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What's Your Urban Perspective?

This is a guest post by Terry W. Sharp. Terry will be interacting in the comments today– feel free to make comments and ask him questions.

I’ve said before that any global network or denomination or wanting to be serious about church planting and global missions has to be serious about cities– actually, if you are not serious about cities, you’re not being serious about a holistic mission strategy. That’s a bit of a shock to some denominations with rural histories and constituencies, but any denomination serious about church planting and missions MUST factor cities into their total strategy. That does not mean rural (or tribal) is unimportant– quite the opposite. Many need to focus on those areas, but it does mean that you have to know the city situation and partner with others in engagement there if you want a holistic plan.

Too many people fear cities. To be fair, having grown up outside New York and then planted in the inner city of Buffalo, NY, I am comfortable with cities. Yet, even if you are uncomfortable with a city, it does not mean you can ignore or neglect them.

While I spoke at Desiring God, I mentioned http://ethneCITY.com. during my Saturday night talk. I’ve asked Terry to come by and give more information here today.

Here’s Terry:

“Yesterday, cities were in the nations; today all the nations are in our cities.” Ray Bakke

The face of North America is changing!

Did you know that we are living in a global phenomenon and have experienced an unmatched urban growth in recent decades?

It’s true. In 1900 the urban population was just 5%. In 2008, for the first time, the world’s population was evenly split between urban and rural areas and the population living in cities passed 50% for the first time. And, in 2050 the global urban population – which is projected to be 9 billion – will have 70% of the population living in cities around of the world.

The second half of the twentieth century is the first time in all of human history that the Earth’s population doubled within a single lifetime. South Korean President, Lee Myung-bak commented, “If the 20th century was the era of nations, the 21st century is the era of cities.”

And he’s right. North America has become a modern crossroads of peoples from the entire globe.

As of 2004, over half of the residents of the city of Toronto were born in a country other than the United States or Canada.

In the United States the 40 largest metropolitan regions represent 170 million people, more than 50% of the total census of the year 2000. In Metro New York City alone, 21.5 million people represent 1 out of every 300 people on the planet.

In Chicago there are more Muslims than Methodists and more Buddhist than Episcopalians.

By 2050, it is expected that half of the U.S. Population will be a different race than non-Hispanic white.

Now, more than ever, this explosive urbanization and global migration gives the church an incredible opportunity to share the Good News with the nations in a profound way. Could it be that a sovereign God is moving people so that they may seek Him and know Him?

God is bringing the nations to Us

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” Acts 17:26-27

Population projections by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life estimate that the number of Muslims in the U.S. will more than double over next two decades, rising from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million in 2030. This estimated growth would put the American Muslim population on par with the Jewish and Episcopalian populations in the US today.

Recently when visiting with a local refugee resettlement agency I was told that 85 percent of the refugees they are resettling are coming from the 10/40 Window – that part of the world where the Gospel has been most restricted. It would appear that travel and communications have accelerated globalization and North America has become a new home for refugees and immigrants seeking a better life.

And with over 750,000 students from all around the world currently attending American colleges and universities, International Students also represent a strategic mission field. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs notes that approximately 260 leaders in the world today received their college education in North America. I can’t help but wonder what the world’s political and spiritual mood might be like if current world leaders might have had the opportunity to hear the gospel and see it lived out in the homes of Christian Americans while they were studying in America. What if a Christian family had reached out in genuine love and friendship? What difference could that have made in the world today?

Instead we discover that seventy-five percent of international students have never been invited into an American home, and more than eighty-five percent are never invited to church or have any meaningful contact with genuine Christians during an average stay of four years.

Reaching the Unreached in the Urban Centers

We cannot neglect the cities. For doing so means we are missing opportunities to reach the nations – scores of peoples who need to hear the gospel. People from remote tribes and with unpronounceable names are living in a city near you.

Global Cities are cities that are linked to each other by the flow of capital, technology, information, and trade. However, they can also be the gateways to share the gospel globally! As we reach the nations (people groups) here, the good news travels back to their homeland.

So, what’s your urban perspective? Do you see the cities as places to be avoided or places of great opportunities to be salt and light that can reach the mass of human population and reach the world? How does your perspective affect your prayers and your strategies to reach and work in the city?

We need to have a clear and compelling understanding that the cities matter. We need to have positive, persuasive attitudes about the city and we need people who are willing to plant their lives in urban settings. And we need churches that are willing to partner with those who go there to live and work.

We need God’s perspective of the city.

Why? Because the stakes are high and the possibilities are profound. Our rapidly urbanizing world and our teeming cities have presented us with unprecedented opportunity to impact lostness and we must seize the moment!

If you’re ready to join the conversation and explore what it will take to engage the Diasporas of unreached peoples in the urban centers of the world, visit us at http://ethneCITY.com.

Terry W. Sharp is Director of Urban Strategies at the International Mission Board and can be reached at tsharp@imb.org.