THE URBAN INITIATIVE STRATEGY
“I am passionate about the city and people of Portland, perhaps you are too! I have a desire to share the love of God with our city and I believe the Urban Initiative is God’s plan to reach our complex and diverse culture.
But, I am just one local pastor of a great church with a huge history. What if we all joined together to reach Portland for Jesus? Imagine what could happen!”
— Ray Noah, Petros Network, Founder | Portland Christian Center, Lead Pastor
There are people in Portland, who for whatever reason, would never consider coming to my church — as great as it is. The Urban Initiative provides a new way to reach a gospel resistant culture calling for neighborhood-centric churches to be established throughout Portland— wherever people gather to do life: in traditional neighborhoods, in businesses, and high rise apartment buildings—what are referred to as vertical neighborhoods. A UMI faith gathering (technically, a church) requires only a space—a living room, community center, board room—not a piece of property, a building, or a large church planting budget, all of which are the primary constraints that end up killing many church plants of the traditional model.
Behind the Urban Initiative is the idea of taking the church to people instead of expecting people to come to the church—an expectation that once drove evangelism in Portland, but yields little fruit today. Likewise, the concept sees the work of the church planter not so much as a pastor, but as a missionary.
Much of Portland is now two to three generations removed from any kind of church experience, therefore urban missionaries are encouraged to approach planting a neighborhood-centric church as a foreign missionary would approach mission work among unreached people in Africa. Thus, urban missionaries will embed themselves within the culture they seek to reach: they will live among the people, do life together, work with their hands—they are tent-makers rather than professional clergy; they will craft a gospel approach that is indigenous—it will make sense to the people; they will incarnate the gospel, earning the right to be heard by genuinely loving people where they are and as what they are—they will see people as the objects of God’s unconditional love, not merely prospects to fill the attendance roster of the church and thereby justify its existence.
The Urban Initiative in no way seeks to demean or do away with either the traditional church (such as the one I lead) or the traditional church planting model. Those approaches are still necessary to reach segments in communities that will never be interested in the intimate approach of an urban faith gathering. Together, both evangelism approaches to North American communities are needed if the church is going to effectively fulfill the Missio Dei, that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)
“The goal of the Urban Initiative is not to grow any one church to a large capacity, but to grow as many thriving, reproducing, incarnational churches as possible. Each neighborhood-centric church will have its own unique weekly gatherings, but collectively they will begin to populate Portland’s neighborhoods with gospel outposts. This will allow the Urban Initiative to be small enough to include, yet large enough to impact. This approach is intensely missional, ruthlessly indigenous, and creatively aligned to skirt the barriers of the gospel resistant Portland culture.”
While too high a percentage of traditional church plants fail because they are not what has been described above, the Urban Initiative has a high potential to thrive and reproduce throughout Portland and in North American communities by the thousands because the model is mobile, inexpensive and scalable to the conditions of any community. If done well, it is incarnational precisely because it “fleshes out” Christ’s love at the individual level. Of course, while we can only give intentional and intelligent effort to it, “the final outcome is up to God.”
Portland’s culture has grown increasingly resistant to the gospel, indifferent to the church, and embracing of values that stand in stark contrast to the historic orthodoxy of the church. The number of “nones” and “dones” in every age category is growing. Of course, Portland is simply indicative of what is happening throughout the United States and in Western Europe. In response, the church is by and large intimidated by these cultural shifts, decreasingly engaged and increasingly hopeless about what the church “looks like” in this new paradigm. Perhaps the Urban Missions Initiative is a twenty first-century opportunity to thrive in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Maybe it is even a God-ordained strategy to establish a truer representation of His Church. It has happened before.
Our sincere desire is to care and love our city. We believe the Urban Initiative
is a God inspired strategy and we invite you to join us.
Petros Network, Founder