalities and behaviour change as they join or leave these social or religious institutions.

In order to disciple nations, we cannot afford to ignore the institutions that are the sub-groupings of a nation, city or town.  Here’s the catch: the church, rather than being an instrument of social transformation, has become a social institution – another kingdom of this world.  You often hear this comment from people who leave the institution and discover that their relationships with people were only intact as long as they belonged to the same church, club or business.  Religious institutions have become holding cells for people, shunning anyone not part of the same institution.  They keep people busy with activities designed to prop up the institution.  The effect is an institutional club rather than a missional movement.  Satan is happy for “church” to be captured inside an institution.  It keeps our faith private and as long as it remains in that box, he can have free reign over every other sector of society.  We only encounter resistance and spiritual warfare when we invade the kingdoms of this world.  Society has also classified “church” as another institution that has no right to interfere with any of the other social institutions.  As a result, church often has little or no influence on the society around it.

An urban strategy for a disciple-making movement has to consider the complexity of businesses, corporations, social and religious institutions in the target city.  Disciple-making movements will not take place in the religious sphere.  Neither will they take place in a vacuum.  In order to reach urban dwellers, we must penetrate, influence and maybe even redeem the institutions that hold them captive.  Disciple-making movements take place when we develop strategies to gain access into the heart of the various social institutions and begin to make disciples in the course of ordinary life.  This means we need to ask a few key questions as we consider the matrix of institutions within our target city:

  • What would access into this social institution look like?
  • Who are the Gatekeepers?
  • Who are the People of Peace?
  • Who are the Connectors that will take to the heart of the institutions?
  • Where will resistance and opposition come from?
  • What access strategies can we develop into these institutions?
  • What are the social sub-structures inside every institution?
  • What would a disciple-making movement inside this institution look like?
  • What would it look like for this entire social institution to become or contain church?

I am beginning to wonder if maybe these social institutions present the minimum unit for disciple-making.  This is almost certain in the case of religious institutions.  We should not, for example, be targeting individuals or families, but entire Mosques.  In the West, we should consider that entire churches may be the minimum unit of transformation.  Beginning with individuals or smaller groups often fails to create movement.  The individual or small group gets shunned and sometimes excommunicated.  Once this happens, we have inoculated the rest of the people in that institution and movements are less likely to take place. 

Leaving the religious sphere, let’s consider the other social institutions.  How about entire Police Stations?  In South Africa, we have teams working on strategies for this very thing.  What about non-profits, prisons, entire gangs or businesses?  What would church look like if all the employers and employees decided to become followers of Christ?  What would it look like if an entire school, pub, sports club or arts society turned to Christ?

These are the questions that we need to engage in urban church planting.  They are also the questions that will lead to real transformation.  They are difficult and dangerous questions, but we dare not ignore them if we want to see real movements that bring lasting change.

Thank you for reading my rambling thoughts . . .

Comments are welcome.

David Broodryk
South Africa



Community: A group of people residing in the same locality and under the same government or a group or class having common interests. (Definition Source: Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary)

Community Service Organizations: Non-profit, charitable organizations dedicated to assisting others meet basic needs, resolve personal or family problems, or improving their community. This includes soup kitchens, rotary clubs, Boys and Girls Clubs, scouts, etc.

Educational Institutions: Social organizations dedicated to teaching skills and knowledge to individuals.

Governments and Legal Institutions: The office, function, authority, or organization that sets forth and administer public policy and the affairs. A government consists of a legislative branch which writes law and policy, executive branch which executes law and policy, and judicial branch which enforces law and policy. This includes local, state, and national governments. This includes all branches of the military. (Definition Source: Monitoring Social Indicators for Ecosystem Management)

Health Care Institutions: Social institutions that specialize in monitoring public health, providing health maintenance, and treating illness and injury.

Intellectual and Cultural Organizations: Social organizations dedicated to search for new knowledge or the development and preservation of art.

Market Institutions: Social organizations dedicated to barter and trade. This includes all corporations and businesses.

Political and Non Government Organizations: Social organizations dedicated to influencing the processes of government; political parties. This includes non-governmental organizations and groups of people with common goals, interests, or ideals formally bound together by a common set of rules or by-laws that influence public policy.

Religious Organizations: Groups of people who share a common, codified belief in and reverence for a supernatural power acepted as the creator and governor of the universe. (Definition Source: Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary)

In a rural area, these social institutions are made up of

Ethnic or Cultural Groups: A social organization consisting of many extended family groups related by a distant, common ancestry.

Extended Family: A social organization consisting of several nuclear family groups related by common ancestry.

Families and Households: A fundamental social group consisting especially of a man and a woman and their offspring; a domestic establishment including the members of a family and other who live under the same roof. (Definition Source: Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary)

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