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Country Church, City Church

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Nov 14, 2017

Sunday morning, and the congregation trickles into the little South Asian church plant—young professionals and artists, students, teachers, and lawyers. It’s small, maybe 160 on any given Sunday, but it’s growing steadily—the pews filling with the denizens of a rising middle class whose growing ranks are transforming the economic and cultural landscape of their rapidly urbanizing country.

They’re not the first target demographic you think of when you hear about missions in South Asia. In societies like this one where the gap between rich and poor is vast, slum dwellers and the village poor typically take the spotlight for mission work. But this rising urban middle class has spiritual needs that are just as great, and solid churches able to reach and disciple them are few.

Targeting influential urban centers
“Not to say that it isn’t important, but there’s already tons of mission work going on among the poor and in the villages,” said MTW missionary Jacob Ingram,* who planted this church of young professionals. “As an organization, we have worked with probably 100–120 church planters who are targeting that rural, poor demographic, but hardly anyone we’re working with is targeting the urban centers, which have enormous influence and potential for creating change.”

Urban areas are growing faster than rural, and in places like South Asia, reaching the rapidly-growing middle class is strategic, and not just because they are under-exposed to the gospel. With their economic power and resources they are able to be culture influencers, and are capable of sustaining and growing the national Church themselves.

Building self-sustaining congregations
“Missions work in villages is often dependent on Western money,” Jacob said. “And that’s created some difficult problems in the national church. … One of the bonuses of planting an urban, middle-class church is that it’s much more capable of sustainably supporting village church-planting work, and it’s a much more healthy way of doing that than having the funds come from overseas.”

In pursuit of the goal of creating a national church that can sustainably support village church planting, Jacob and the church plant have set up a partnership with a local seminary. Pastoral interns work with the church, and when they graduate they will go through a church-planter incubator program. The first two interns graduated this past June, and one of them will be moving to a major city within the same country to plant a church. Another young man is currently in the program. When he graduates the church hopes to work with him to plant a daughter church within their city.

“Our church is meant to be a church-planting church, so this really excites me,” said Jacob. “It’s why we exist.”


*Name has been changed. 

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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