Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Urban Challenge

     While no one can pinpoint the exact date, experts agree that 2008 was a pivotal moment in human history. It was in 2008 that the urban population of the world crossed the 50% mark. For the first time in history there are more people living in urban areas than in rural areas. In addition to this, the United Nations projects that by 2050 over 69% of the world’s population will reside in urban areas. This urban migration has produced mega-cities with populations that eclipse many countries in the world. In fact the 20 largest cities in the world are larger than 85% of the states in America. The population of Tokyo rivals the entire state of California, the largest state in the U.S.

     Urbanization is more than just the relocation of people. The urban environment presents challenges and opportunities that are far different than its rural counterpart. In dimension, cities are simply bigger, faster and louder – they are just more. While many can legitimately debate whether bigger really is better, there are some real advantages that come with economies of scale. It is highly unusual to find a first class medical center in a small town. Cities offer a wider variety of job and educational opportunities as well. Of course the downside is that cities also suffer from higher crime rates and increased levels of the moral decay that is so prevalent in the world today.

     Cities are not only bigger, they are also denser. People live much closer together. Where in rural areas it is not uncommon to have families separated by acres, in urban environments thousands often live in a few blocks. For example, the population density of Tokyo is 22,938 per square mile and New York, America’s largest city, is almost 17,000 people per square mile. Even with people living in such close proximity, urbanites often find themselves isolated – even in a crowd.

     Urban living also forces diverse populations together. While rural populations tend to be more homogenous and segregated, urban populations often find a wide variety of people groups living very close to one another. With varied backgrounds, ethnicities and even languages, personal biases lead to increased tensions.

     So, what does this mean for Christian missions? It means that we are going to have to rethink our model. For generations we have been captivated by the idea of taking the Gospel to the jungles and savannahs of the world. We romanticize the missionary who leaves the comforts of home to tell the primitive natives about Jesus and neglect urban masses. Even in America, the influence of Christianity is much greater in rural areas than in the inner cities. As a result, we are losing the cities of the world.

     The cities of the world have become places where too many Christians are hesitant to minister; much less live. There is too much crime, it is too dangerous, there is not enough space and the schools are not making the grade; there are plenty of reasons for Christians to stay away from the cities. However, we must remember that the fireman runs into the fire, not away from it.

     We live in an urban world and over the next 30 years it will become more so. If we, as Christians, are to fulfill Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations, we must accept personal responsibility for the cities and urban centers of the world. How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him?

In HIs Service,