Urban Church Planting and the Empowerment of the Poor

Youth Specialties
August 22nd, 2016

This post is provided through a partnership with S.O.U.L. MAG, a FREE urban ministry and lifestyle magazine created to serve youth workers and the Church. 

As we consider the issues and challenges facing urban communities across the United States of America, there is a case to be made for urban church planting.

There is a need for healthy and thriving churches which are urban, multi-ethnic, missional, and reconciling. The good news is that there are many movements and associations that are financially investing in and providing training for urban church planting to take place. The sad news is that many indigenous urban leaders are being passed over for others who are moving into the city with more of a hipster approach to church planting that seems to prioritize a model that rides the waves of gentrification. Though cities and larger metropolitan areas are changing rapidly, the challenge that still remains are the neighborhoods and communities with significant concentrations of poverty. Urban church planting that uses the hipster approach connected to gentrification can unknowingly participate in the displacement of the poor to the suburbs. In other cases the urban poor become the second phase of the church planting strategy after the resourced and privileged take up all the leadership positions.

The urban poor cannot simply be the objects of the outreach strategy of urban church plants, they ought to have a voice in ministries being planted within their communities. The urban poor must be equipped and empowered to lead healthy and transforming urban churches themselves. To do this, we don’t need to close the door to folks coming into the city to be a part of church planting. What we need is a church planting strategy that includes local churches, denominations, and planting associations from various locations coming together to empower the urban poor and other indigenous urban leaders to shepherd the people of their communities.

World Impact is an urban missions’ organization with over 40 years of experience ministering to the urban poor across this nation and beyond. I was blessed about a year ago by being extended the call from the national board to come and serve as President and CEO. I am fortunate to have been invested in years ago by the local church and urban missionaries in Minneapolis, Minnesota (where I grew up), to serve as an urban youth pastor and church planter. I know firsthand what it means to have Christian leaders pour into you so that you can become a ministry leader in your own community. Unfortunately, there are not enough men and women growing up in under-resourced urban communities that are being blessed with that same experience. This is what fuels our work at World Impact.

Here is World Impact’s Global Ends Statement :

“The empowered urban poor, advancing the Kingdom of God in every city, through the local church.”

We live this statement through the missional priorities of evangelism, equipping, and empowerment. This simply means a holistic commitment to extending the love of God to the unreached urban poor, and equipping them as disciples who make disciples, and leveraging their unique gifts, skills, and abilities for the Kingdom. We minister to the urban poor, learn from the urban poor, and serve under the urban poor as they assume leadership within their own communities.

In connection with these missional priorities, we press towards the ministry model of empowerment through the following four focus areas.

  1. Planting Healthy Urban Churches
  2. Resourcing Urban Leaders
  3. Developing Missional Partnerships
  4. Demonstrating Compassion and Justice

Through these focus areas and the initiatives connected to them, we forge a distinctive approach to urban church planting that intentionally focuses on indigenous men and women, uniquely positioned to be Kingdom Laborers in the city. We have planted over 70 churches over the past few years and we have a goal to plant 300 urban churches over the next 7 years. With the work of our missionary staff, World Impact Associates, and local church partners, we facilitate urban church planting movements in cities such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Newark, Wichita, and Dallas. Our premier initiative for equipping and training urban church planters and revitalizing existing urban churches towards reproduction is The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI). TUMI at its most practical level is contextualized and affordable theological and leadership training to raise up urban leaders around the nation and beyond. We currently have over 170 TUMI Satellites in local churches, community centers, county jails, and prisons. Yes, I did say county jails and prisons. We partner with prison ministries and chaplains to equip and empower inmates to become Kingdom Laborers as well. Some, we believe, will one day leave prison and go back into the city as Ambassadors of Reconciliation and radical soldiers for Christ. For those who unfortunately are serving longer sentences, we believe that they can become disciples who make disciples and church planters within the prison walls. We believe that through the empowerment of the urban poor, the disenfranchised, and the existing indigenous leaders, major transformation can come to our cities. We invite you to join us.


Efrem Smith is the President and CEO of World Impact. He is the author of The Post-Black and Post-White Church. Husband and Father.

Want to learn more about World Impact? Visit: www.worldimpact.org

Youth Specialties

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.