Boston: The Most Strategic City in the World for a Church Planting Movement?
The mission of the church is to make disciples by proclaiming the gospel to all nations. Jesus established this mission with his disciples 2000 years ago and it will continue until it is completed as the book of revelation describes with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth standing before the throne of God (7:9-12). As we talk about mission, it is essential to include a discussion of stewardship because while the church presses out in mission, there is not unlimited money, time, or people to send into unreached area. While balancing the sense of "God's call" to the unreached nations, the church has to consider where to focus time, energy, and resources for the largest kingdom-impact. Though it is important not to view people as a means to an end ("win these people so we can...") we should seek to be the best stewards of resources so that the most people can hear and have the chance to respond to the gospel message.
It is clear from reading the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament that Paul, and many other early missionaries, focused their efforts on planting churches in the influential cities of the Roman Empire. It has been well documented by scholars such as Rodney Stark that reaching the Roman Empire was largely done through the cities. While cities were very important then, they are becoming even more important now as worldwide populations are becoming increasingly urban. Recent research suggest that nearly 70% of people on earth will live in cities by 2050.
Boston is Like a Roman City
Realizing that God calls people to serve in different area for the sake of the gospel, the question is, "Are some places more strategic than others in terms of potential for a larger influence?" The apostle Paul seems to have used this strategy when he targeted cities like Rome, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi and others. I would like to suggest Boston may be the most strategic city on earth to make a worldwide impact for the gospel. Why? Is it because Boston is teeming with gospel-believing Christians? Hardly. Boston was recently ranked the 99th least "Bible-minded" city in the U.S. (out of the top 100 cities) and a look at the American Religious Database Archive (thearda.com) reveals the Boston metro area is only 3.2% evangelical. In addition, in 2012, it received the wonderful distinction of being the drunkest city in the U.S., second year in a row. While Boston is not a force in the Kingdom of God in any meaningful sense right now, it is a very unique city in many ways and these qualities make the potential impact of another great awakening there very significant.
A Global City
The first, and most central, fact in considering the worldwide impact of another great awakening in the Boston area is Boston is ranked 21st in Global Cities Index (2014). Factors taken into considerations for the index are business activity, human capitol, information exchange, cultural experience, and political engagement. Boston is tending upward in the index, which has been published every two years since 2008. In addition, Boston is ranked as one of the Elite Global Cities on the index and is third in the world in the Global Cities Outlook measuring, future potential global influence.
A second relevant fact is Boston is a center for higher education both in the Western hemisphere but also worldwide. It has one of the highest concentrations of college students in the U.S. and also has one of the highest concentrations of international college students in the U.S. This means people from all over the country and the world come here to study and most will go back home or somewhere else to live and work.
Thirdly, to add to Boston being a center for education, it is also considered to be a center for innovation, research, information technology, medicine, and finance both nationally and internationally. The city exerts a global influence by nature of features like having the best hospital in the country (Massachusetts General), being the most innovative city in the world (2011), and by having one of the highest concentrations of wealth of any city on earth. In addition, the city ranks 8th in the 2013 Global Financial Centers Index. This means, everyday, Boston is connected to financial markets and companies in cities across the world. As an example of growing influence in finance/business, GE, the eighth largest company in the world, decided in early 2016, to move its global headquarters to Boston.
Finally, Boston's population is very unique in some other ways than just having a lot of college students or good hospitals. Not only is Boston very ethnically diverse, it is also very densely populated. It is the third most densely populated large city in the country, just behind New York and San Francisco. People live close to each other (some might say on top of each other), including people from different economic means. Boston is the least economically segregated city in the county.
One Small Thing That Makes Boston Different
Okay, so enough with all the stats! You might be thinking, "Can't most or even all of these things be said about the other cities on the Global Cities Index?" The answer is yes and that is why al of these cities are important to the mission of the gospel. But why is Boston still unique in this list? Because, with the exception of Washington DC, Boston is by far the smallest city on this list. As a matter of fact, it is tiny compared to all the other cities! The population of Boston is only 625,000; it is 7.5% of the size of NYC (#1), 4.7% the size of Tokyo (#4), and 16% the size of Los Angeles (#6). In fact, the next smallest city int he top 15 is Vienna (#13) with a population just under three times the size of Boston. Boston exerts a higher global influence per person than maybe any other city in the world.
Reach Little Boston, Reach the BIG World
As we weigh all of this information and consider Boston as possibly the most strategic place for the gospel to take root through a church planting movement, some questions arise:
- Does the gospel tend to permeate a smaller population or a larger population more easily?
- Does the gospel tend to spread through a densely populated area faster than one where people are spread out?
- If the gospel were to impact a small, densely populated city with a truly disproportionate global influence what are the opportunities for impact worldwide in 5 years? 10 years? 25 years?
These questions shaped my calling to see City on a Hill Church plant churches across Boston and the nations. We see the potential for a huge global impact for Jesus here. If 6,250 people come to faith ni Jesus in the city of Boston, the percent of Christians changes 1%! If the same thing happens in New York, the percent of change is less than 0.1%. That kind of change in a city (any city) has a tangible effect, especially as it moves several percentage points.
Churches that Plant Churches that Plant Churches
What needs to happen to see this kind of impact in the city of Boston and the nations? It starts with planting 100's of churches that, along with other gospel believing churches int he area, become the catalyst for a great awakening in the city. This will require a lot of prayer, partnership, financial support, and God raising up church planters and core group members both locally and from across the country.
A small example of the impact of a gospel movement in Boston can have is a young man who came to faith through the church I planted/pastor, City on a Hill Church. Drew was a bright young Vietnamese student at Tufts Medical School. He was from a Buddhist family in Southern California and had little experience with the gospel. Through the ministry of City on a Hill, Drew met Jesus and went on to marry a young Christian woman in our church. After graduation, Drew was placed as an orthopedic surgeon resident at a very important hospital in Los Angeles. He came to Boston for a degree but instead he got something much more and now he desires to be a godly husband and doctor, on a mission for Jesus. What would the impact of 1,000's of "Drews" be across the U.S. and the nations in the next 20 years or more?
- Bland Mason