What’s Next: My 5 Dreams for Church Planting in Boston
by Rev. Ralph Kee, Animator, Greater Boston Church Planting Collaborative
Where are we headed as the Church in Boston? What might be some goals, dreams, and potential growth points for the Body of Christ in Boston over the next several decades?
As I’ve engaged with the Boston 2030 initiative, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what it means for Christians in the next several decades. Here are my dreams about Boston’s church planting future:
Dream #1: Holistic Churches Multiplying Churches
I see Boston filled with Gospel-permeated, holistic churches.
By holistic churches, I mean those that serve the city with the whole Gospel by ministering to the whole person. I think that’s what God dreams and wants for Boston, because that’s what he wants for all his created people. Paul writes, “God has made known to us the mystery of his will,” and his will is “to bring all things together in Christ, both things in the heavens and things on the earth.” (Eph. 1:9,10)
Boston is staged to grow. I moved to a Boston of 641,000 in 1971. By Boston’s 400th birthday in 2030, the population is expected to jump to 724,000 or more. In light of this growth, we at the Greater Boston Church Planting Collaborative have been asking two key questions:
1. Where will these new Bostonians live? Whole new neighborhoods are underway to house several thousand people each, all within Boston’s city limits.
2. Where will these new Bostonians go to church? Will the Church be ready? Who will lead the way to envision new expressions of Church for new Bostonians? The apostolic task of the Church, a leading task from Ephesians 4:11, is to multiply communities of faith—churches multiplying churches. Let’s do it!
Learn More: Multiplying Churches in Boston Now
Dream #2. Both Gentrifiers and Born-Bostonians Playing a Part
I see Gospel-entrenched gentrifiers and neighborhood-based Christian activists together salting the city.
Boston is becoming more and more gentrified. Researchers spot gentrification where census tracts show increases in both home values and in the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that in the neighborhood where I’ve lived for 46 years, I too, am a gentrifier.
Today, gentrifiers include young Christian professionals moving into older neighborhoods all over the city to be salt and light, to love their neighbors, to do Jesus-style thinking and living in that neighborhood. These folks can be “entrenched gentrifiers,” incoming residents who, in their own minds and hearts, want to appreciate and have purposeful “attachment to the local meanings, heritage, history and people” they are now living near.
For example, intentional Christian communities—where several families or singles live together in shared commitment to each other and to their neighbors—are flourishing.
Boston’s "Gospel-entrenched gentrifiers", as I call them, are not pioneers, but reinforcements. They join embedded Kingdom builders—second-, third-, and many-generation Bostonians—Christ-followers who are dreaming big dreams for their neighborhoods.
One such Kingdom builder is Caleb McCoy, a fourth-generation Dorchester resident and EGC’s Development Manager. Caleb has a homegrown knowledge of and love for the city. He says, “I believe my role in the church is to help make the Gospel relevant and personal to people that may not feel that God’s plan applies to them.”
Caleb’s vision is to use his musical and communications gifts to inspire “a revival of young and middle-aged adults, joined together, exemplifying the Gospel through preaching and the arts.”
I am excited about Caleb’s vision. I have a dream that such neighborhood-based Christian activism will be the engine to drive effective ministry today and tomorrow.
Dream #3. Relevant, Hands-On Ministry of Reconciliation
I see today’s Boston’s Kingdom citizens reconnecting what has been severed by sin.
I am dreaming that Boston’s visionary, prophetic Christians will, with God-inspired imagination, help build new communities of faith. These newly imagined churches will demonstrate the Kingdom of God in today’s urban context.
The prophetic task, as I see it, is to cast a vision for a redeemed creation. Empowered by the Spirit of God, today’s prophets can work to reconnect what was disconnected by sin.
When sin entered the world, it entered the whole world—not just the human heart, but the very heart of the created order. Original sin instantly caused four original schisms, (Learn More: The Prophetic Task):
humanity separated from God
humanity separated from the created order
man separated from woman
people separated from people
What is to be done about these painful schisms? Thankfully, they are all resolved in Christ, as we the Church fulfill the prophetic task! We proclaim the Kingdom of God, and partner with God in his work of connecting, redeeming, healing, and bringing Kingdom-of-God life and peace to every facet of Boston.
Consider the refugees coming to Boston today. What will they find? Will they experience more schism in their torn lives? Or will some neighborhood church in Boston welcome them, embrace them as valued people loved by God, and begin to effectively reverse the curse of schisms in their lives by loving them well? (Learn more: Greater Boston Refugee Ministry).
And if some Boston residents were to observe Christians living in their neighborhood, reversing the curses of the four schisms, would these observers not be more ready to listen to the spoken Gospel message?
Dream #4: The Good News Proclaimed in Boston’s Heart Languages
I believe God is calling evangelists to speak the Gospel in the languages of Boston.
I want to see Boston gifted with many evangelists, men and women who can speak and live out the Gospel in the languages of Boston’s old-timers, of second- and third-generation Southies, or Townies, or Dorchesterites. Who will speak the Gospel to:
the retired men of South Boston who hang at the coffee shop every day?
the women who gather at Ramirez Grocery or Rossi Market?
the generations of men and boys who gather at the corner barbershop?
the freshmen or grad students at BU or BC or MIT?
those who speak the 100+ languages of newcomers arriving from the four corners of the earth?
We know the Gospel is two handed: word and deed. We need to do both: preach the Word and do the Gospel.
Today particularly, we need to be careful not to focus only on meeting basic needs and neglect preaching. One follows the other. After neighborhoods see the Gospel in action, I think they will be more ready to have someone fully explain it to them and invite them to believe in Jesus themselves. Show and tell.
Who of those already living in Boston are called to evangelistic preaching in Boston specifically? Who yearns to spend their lives preaching the Gospel in Boston? Do you?
In Romans, Paul asked, “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Rom. 10:14,15)
Dream #5. Church Planters Collaborating Closely
I want to see church planters in Boston thinking of themselves as players on a Boston-wide team.
The Greater Boston Church Planting Collaborative started gathering in 2000, and we chose the word “collaborative” intentionally. In the Book of Acts, the story of early church planting, we see nothing but collaborative ministry efforts. One church, one basic team, one overarching goal everyone shared and worked toward—that’s the Acts of the Apostles.
Collaboration is basic to church planting—and so it should be in Boston. I want to see Boston’s church planters meeting face to face, setting shared goals, being mutually accountable and passionately focused.
I imagine church planters setting Boston-wide church-growth and church-planting goals collaboratively. I envision shared strategies to cover ground and to plan over time—setting 6-month, 12-month, 2-year, and 15-year goals.
“How long will it take you to build the wall, Nehemiah?” King Artaxerxes asked (Neh 2:6). Nehemiah, a slave in a foreign land under a tyrant, was the last person in a position to guarantee any purpose-driven time goals. But he did tell Artaxerxes a time goal, because he had to. And they met it—the collaboration of faithful residents working side by side in Jerusalem finished the wall in fifty-two days!
Let’s collaborate, set some prayerful goals, and see the work get done!
To see the full-length article, click here: I’m Dreaming About Boston’s Future—Are You?
So those are my five big church planting dreams for Boston. What do you think? Are you dreaming with me? Dream big! When we get some more ideas, we’ll share them in a future post. Send me an email—I would love to hear from you.
Are you a church planter? I invite you to join us at the Greater Boston Church Planting Collaborative!
Ralph Kee came to Boston in 1971 to help plant a church emerging out of the Emmanuel Gospel Center’s neighborhood outreach. Starting churches became his clear, lifelong calling. He has since been involved in launching or revitalizing dozens of churches in and around Boston. In 2000, Ralph started the Greater Boston Church Planting Collaborative, a peer mentoring fellowship to encourage and equip church planters. Today he spends time mentoring church planters, mostly one-on-one, usually over coffee.