Just back from New York, where I participated in the Movement Day: Global Cities (MDGC) conference. 3000 delegates from 90 nations gathered in the Jacob Javits Centre in Manhattan to reflect on God’s heart for the transformation of our cities. I was part of the Arts and Culture track which was a wonderfully energised and eclectic gathering of practitioners and pray-ers. Some headlines from the event are:

Mission as Movement. This may seem a no-brainer, but for too long we have thought of mission in terms of strategies and techniques. In truth mission happens when the people of God become an authentic, spirit-led movement. To be fair, there were some traces of strategy and technique trying to surface in the conference, but the overall message of a transition from management to movement was firm.

Diversity as Delight. At the heart of Movement Day is a call to unity, particularly across denominational and ethnic boundaries. Every church has gifts to bring and every believer has a part to play. Roger Sutton summed it up brilliantly – “Our cities won’t be transformed until we all give everything.” 

Prayer as Primary. The New York story at the heart of Movement Day is rooted in prayer: there was unity in prayer before all else. The same pattern is repeated in cities from Manchester to Mumbai – where leaders and their churches unite to pray, good things happen. Oddly, there was very little prayer at the conference itself, which may lead some to miss this vital connection: but the pattern all the same is well establish: transformation is anchored in unity, and unity begins in prayer.

Place as Purpose. A highlight of the event was an impassioned exposition by Dr Tony Evans of Jeremiah 29 – God’s call to his people to be fully present in the cities he has placed them in. Even in exile? Especially in exile. We will not see transformation unless we engage with the places of our calling, moving with vision and hope into urban spaces. Partnering with people of peace who, like us, care about their city, and participating in movements for change.

The upshot of all the above is twofold – a bold vision for the transformation that the Biblical narrative can bring to contemporary cities, and an unexpected affirmation that our churches, struggling though they may be, have within themselves the resources they need. The key to global transformation is not the discovery of some new evangelistic tool – it is the mobilisation of the people of God to be the people of God, as they are, where they are.

For those of us engaging in church-planting, the question is whether it is possible to inject this DNA of unity for transformation into the very beginning of a church’s story. Can we dream God’s dream for our cities even as a newborn, barely-walking community?

For those on this side of the Atlantic with a passion to pursue this conversation further, there will be a Movement Day event in London on October 6th and 7th 2017. I thoroughly recommend attendance.