For most people, beauty is to be found in a landscape rather than a cityscape, but a major new Foursquare initiative is aiming to reframe that perspective.

“When God looks at our planet, He is looking for beauty, and people is where He sees the greatest beauty,” says Brad Williams, senior pastor of Summit Church (Spokane III Foursquare Church) in Spokane, Wash. “So where there are the most people, there’s the most beauty. When God looks at the city, He sees a field of flowers.”

That perspective is part of the vision behind the Global Cities thrust announced at this year’s Foursquare Connection in Dallas—a renewed commitment to establishing churches in some of the country’s most challenging urban centers. Doing so will require concerted prayer, new paradigms and sustained partnership.

Efforts are already underway in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Detroit; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; and New York. There are plans for multiple new church ministry projects to follow in coming years. The Global Cities strategy is 100 percent funded by Foursquare Foundation.

“The Foursquare Foundation, whose purpose remains to accelerate worldwide and interdenominational evangelism, has committed $3 million of support to the seven-city strategy as administered through the National Church Global Cities team,” explains Joe Wainer, executive director of the Foundation. “There is a team approach to the actual distribution of those funds. The planting team, the National Church and Foursquare Foundation work together to discover the best time for financial resources to reach the field. It is a delightfully refreshing partnership for us to be able to prayerfully discern the will of God together. I sense the joy of the Lord over this season.”

By 2025, two out of every three people worldwide will live in cities.

The impetus is threefold. First is the lost. “Jesus went to where the people were,” says Ezra Stanton, who is leading the Mission Church team in Austin. “He didn’t wait for them to come to Him.”

Research suggests that by 2025, two out of every three people alive in the world will be found in cities. Additionally, in the U.S., that growing urban population increasingly includes immigrants from unreached parts of the world, bringing the mission field to our doorstep.

Second, beyond being places of individual need, the cities are centers of innovation, influence and impact. “How else are you going to change a nation unless you go to the people who are making the decisions?” asks Joe Slawter, pastor of The Venue, who is focused on another part of Austin.

And then there is the forerunning aspect of the Global Cities work: Those establishing churches in the urban heart of America will develop ways of sharing the gospel that will help suburban congregations in the years to come.

“The cities have something to teach us,” says Brad. “They are where we can learn how to reach the emerging generation, the people we are not connecting with in the suburbs.”

Bill Gross, who was appointed Foursquare’s national church planting coach several years ago, is overseeing and coordinating the Global Cities initiative. According to him, a major shift is taking place in Foursquare’s church planting program.

The focus is now on “making disciples, multiplying them in faith communities that are biblical and may have very diverse styles,” he says. That could mean urban expressions of church that look very different from what is familiar in the suburbs.

For example, Sal Bono has been concentrating on establishing relationships through a variety of startup businesses since he arrived in Detroit two years ago. The Church at the Market (Detroit Market Foursquare Church) does not have a building or services yet. Utilizing a “parish model,” two neighborhood small group Bible studies have been formed, with two more starting soon, and a dream of establishing one in each of the city’s 100-plus communities.

The need for a different approach to church in the city is partly cultural and partly practical. Many urban residents are unchurched or “dechurched,” turned off by what they have known in the past.

“You can’t just go in and start a service and expect people are going to come,” says Matt Temple, a Foursquare pastor who arrived in Chicago earlier this year. “It’s just not the way they think.”

Then there is the expense. In big cities such as New York, megachurches aren’t common because of the prohibitive cost of property. Even with leasing, it can be hard to grow beyond 200-300 people, Bill observes, because the kind of space needed means you have to pay union workers to bring equipment in and out rather than use volunteers.

Where large congregations can thrive, they are not the answer for everyone, notes Phil Manginelli, lead pastor of The Square in Atlanta. The former Olympic city has several megachurches, but many people want something smaller and more relational.

The Global Cities pioneers see themselves more as urban missionaries than traditional church planters. They are adopting the approach of someone sent overseas: taking time to learn the language and culture of their new environments, and understanding people’s questions before presuming how to form Foursquare faith communities that present and live the gospel.

The result is a new sense of partnership between Foursquare and Foursquare Missions International (FMI) in places such as Detroit, where the two share use of the International Hope Center. A 26,000-square-foot former Chevrolet dealership in Hamtramck―where 25 languages are spoken in the surrounding two square miles—the facility is home to a Saturday church, English as a second language classes, vocational training courses and missionary preparation, among other things.

Joe Wainer notes that Foursquare Foundation awarded individual grants to the International Hope Center through its previous grant process. “Today,” Joe says, “the Foundation celebrates the integration of leaders and resources for these Global Cities strategies as a potentially better way to resource local mission and fulfill its organization mandate, to accelerate worldwide and interdenominational evangelism.”

Broadening that collaborative approach, Global Cities leaders are incorporating Foursquare’s residency program into their strategies, providing opportunities for others to come alongside and gain experience before maybe launching into another city themselves. In Detroit, two houses have been bought to host visiting teams.

This is just part of the movement-wide embrace that is needed if Foursquare is to have any real urban impact, says Matt: “It has to be a combined effort, partnerships.” He stresses that “the church in the city is dependent on the church outside the city” because it has the resources of people, prayer and funds.

Support for the Global Cities push from around Foursquare can be seen in the first endeavors. “We are an example of the best of what happens when Foursquare gets together,” says Phil, whose Atlanta team is supported by churches in the Northwest District—where he was on staff at Mill Creek Foursquare Church in Lynnwood, Wash.—and the Southeast District.

People from several different churches around the country have joined the efforts in Austin. Ezra says: “It takes a village to raise [a child], and it takes a team to impact a city.”

Embracing the cities may require a reorientation for parts of Foursquare today, but it’s also simply rediscovering some of our movement’s heritage. Maurice Gholston, divisional superintendent for Eastern Michigan and director of community development at Detroit’s International Hope Center, notes that Aimee Semple McPherson founded Foursquare in the inner city of Los Angeles. “This is another wave of that move of God,” he believes.

Introducing the Global Cities focus at Foursquare Connection 2014, General Supervisor Tammy Dunahoo paid tribute to those who have previously served and currently serve in the inner cities, noting that Foursquare leadership senses God is “raising up another generation” to come alongside them.

God’s leading and timing are hallmarks of the Global Cities endeavor, which has come together more organically than systematically. Foursquare leadership first began to identify younger pastors who felt called to establish new forms of church in urban settings a couple of years ago, bringing them together in an alliance that offers support, encouragement and interaction.

Now the Global Cities program emerges at a time when, through the ongoing Reimagine process, Foursquare is considering making changes that will give leaders more freedom in terms of property—just the sort of flexibility urban church works will need.

Although Foursquare may just now be sensing a renewed call to the cities, God has had others there for some time, of course. “We don’t feel like we are bringing some secret sauce to Austin, but we do have a sense that God is doing something here, and He has allowed us to be a part of it,” says Ezra.

Bill sees Foursquare’s emphasis on the fullness and empowering of the Holy Spirit, and the church’s rich history of working well with other movements, as prime reasons for the warm welcome that has been extended by others already ministering in the first Global Cities to be engaged.

“There’s a place for Foursquare,” says Brad, who is facilitating the early networking in New York City—drawing on his own time there as a church planter for several years—while continuing to pastor on the other side of the country. There are more than nine million people in New York City, he notes: “If any one organization is highly successful there, it’s still only a drop in the bucket.”

In Atlanta, Phil has a sense of urgency. “If we miss this next 10-year window, our cities will be lost,” he says. “We have a window to move into the cities and establish churches that can change culture and change communities, bringing Jesus to a generation that is completely and utterly lost.” Joe echoes that concern, fearing that not going to the cities will lead to Foursquare’s becoming irrelevant as a movement.

Necessarily, the Global Cities initiative will “most likely not look like your typical American church” and will be “a bit messy” at times as those involved pioneer new congregations that suit their environments, says Bill. These new urban missionaries understand they are going to be the “visitors” in a postmodern culture.

“They are going go be dealing with things that are accepted as social norms, dealing with people from all walks of life, all lifestyles,” Bill observes, “and saying, ‘Come, join us as we walk with Christ.’ ”

Those involved in the early days of the Global Cities effort have faith and optimism that matches the scale of the challenge.

“We’re excited to be a part of what is going on here,” says Antonio Sims, senior pastor of International Hope Center in Detroit, where the city is rebounding after years of economic struggle. “God never gives up on anything or anybody, and He hasn’t given up on this city.”


Visit Four Cities That Need Jesus

This article is Part 1 of a five-part series. Click the links below as they become available to read more about the first four cities in Foursquare’s Cities Strategy.

Part 2: Detroit: Known as Motor City, Motown’s birthplace and the Muslim capital of America, this city is poised to make a cultural and spiritual comeback.

Part 3: Atlanta: It may be the buckle of the Bible belt, but many in the city have turned their backs on church as they have known it. Story coming on Nov. 18.

Part 4: Austin (Texas): Proudly alternative, the live music capital of the world is ripe for an authentic expression of life-changing faith. Story coming on Nov. 18.

Part 5: Chicago: Reconciliation is a key to seeing new hope arise in the center of America’s bruised heartland. Story coming on Nov. 18.