By Dan Clymer
I love Boston. Even though it is ridiculously expensive, academically arrogant, religiously skeptical, sometimes dangerous, and a place where it seems that sins are magnified and multiplied—I love this city. It has diverse worldviews and four idols called the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, and Red Sox. It is the focus of terrorist bombs and gangster murders, but I love this city. Why? Because God loves the people and desires to transform the soul of the city.
Why plant churches in a city? In 1900 just 14 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. Today that number has climbed to 52 percent. By 2050 it is estimated 70 percent of all people will live in cities. If we are faithful to God’s mission, we must be just as committed to making disciples in cities as we are in the suburbs or countryside. Making disciples will result in new churches that will transform the spiritual landscape of the city.
Why Boston? Boston is one of the world’s most influential cities. First, it is an academic mecca where students from all over come to study. There are 52 colleges and universities within a 20-mile radius of downtown, including Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Second, it is a center for political influence. The last two United States presidents studied at Harvard. United States senators, representatives, and Supreme Court justices have been influenced by the classrooms of this city. Political leaders from Asia to the Middle East have been shaped by their time of study in this place.
Third, Boston may be the world’s most innovative city. From medical research and hospitals to the arts and technology, this city impacts the lives and cultures of billions of people.
Why REUNION Christian Church and Sojourn Collegiate Ministry? Less than 5 percent of Boston residents attend church each Sunday. Almost 300,000 students come to this city each fall. What better place to influence the world for Christ than through a church plant and campus ministry serving side by side!
Restoration House Ministries (RHM), Manchester, New Hampshire, after years of research and prayer, called Hank Wilson, Mike Brown, John Tischer, and Phil McArdle in 2005 to lead in the planting of REUNION. It only made sense to simultaneously partner with Tim Hawkins, who was coming from the Christian Campus House in Warrensburg, Missouri, to establish Sojourn Collegiate Ministry. The dual ministries of REUNION and Sojourn will help Boston find its way back to God and make disciples of Jesus through cooperative efforts in this diverse and complex city.
Strengthened by Partners
Partnership is the way God led the apostle Paul to make disciples in the first century. And so partners were sought to help plant REUNION Christian Church. More than 30 churches joined RHM to help the REUNION staff accomplish God’s mission in Boston.
Some sent people to help with the launch and to connect with the city. All sent financial support over five years, while the new believers grew in their stewardship to become self-supporting. In the beginning, a partnership team of seven church leaders from across the country was formed who encouraged and oversaw this church planting team until it could raise up elders.
The most significant part of the “how” was yet to come. For REUNION to make disciples, it required:
1. Evangelistic praying—praying for the salvation of those who would hear the good news, praying with the hurting and lonely, and praying for the protection and boldness of believers as they witness for Christ in the midst of spiritual darkness.
2. Evangelistic preaching/teaching—connecting an unchurched culture with the call of Christ from a Bible that most have never read. In addition to the sermon each Sunday, the number of small groups (we call them community groups) grew from 13 by year two to 39 by year five. These groups use Scripture to teach, encourage, and strengthen those who are following Christ.
3. Evangelistic worship—learning to worship the one true God in a culture where many of America’s top artists begin their careers. The quality and clarity of the music and prayers allow Christians and non-Christians to experience the presence of the God they either love or question.
4. Evangelistic service—connecting with people who would never take the first step of entering a hotel (yes, a hotel) for a weekly worship service. From the beginning, community groups and individuals served alongside Safe Haven Sober Homes, Starlight Homeless Ministries, Ma Sis’s Kitchen, Quincy Street Neighborhood Tutoring, Horizons for Homeless Children, and Roxbury Youthworks GIFT program. And all this was in addition to loving their neighbors, praying for the sick, and taking meals to those in need.
The result has been a vibrant, young, maturing church that has more than 500 worshipping together each week in two locations. The main campus, where Hank Wilson preaches, meets in Boston’s Back Bay Hilton, while Joel Daniels preaches at the second campus, which meets in a theater across the Charles River in Somerville. Over the last six years, REUNION has seen people from a wide range of vocations represented in worship—doctors, nurses, lawyers, architects, FBI agents, police officers, journalists, chefs, graphic designers, fashion designers, software engineers, techies, professors, venture capitalists, CEOs, CFOs, teachers, musicians, and students.
While John Tischer and Phil McArdle have moved to other ministries, Hank Wilson and Mike Brown have been joined by Joel Daniels, Karen Brown, and Lucas Cortazio, along with three elders ordained in February 2013. There have been more than 100 baptisms, and disciples are making disciples in many other cities and countries as people move from Boston after graduating from college and to advance their careers.
This young church gives 12 percent of its offerings to missions, sends one or two groups each year on short-term mission trips, and gives a Christmas offering of $30,000 to $40,000 each year for projects like drilling water wells in Africa, providing resources for families in local shelters, and feeding children in the Dominican Republic.
Is this what you call success in the city? No! This is what you call “the beginning.” We see all this progress as only a start toward our goal for the city of Boston to “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10).
Dan Clymer serves as executive director of Restoration House Ministries Inc., Manchester, New Hampshire.