The Free Methodist Church has a significant but under-appreciated legacy of ministry in U.S. cities. Perhaps the best-known story of Free Methodist urban ministry is that of two Free Methodist women who, in 1871 in Chicago, told D.L. Moody that his preaching lacked power and then introduced him to the fullness of the Spirit. It was a turning point in Moody’s ministry. The impact of these women was partly from the DNA of Free Methodism – from birth we have been committed to minister in the cities.
Two years after its founding, the “Free Methodist” denomination turned its attention to New York City. The Susquehanna Conference listed Hudson River Mission as an appointment in 1862. This was the beginning of ministry in New York City. By 1873, the Philadelphia District was formed. In 1874, the New York Conference became a separate conference. Of the 18 appointments listed in 1874, half could be considered urban ministry. In addition to three appointments to churches in New York City, a Swedish Mission and a German Mission existed.
This urban legacy – significant but with little development – was characterized by godly individuals. Every city church lists names of people who faithfully gave their lives for urban ministry – stalwarts in the church over generations. Here is the list for the Brooklyn 16th Street Church: Cash Crouch, A. L. DeMund, Mary Johnston, S.C. Jones, Marion Mavis, Hedley Pedlar, and Ruth Perkins. These names represent more than 100 years of Free Methodists, faithfulness in one church to urban ministry. This scenario has occurred over and over in the Free Methodist Church.
As urban areas continue to expand around us, now is a good time for Free Methodists to evaluate their urban ministry and expand their vision in those areas.
Here are a few ideas for building on our legacy of urban ministry:
1. Cultivate Local Leadership
Penetrating the city with the gospel requires greater emphasis on finding indigenous leadership. Urban areas have many overlapping cultures. We should find and develop local leaders in these different cultures. About five years ago, the Maryland Virginia Conference (now The Acts 12:24 Churches Conference) committed to planting churches in Washington, D.C. We have been working hard to find local leaders to lead the Free Methodist Church to broad expansion in that city because of its global influence.
2. Create Coalitions
Although almost every Free Methodist urban church can cite ministries they have that affect their neighborhoods, we need to be much more intentional about creating coalitions. We need to work with other churches, Christian organizations and community organizations. The challenge of ministry in the city is too great for most congregations to “go it alone.”
3. Measure Multiplication
To have an impact on the cities, we need to focus on multiplication of groups and churches. We need to shift our attention away from helping congregations survive to helping them multiply. If the Free Methodist Church needs anything in the city, it needs more Free Methodist churches.
4. Pursue Purity
The success of our urban ministry will depend on the effectiveness of our theology. We need to lead people to a purer love for God and others – a love that compels acting on behalf of the “least of these.” We need to strip away everything that insulates us from needy people. Urban centers are waiting for us to reclaim our heritage of supernatural transformation.
5. Experiment with Evangelism
We have not yet discovered all of the ways of ministering in urban areas. There are ways of reaching people for Jesus that are not dependent on traditional church structures with their needs for pastor’s salaries and real estate. If we are willing to experiment with new methods, God is waiting to reveal new ways of penetrating the city with the gospel.
Free Methodists have been ministering in the cities since the denomination’s inception. We have a strong legacy of urban ministry and the sacrificial living that ministry requires. As urban areas expand, we are called, like our denomination’s founders, to turn our attention to the cities in ways that will be effective in our generation.
- GLOBAL “megacities” with populations of more than 3 million
- Heterogeneous population; multiple languages; culturally diverse
- Noticeable contrast between rich and poor
- Social under-classes are often as significant as mainstream societies
- Significant connections to other international population centers
- trade and economic
- ethnicities and extended family
Top Ten Global Cities
- FM Ministry occurs in 7 out of the 10
- Tokyo/Yokohama 37.5 million
- Mexico City 23.5 million
- New York 23 million
- Seoul 22.5 million
- Mumbai 22 million
- Sao Paulo 21 million
- Manila 20.5 million
- Delhi 19 million
- Djakarta 19 million
- Shanghai 18.5 million
- Dan Sheffield, Director, global and intercultural ministries, the FMC in Canada
Of the 140 Urban Agglomerations (contiguous urban zones) of over 3 million people
the Free Methodist Church is present in 65.
Click here to read more from the April-June 2012 of World Mission People magazine.