Q: Why the city?
A: It is where the people are
During the 20th century, people moved from the centre of Sydney to the suburbs. Sydney rapidly expanded with sprawling new developments making it one of the least dense and most suburbanized cities in the world. Workers commuted to the city but “lived for the weekend” which was enjoyed in the suburbs. Our suburban homes were where we socialised. In the 1980s, at 6pm on a Friday the city was a ghost town. Churches followed this migration and our largest and strongest churches formed in the outer suburban fringe. The only churches left in the city centre were in decline and typically comprised of older members who had once lived close to the city but now commuted to church from suburbs far away. Apart from Sunday, their lives were lived in the suburbs.
Now, in the 21st century, people are moving back from the suburbs into the centre of Sydney. This is the trend in many world cities. Within a 20 minute ring of the city centre medium to high-density housing is booming. The predominant group attracted to the city are young professionals. However, downsizing empty-nesters and even families are increasingly moving close to the city.
Q: What is the city like?
A: The city is loved by God
God loves this city so much he sent his only Son to die in the place of every person in this city. He loves the city too much to leave it as it is. We long for every person who works, plays and lives in the city to come to know his Son Jesus. This is a huge task that will require many flourishing churches working in warm partnership. Churches working together across denominations will testify to the city and to their own people that the gospel, rather than brand loyalties or personal empires, must unite us.
A: The city is diverse
Closer to the city centre, the population is typically more ethnically and generationally diverse. The further out toward the suburban fringe, the more individual suburbs tend to be uniform in age-stage and ethnicity. People in these suburbs typically value its homogeny. However, people predominantly choose to live close to the city centre because they value diversity.
A: The city is strongly divided between rich and poor
The closer you move to the city, the more the key demographic is tertiary educated and professional. The divide between rich and poor is pronounced – the well-off side by side with the homeless.
A: The city is transient
Compared to the suburbs, people closer to the city centre move house more often. Also, urban workers frequently move between world cities. While this is a challenge to community, it creates great opportunities because times of change are often when people are more open to the big questions of life.
A: The city is relatively unreached by the gospel
Like other world cities, the urban centre of Sydney is the part of the city least reached with the gospel.
The churches have been slow to follow the demographic return to the city. When new churches have come to the city they have often bought with them “suburban mindsets” on doing church and evangelism. Strategies that have worked well in the suburbs don’t always translate well to the city – think door knocking your neighbourhood.
The “spiritual hole” growing in the centre of our cities is an important and challenging mission field. This challenge requires new churches with fresh and imaginative ideas coupled with a prayerful confidence in the power of the gospel.
Q: What will the church at Scots aim to be?
A: Multi-ethnic & multi-generational
Our vision is for a single multi-generational and multi-ethnic congregation. Not only will a multi-gen and multi-ethnic church appeal to the values of city people, but in an unchurched city context, such a church has 4 distinct advantages. (1) It provides opportunities for the older to mentor the younger. (2) A community that breaks down the generational and ethnic barriers so prevalent in the world is a profound testimony to the gospel’s power. (3) City dwellers/workers with a diverse circle of relationships can invite people to a church that is equally diverse. (4) In a transient city where young workers are often lonely and dislocated from their biological family, a multi-gen church that feels like family offers a powerful welcome.
A: Showing and telling the gospel
In an unchurched city context, many people have had limited contact with Christians. Their perceptions of Christianity are mainly shaped by the media. They may have very little understanding of the Christian message and what the Christian life looks like in practice. Evangelism needs to assume nothing and start “further back” with patient outreach that allows people to come and belong even as they listen and work through what they believe. It will involve generous and respectful dialogue. It will also involve “showing” the gospel as the Christian life is lived out in the workplace and as those considering the gospel “look in” on the gospel community.
The gospel message not only brings us into relationship with God but is the way God continues to deeply change us. Preaching needs to demonstrate, for the sake of believer and unbeliever, the way the gospel equips us to live each day – as workers, as citizens, as family members and friends. The gospel changes how we see: ourselves (his loved children), our city (lost and needing his love), what is worthy of our worship (challenging our idols) and our calling (to lives of love in thanks and praise to Jesus).
A: Practical love
As the people who know God’s love, he calls us to live lives of love. Loving the city means caring for the needs of the city both individually and corporately. One expression of this is our breakfast ministry to the homeless in the city. This ministry will provide an opportunity to practically care for the homeless and connect with the many city workers who volunteer in this work.
A: Seeing transience as an opportunity not a problem
Churches often complain about transience and fail to see the opportunities transience bring for the gospel. As Sydney increasingly becomes an international, multicultural city, many will come to Sydney to work or study for a time and then move on, perhaps returning to nations officially closed to the gospel. There is a strategic opportunity to reach the world by equipping them, while they are with us.
A: Equipping to survive and thrive in a city context
Whether people go or stay, our goal is to equip everyone to be more useful for the kingdom. This includes but is not limited to (1) equipped to share the gospel one-to-one and share their testimony appropriately, (2) disciple another believer one to one through Bible reading and prayer, (3) apply the gospel to the choices and challenges of how to survive and thrive in a post-Christian city context.
A: An emphasis on roots and community
While people are attracted to the city because it feels inclusive and highly connected, most new city dwellers feel lonely. The community shaped by the gospel needs to emphasise both the gospel distinctive of inclusiveness (every nation and tribe), the value of humbly learning from the other (younger learning from older, older learning from younger) and transformative community (the truth spoken in love).
For millennials, history and tradition are a way to find identity – think of Anzac Day and the interest in tracking down biological parents. While churched millennials may have inherited a suspicion of tradition from their parents, unchurched millennials have no such issues. In fact, for a rootless and transient generation, the rich heritage of Christian thinking and hymn writing is highly attractive – that Christians have been reflecting on questions regarding suffering, evil and epistemology down the centuries often reflecting this is deep theological writing, hymns and prayers, greatly enhances the credibility, plausibility and practical appeal of Christianity.
A: Networks not neighbourhoods
Connections between people in the city are more in terms of relational and tribal networks than geography. Town planners talk about a phenomenon called the ‘20 minute city’. Journeys less than 20 minutes are considered local and journeys that take longer are less desirable. Inside the 20 minute ring, the urban unchurched will not be effectively reached by door-knocking residential towers. Instead, we should be connecting along networks. While in the outer suburbs it is common to have two unconnected groups of “work-mates” and “neighbours”, inside the 20 minute ring it is common to have one group of highly connected network of relationships that includes work and social contacts.
The target group for the church-plant is people who live less than 20 minutes travel time from the city and would tend to socialize in the city. A key diagnostic question for launch team members is: Would your current network of friends more readily accept an invitation to attend a church in a city location than where you currently go to church?