Big City Big Gospel Big Change
Rebecca Davis
Rebecca Davis
AFA Journal staff writer

November 2013 – Due to the rapid growth of urbanization, cultivating gospel movements in major metropolitan cities is a growing initiative among ministry and marketplace leaders in the United States and abroad. 

“It’s really a New Testament idea,” Dr. Mac Pier, president of The New York City Leadership Center, told AFA Journal. “When you read the book of Acts, it is really about Paul’s strategy to impact major global centers.”

Pier teamed up with the American Bible Society and Redeemer City to City, a ministry of Pastor Timothy Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, to host the fourth annual Movement Day October 10, 2013.

“Movement Day is a one-day gathering of leaders, primarily from the major metropolitan areas of North America and increasingly major global cities around the world, who gather to study the best practices of how the Christian community can impact major cities,” Pier explained. 

Although not everyone lives in or near a metropolis, Pier and his colleagues have found that everyone is impacted by large cities whether they realize it or not. 

“We believe that cities shape culture. We believe that the gospel movements shape cities and that leaders catalyze movements,” Pier said.

“A gospel movement is considered to be happening when the Christian population is growing faster than the general population in a city and/or region,” Pier explained in a previously published interview. “It also encompasses the following elements:

▶ Integration of local churches reaching new individuals with the gospel;
▶ Cultural leaders exercising their faith and influence in every sector of society;
▶ Ministry and community leaders transforming the lives of youth, the poor and marginalized;
▶ Citywide networks that mobilize, develop and connect these leaders.”

The purpose of cultivating a gospel movement through the institution of these elements is to make “the gospel of grace, truth, mercy and justice visible and tangible” so that the kingdom of God will become more apparent and personal to the city’s population. Gospel movements are designed to address the greatest spiritual, social and humanitarian needs of large cities worldwide. 

People experience the grace of God when they see believers serving their communities, for example, through church planting and innovative outreach, by working to alleviate homelessness and imprisonment, by mobilizing urban churches in the worldwide fight against HIV and AIDS or other proactive initiatives. 

Lives are touched. Hearts are changed, and cities are transformed.

Take New York City, for example. Pier has been a New Yorker for 30 years. Fifteen years ago, he founded Concerts of Prayer, a movement that initiated and promoted corporate prayer for the city, nation and world. Six years ago, he started the New York City Leadership Center to train grassroots non-profit leaders to be more effective in their work, to engage churches in humanitarian work and to birth new churches primarily in New York. Hosting the annual Movement Day has also become a major aspect of the Center’s work. “… [W]e’ve seen the percentage of what we would call Evangelical Christians grow by 300% in Manhattan from 1989 to 2009. … A lot of that has been largely due to the establishment of new churches,” Pier said. 

“ … [W]e saw the murder rate in NYC between 1995 and 2000 drop by 70%,” he added. “There are lots of reasons for that, but one of the primary reasons is that there was a simple effort to get churches praying every day for the city about the needs of the city.”

While there is still much to be done when it comes to penetrating metropolitan New York with the gospel, a massive change in the culture is evident from the work of God through prayer and the local church. Both are key to the cultivation and effectiveness of gospel movements. 

It would be ideal if the entire populations of today’s global centers became Christian in response to gospel movements, but it’s not expected nor is it the goal. The aim is to reach whole cities and cultures with the gospel. But reached doesn’t equate to converted. 

According to, “reached” means that a “tipping point” can be achieved where Christianity begins to have a disproportionate effect on the population’s values and beliefs; and their faith grows spontaneously, without external control.”

“We believe sociologically that when 10% of a group become part of something, they can begin to influence the way that group thinks or responds to certain efforts,” Pier said. 

Thus, a ripple effect occurs within the large city eventually impacting smaller cities within its reach. 

“Serious Christians need to understand that if the church is going to have the impact that it needs to have, it needs to understand and be engaged with cities, whether that is immediately or more from a distance,” Pier said. “It’s important for serious Christians to have an informed understanding of the world.”

Pier explained that the rate of urbanization – large numbers of people moving to central areas to live and work – is at top speed right now. Basically, a new San Francisco is born each month, and it’s important for believers to grasp this.

“Urbanization is influencing everything that we see and think and do,” he said.

Therefore, every person is impacted and ought to be motivated to get involved in some aspect of cultivating gospel movements – “not just people who are in charge of churches or organizations,” Pier explained, “but … anybody who has a calling or a responsibility to make a difference in their unique context regardless of where they are.

“Leaders are those people who are dissatisfied with the way things are and want to make measureable change happen in their own context,” he added. 

They are committed to becoming agents of change even if New York, or a city comparable in size, is miles away.

“It might look something like this: Somebody lives in a smaller city, but realizes the strategic nature of a New York or a London or a Chicago,” Pier explained. “He may want to connect with an initiative that’s really making progress in one of those cities.” 

He could get to know the leaders, pray for them, even visit and volunteer.

Pier summarized Movement Day and the whole concept of cultivating gospel movements as “a way for people to learn about and engage with some of the cutting edge efforts [of kingdom work] that are happening in cities in the U.S. and beyond.”  undefined

Understand, respond
▶ Read Why Cities Matter by Stephen T. Um and Justin Buzzard (foreword by Timothy J. Keller) to gain an understanding about the importance and influence of large cities. Available in bookstores and online.
▶ Watch “The Vision Behind Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church” online at
▶ Connect to Movement Day 2014, set for October 23: or 718-593-8626, x219.
▶ Learn more at or 718-593-8626.