Why YWAM needs to focus on Cities

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This article is composed from the emails that Tim Svoboda sent to the GLT for consideration in April 2008.

Dear GLT,

I was hoping that in our last GLT meeting in Korea that I could share with you on why we need to focus on Cities. There just was not time in the schedule to get that in as Lynn did all he could to balance our schedule. Since I would still like to share these thoughts with you I will be sending you 3 emails over the next three weeks (combined below) which give reasons why we as a Mission need to look strategically at cities with specific recommendations for us as YWAM.

Tim Svoboda

See also: Why YWAM needs to focus on Cities II

Why YWAM Need's to Focus on Cities

The world is quickly urbanising. 200 years ago the world was 97% rural and just 3% Urban. Today more than 50% of the world are living in Urban areas. This is not just taking place in North America. This is a world wide phenomenon. Africa and Asia urban populations are expected to double in the next three decades. The UN predicts that 7 out of 10 people in China will live in cities by 2050. In the next 5 years China is building 300 new cities just to keep up with the massive migration . The map below is from the 1990 census but you can see the massive amount of cities in China and India.

The YWAM Urban Network is not just talking about the big cities. There are four kinds of cities we are focusing on:

  • Super Giant Cities. These are the cities around the world with a population of +10 million. There are now 25 cities of this type in the world today. Growth in these cities is levelling off.
  • Giant Cities. These are the cities around the world with a population of +4 million. There are now 49 such cities in the world today.
  • Mega Cities. These are the cities from 1 million to 4 million population. There are now 468 such cities in the world today and these are growing quickly.
  • Frontier Cities. These are the cities from 100,000 to 4 million in population. There are thousands of such cities like this in the world today. These are the cities where explosive growth is going to take place.

If we look at the 4K project through the eyes of cities we can quickly see where we are located and where we are not. Below are a few slides of cities in various YWAM regions of the world. The cities in black are where we have some kind of YWAM ministry. The cities in red are where we do not have any presence at all. Also remember that just because we have one YWAM presence in a city does not mean we have penetrated that city! Out of the 854 YWAM listings in the 2007 Go Manual 623 of them are single address listings. This does not mean that we do not have multiple ministries in those places. However it also does not indicate that we have multiple locations in those places. Cities like New York, San Francisco, Berlin, Cairo, Calcutta, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and many others could easily have 20 or more YWAM locations in one city with diverse expressions.

We have to also keep in mind that the 10/40 Window is moving! East is moving West and South is moving North. Amsterdam is home to 180 nations. The whole former British empire lives in London. Paris is quickly become African and Germany is becoming Turkish while Toronto is becoming Chinese. San Francisco is now 38% Asian. My own neighbourhood of 20,000 people in San Francisco operates in 9 languages. Vancouver has more Sikhs than any city outside the Punjab. Bangalore operates in Urdu, Hindi, Telegu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, English and more. The world has moved to the Cities! Mission is no longer geographical distant. It is now cultural distant while being located just across the street in our own cities around the world. In the past missions was primarily about going over the ocean, through the jungle, across the desert to reach the remote. Today it is quickly becoming about crossing the street in the cities where we live.

Talking About Urban Missions

When we talk about Urban missions we are not referring to what has been meant by mainly American Urban Missions (which has been ministry only to the inner city or poorer sections of Cities). YWAM Urban Missions focuses on the Whole City. That means ministry to the powerful and powerless, to the middle class, to the migrants, to the poor, to the business community, neighbourhoods, to the upper class, unreached people groups, the 7 spheres of society, the university campus, issues of injustice, mercy ministries, evangelism and all that the city gives us opportunity for.

We need a dual strategy for cities in YWAM. Both of these ways require two kinds of leaders. One is the Micro strategy which requires Micro Apostles and the other is the Macro strategy which requires Macro Apostles.

Micro Strategy

In the micro strategy we need to divide the city up as much as possible which gives us opportunity for much ministry. We cannot look at cities as single entities in which we only plant a single YWAM ministry. Cities are diverse. You can see a pie chart to your left that divides a city into some of this diversity. We have to divide the city for strategic purposes into as many slices as possible. We need to cut it along ethnic, religious, linguistic, and cultural lines. We also need to cut it along neighbourhoods as some are rich and others poor. We also have to cut it along the lines of arts, business, education, media as well as the special needs of each city whether it is prostitution, suicide, homeless, senior citizens, youth, or issues of injustice, community health etc. The more the city is divided in sections, researched and strategized for the more ministries will multiply. Cities require not just one YWAM base but could easily sustain hundreds of focused teams that are living incarnationally amidst the diversity of the city.

Urban Mission Pie chart.jpg

The pie chart is not a comprehensive division of the city but begins to give us an idea of the complexity of the city. Having one YWAM base does not really afford us to live incarnationally amongst the people we are trying to reach. We have found in Urban Missions as we focus on the neighbourhoods, people groups, and concerns of the city our teams become more focused in what they are trying to accomplish. As we do this we develop "micro Apostles" who begin to become specialists in the field of their calling. For instance, Anil Kumar in Chennai India started with a team of 2 working with Lepers. Today it has expanded to more than 50 staff with Leprosy DTS, Primary Health Care, Relief and Development, Church Planting and other ministries just amongst one micro group of people who are Leprosy patients.

Macro Strategy

The second strategy for the city is through the Macro strategy. Micro apostles are what it takes at the grassroots to engage people in all the spheres, neighbourhoods and places of the city. Yet at the same time there needs to be those leaders that take a Macro view of the whole city. I remember talking with a senior Christian leader in a Super Giant city (cities with more than 10 million population) where YWAM continues to struggle to this day in establishing a presence. He told me our teams have been wonderful but we have struggled to become established throughout the city because we lacked the one or two broad shoulder leaders who would give the moral support to the micro teams that were trying to take root in the city. Although this YWAM work in a Super Giant city has had many micro teams, it has struggled to become established throughout the city because there were no leaders who could give moral support to the micro teams that were attempting to take root in the city.

Just as a base needs a base Director so the city needs a City Director. City Directors are not building YWAM bases but are making the City their base and expanding the efforts of YWAM throughout the city. City Directors are concerned with the transformation of the entire city. A city director is a facilitator who makes sure the micro teams stay alive. He/she does a little bit of everything which may include pastoral care, promotion, networking, teaching, strategizing, resourcing and whatever it takes to keep the teams moving forward in their endeavours. They are passionate about the city and are calling the All of YWAM to the All of the City. City Directors are not gate keepers protecting teams and YWAM from the city but are door openers who are inviting the All of YWAM and the body of Christ to build the Kingdom of God in the city.

Recommendations to YWAM and the GLT

Cities are where a large mass of the people are living. The trend is continuing that way with more and more people moving into cities. If we are going to be strategic in our missionary focus then cities have to be kept in our strategic planning. Here are a few recommendations that I would like to make.  

YWAM Needs to Be Located in the City

YWAM needs to be located in the city. That does not mean that those who are now having properties in rural areas need to close down and relocate! But the new centres we start should consider the strategic nature of locating in Cities. St. Ignatius, in the 16th Century, wrote 6815 letters to his Jesuit followers during his lifetime. Approximately 2300 of those letters were on the strategic positioning and acquiring of properties in cities. He once wrote, "Take special care that you obtain a good and sufficiently large site, or one that can be enlarged with time, large enough for house and church, and if possible, not too far removed from the conversation of the city, and having bought that, it will be a good beginning for all that follows." Thomas Lucas in his book Landmarking: City, Church and Jesuit Urban Strategy (ISBN 0829409734) says, "Ignatius found his vineyard not on the terraced slopes of the Pincio but at the busy corner of Piazza Alberti, in downtown locations all over Europe, and ultimately in crowded cities all over the globe."

In contrast many of our YWAM bases are located in such a way that conversation with people is difficult. We have therefore developed a "Theology of going/Theology of Outreach." Mission for many of us is "over there." However the city is the place where the people are and we are finding the unreached more and more in our own backyard. Ignatius gave birth to Loyola Colleges which today are strategically placed in cities around the world.

YWAM Needs a "Theology of Place"

YWAM needs to continue to develop a "Theology of Place." A theology of Place helps us to focus on reaching the people within walking distance of our own living space. It also helps us to make sure we are living where it is strategic rather than living where it is cheap rent or cheap real estate. While it is financially smart to buy cheaper land that cheaper land is often not strategic for engaging the people in our cities. I am finding around the world that students in our DTS's and other training programs are excited when they are being taught in locations that have hell in their front yards. In one such base that I know you literally walk out their front door and are slapped in the face by drug addicts, derelicts, homeless and the lost. The DTS students have to struggle with not only facing their own problems but are interacting each day with those outside their door who are in much worse conditions than themselves. Location in cities gives us proximity for engagement but location does not always motivate our hearts to reach the people around us.

We Need Multiple Operating Locations in Cities

We need multiple bases/oplocs in cities. One base is not enough for cities with the kind of populations we are experiencing today. Can you imagine cities such as Paris, Calcutta, Tokyo, Penang, San Francisco, Toronto and others with multiple YWAM long term teams that are each with specific focuses? One team may be doing church planting while another is doing business as mission and yet another is focused on suicide prevention while another may be working with the artist community. Possibilities for ministry in cities is vast.

University of the Nations Curriculum Needed

The University of the Nations needs to consider appropriate curriculum for the Urban World. Church planting, primary health care, counselling, world view, performing arts and community development need to be looked at through the lens of Cities. While perhaps small adjustments they are nevertheless ones that need to be considered. 

Urban and City Advocates Needed

Every YWAM region of the world needs an Urban/City Advocate who helps us strategize towards effective ministry into the cities of their region. I would encourage that these advocates are part of the regional leadership team so there is regular input going on. These city advocates need to be people that can interface with Mercy Ministries, Frontier Missions, Kings Kids, Impact World Tour and the University of the Nations so cities are opened up in our regions to the All of YWAM.


Want to learn more?

Visit the YWAM International Urban Website at http://www.ywamcity.org. Under Resources there are many articles and a good Urban Missions book list with many books for reading on Cities. Or why not consider attending a YWAM International Urban Missions conference?

Talk to Tim Svoboda tks61@yahoo.com who can really help!

Vancouver Declaration

A declaration put forward and signed by the members of the YWAM North American Cities Conference 2008. The Vancouver Declaration.

See also: Why YWAM needs to focus on Cities II