Meeting the Challenge of the Cities

There are three huge reasons why Seventh-day Adventists must urgently carry forward mission into the great urban centers of the world.

  • God said so. Matthew 28:19, 20, does not leave any wiggle room. World events point to Jesus’ soon return, time is short, and thereby mission to the cities becomes urgent and absolutely essential. Now.
  • More than a hundred years ago, Ellen White called the church to increase its efforts and focus on city work. Imagine what she might say today. The ratio of Adventists to population is far lower in cities than in rural areas and islands. We can be thankful for what has been done in the past, but the church of this hour in history must not neglect the urban work that stands before it.
  • Cities are where the people live. The majority of the world’s population crowds the cities, and the percentage increases every day. The shifting population from rural to urban presents both a challenge and an opportunity.

“Mission to the Cities” is a world initiative that calls the church to develop a growth plan for every city in the world with a population greater than 1 million.[1] Planting new congregations must be central to that plan. There are 535 cities with a population greater than 1 million. Many of those cities are greater than 10 million, and an increasing number are larger than 25 million.

Mission to the cities may seem impossible. Yes, work in cities is difficult. Church members are busy, with little time to engage in mission. The population is full of people whose lives are often defined by dollar bills or Hollywood. The cost of mission workers, housing, property, and operations is far higher in cities than urban areas. Great news—impossibilities do not exist with God.

We’ve witnessed the great slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh; watched rivers of refugees cross borders, doubling city populations in 60 days; seen the hollow eyes of mothers desperate to feed their babies; watched weeping, sad-faced, lonely people in upscale neighborhoods; stared as hopeless people slept beside raw stagnant sewage; and prayed with people living in a house made of sticks and United Nations flour sacks. The question shouted in our ears: “Where is Jesus’ method?”

Why is this book being written on city mission?

Perhaps there might be one person who reads this book and will recognize the call of God. The church has been instructed to pursue city work and to develop simple methods that will draw people to see and know Jesus. We have been instructed to use Christ’s method alone.

What was His method? He went where people were. He touched them in sympathy and compassion. He healed them. He called them to God’s word. He appealed to them to forsake their sins, put on His robe of righteousness, and follow Him to the kingdom for eternity.

These methods are being implemented around the world in cities of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. People who are involved in God’s mission recognize that the world is hungry for hope. Poverty, loneliness, depression, sickness, and fear are rapidly becoming the status quo. This only states what everyone already knows. These conditions are all around us.

How does the church go forward in mission? Will the church ever be clever enough, smart enough, or rich enough to engineer the finishing of the work? Certainly not. The work will be finished by the power of the Holy Spirit working through people whose lives are experiencing spiritual revival and reformation. They will be people of the Word and people of prayer.

It’s a miracle of the Holy Spirit that anyone becomes involved in mission. Every conversion is a miracle of the Holy Spirit. Planting a new congregation is a miracle of the Holy Spirit. God’s purpose for cities will not be realized because of cleverly laid human plans.

This book contains stories of God’s leading and providence. It’s filled with real-life experiences describing how God’s mission team is establishing the kingdom in the hearts of city people around the world.

These stories provide a small glimpse into the lives of people who have chosen to turn their world upside down and become involved in God’s mission. They provide a small glimpse into the lives of people who have traded their rags for robes of righteousness. These stories provide beginning evidence that the march into the cities has begun and the call to service rings throughout the church. Will you be part of it?

Michael L. Ryan

Chairman, Mission to the Cities Committee

General Vice President, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Jerry Page

Secretary, Mission to the Cities Committee

Secretary, Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

[1] At a five-day urban mission conference held October 2013 at the General Conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, delegates voted a plan to emphasize urban outreach in every Division of the world field. The full text of this document is included in the appendix of this book.