"What can we do together that we can't do on our own?"

The question silenced a room full of local church leaders at an organizational meeting for a city-reaching network. It was a jolt to the thinking of those who understood themselves as representatives of their individual congregations instead of a city-wide, big-C church, with many expressions and in many locations.

But they had me at the word together.

That word led to my own involvement in a local city-reaching network several years ago. It's been a delight to see churches that had once labored side-by-side like disconnected silos begin to interact with one another in meaningful community service, prayer, fellowship, and learning. The big-C church in my area has a way to go in terms of fully responding to the prayer Jesus prayed for his followers, but there have been some encouraging first steps over the past few years.

Eric Swanson and Sam Williams have served and/or coached other leaders in city-reaching church networking movements around the world, and have penned a practical guide for those interested in the notion entitled To Transform A City: Whole Church, Whole Gospel, Whole City (Zondervan). The book's subtitle comes from the Lausanne Movement and reflects the power of gospel-rooted collaboration.

The book attempts to construct a theological framework for the notions of "city" and "kingdom." The authors write,

The church serves as a living proof of the kingdom, a community where the world can see what marriage, family life, business practices, work habits, generosity, mercy, race relations—all of life—look like when lived under the rule and authority of Jesus Christ …. Spreading the kingdom of God is more than simply winning men and women to Christ. It involves working toward shalom and the redemption of structures, individuals, families, and relationships as well as surprising others with unexpected deeds of grace, mercy and justice (Micah 6:8).

Using their solid, kingdom-centered framework, Swanson and Williams do a thorough job explaining how and why regional collaborative relationships between congregations can be formed, cultivated, and maintained. This coaching is packed with real-life examples (including my own local network) designed to inspire and motivate. These examples spotlight a gap in the current conversation about collaboration, however.

A centerpiece of their strategy rests on having a committed high-octane leader who first owns the vision and then invites other local church, nonprofit, and business leaders to connect and collaborate. The authors suggest that megachurch pastors have the wiring, the social capital, and the spiritual influence to spearhead such movements. They write, "Like attracts like. Leaders attract leaders. Influence usually does not flow uphill, so senior pastors … lead the way." They do note that it is possible to create viable networks without an alpha dog driving the team. "God is always in the business of surprising us by raising up Gideons, Davids, and little lads carrying a few fish."

The gap? There are precious few women leaders mentioned in To Transform a City. The authors acknowledge the omission in the final chapter of the book: "We have not introduced you to many of the outstanding women leaders, who in every society play a transformational role in that society." They go on to explain that the book's purpose is "to serve as a primer on current, contemporary models of ministry to cities." Though the authors were careful to use gender-neutral language, the examples and names referenced throughout were almost entirely male.

The reality is, women play a crucial role in the contemporary city-renewal movement. Women are leaders and influencers both inside and outside the four walls of churches. I've met women who have organized tutoring initiatives serving under-resourced public schools, created transitional housing for recently paroled female inmates, championed regional prayer ministries, and coordinated gospel-centered community service outreaches.

However, there don't appear to be many women in key leadership roles in various city-reaching networks. They are involved, to be sure. Many women I know are already wired to be gifted collaborators and networkers, and have long been doing in their own sphere of influence what the (mostly) male leaders of networks are now attempting to do on a city-wide scale. Women are an integral part of the city-reaching movement, to be sure. They are doing the work of the ministry, but as I read To Transform a City, I wondered how women are being fully, intentionally included at the tables where Big Dawg leaders are gathering to pray, strategize, and dream about what kingdom-shaped renewal might look like in their cities.

On one hand, the deficit of the feminine in the book is surprising because these networks aren't bound by the same hierarchies and traditions as local congregations are. On the other hand, the deficit isn't surprising at all, given the manner in which many networks form as described by Swanson and Williams.

The good news is that this movement is still in its formative stages in most cities in America. Women's leadership gifts are desperately needed to help guide, create, and nurture relational networks. Men involved in forming ministry networks must continue to keep the kingdom image of "the whole church" at the forefront so that the inclusion of women leaders happens organically.

Because the only way we can reach the whole city with the whole gospel is to do it together.